There’s a strong message doing the rounds that if you stand at the front of a room in front of an audience – however they’ve been persuaded to turn up – and shout the odds about something, you’ll be seen as an expert in your field, and some of those people will beat a path to your door in search of your particular brand of excellence.
So much so that in networking circles, “getting the gig” is seen almost as the holy grail.
Well, I beg to differ (not for the first time, you’ll be unsurprised to hear).
It only works if you say something interesting and useful in an engaging way. Just telling your life story – unless you’ve led an absolutely extraordinary one – isn’t enough. And even if you do have an amazing life story, there’s still an element of “So what?” What does that mean to me? What will I be doing differently and/or better as a result of this knowledge?
I go to many events where someone gives a presentation – anything from five minutes to half an hour (any longer and my latent attention deficit disorder kicks in) – and far too many of them do themselves more harm than good, by:
- Going on endlessly about how wonderful and successful they are:
- Having little or no substance to their talk: what does this actually mean to me and what should I do about it?
- Having no discernible beginning, middle and end to their ‘presentation’
- Boring the pants off me
I have of course seen many good speakers over the last decade (and I’m certainly not going to name names on either side of the equation), but even people who speak well or engagingly often fail to leave me with any memorable message – or better still, some action that I should/will take as a result.
Here’s the acid test. The next time you listen to any such talk, wait 48 hours and then try and encapsulate the key message(s). What did you learn as a result? What will you do differently? What in short was the point? Apart from the opportunity to network with the rest of the people in the room.
I know: as someone who has been known to stand and spout myself, I am a hostage to fortune here. I’m bound to have been guilty on many of the above counts. All right, officer, I’ll come quietly.
But what can you do about it?
The first thing to say is that the vast majority of public speakers are self-taught. They’ve never had any training or coaching in the art. Which means that their ability to carry it off is very hit and miss.
By all means watch great performers and check out their techniques, but here are a few pointers from someone who trains public speakers, to ensure you don’t waste the opportunity to impress. Dexter Moscouw of Persuasive Presentations has a 7-letter acronym to help you speak better, called R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Below is a link to his website where you can download a free 20-page guide. If you have any ambitions to be the one at the front of the room, start by reading it.
I don’t intend trying to encapsulate all of it here, but my take on successful public speaking, in as few words as I can muster, is:
1. Make an entrance: you have 10 seconds to make that vital first impression (just like meeting any new sales prospect)
2. Earn the right: tell them your (abbreviated) story – how you’ve earned the right to be standing there.
3. Have a structured beginning, middle and end to what you tell them.
4. Tell stories to illustrate your message and engage your audience.
5. Keep it simple.
6. Make sure they get at least one key point.
7. Leave them wanting more (and tell them how they can get more).
One more thing: you’re there to impart knowledge and information: do not make the mistake of trying to turn it into a giant sales pitch.
And unless you’ve had a personality by-pass (in which case, what on earth are you doing?) project it for all you’re worth. You won’t connect with everyone, but people buy from people they like. A truism because it’s true.
Whatever your special subject, teachers also have to be part-entertainers. Make ’em laugh; make ’em cry; just make sure they don’t yawn.
Of course the vast majority of the population would rather eat their own entrails than stand up and make a speech. But if the spirit ever moves you, at least get some help and advice to ensure you maximise the opportunity.
David Croydon: 01844 238692 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org