I attend a lot of conferences, many devoted to marketing and communications professionals, and I am amazed at how many speakers fail. Often they are professional communicators who are failing at communicating. Hmm…if you can’t stand up in front of 50, 100 or 200 people and deliver, why would anyone want to work with you.
You know good speakers when you see and hear them. They engage you so you’re watching them, not a screen. They appear to be real experts who leave you with messages you remember and can use. Unfortunately I often sit in an audience and see people who don’t know their material, read from a script or speak in a monotone voice that turns your attention to your Blackberry or watch. Get me the hell out of here!
Of course, the most egregious villain in public speaking failure today is PowerPoint. You know the drill. The speaker turns from the audience, stands sideways and becomes glued to a screen where their unreadable PowerPoint slides bore you to death. They engage the screen, not you.
For starters, here are a few tips:
- Know your material. It’s okay to reference some notes to stay on track, but you should be able to give your presentation and speak to each point as if you are having a conversation with a colleague. It’s not just a matter of practice, it’s a matter of speaking about what you know – and know well.
- Engage your audience. Begin by knowing who they are and what they’re interested in. Speak to what their interests are.
- Limit the PowerPoint if you use it at all. A few words or pictures to orient the audience is enough. A video is great. But no one can read or cares about little tiny words or numbers. It puts them to sleep and take attention from the main attraction – you.
- Practice and practice again. Until you have actually delivered your whole presentation, you don’t know how you will do. Before the first time I deliver a particular presentation, I do this in my hotel room the night before, learn where I stumble and what I should adjust.
- Get training if you need it. Content is crucial but not enough when you have hundreds of people in a crowd. You’re a professional communicator, so act like one.
We all know why people speak at conferences. It’s good exposure for you or your company that you hope will result in greater exposure, new business leads or maybe a new job. Take advantage of the opportunity.