Editor’s note: As I prepare to speak at the Social Media Integration Conference (#SMIATL) this week, I reached out to Jason Falls (who will be one of the conference’s headliners) for some tips on how to kick some ass at these types of engagements…
Speaking at conferences and events is exhilarating and fun, but it can also be frightening and miserable if you don’t know what you’re doing. While it might seem über easy to stand up in front of a room of people and talk about what you know and love, not preparing for some of the ups and downs, challenges and opportunities that public speaking holds can severely hinder your performance and curtail the chances you’ll be asked to speak in public again.
My public speaking career actually began in high school when I competed in speech and drama. Later in life I began sharing some experiences at small conferences and business networking events. When the social media industry exploded in 2006-08, I was right in the thick of things and evolved my conference panels and talks to a professional speaking career. Along the way, I’ve spoken in front of crowd numbers in the tens (literally) to convention halls bursting at the seams with hundreds of people in the room. The venues I’ve graced the stage of include everything from Emirates Stadium in London, England, to a small room in the Community Center in Inez, Ky.
I’ve walked off the stage to standing ovations … and to blank stares. Needless to say, I’ve learned a few things along the way.
As you gear up for your first … or next speaking event, consider these tips to help you leave the room wowed and begging you to come back.
Know Your Audience
Talking to a room full of accountants is very different from one full of bloggers. Everything from the subject you’re speaking about to the vernacular and terminology you use is important to keep the audience’s attention and help the feel like they’ve gotten value out of your talk. Understand what the average audience members knows about your subject matter so you can push them to know more and leave the room satisfied they’re smarter for the experience.
Have An Outline
The tried-and-true formula for speaking is tried-and-true for a reason. Tell them what you’ll tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. But you can’t do any of the three if you don’t know what you’re going to say. Prepare an outline with your basic points. Make sure they’re big-picture points that deliver on the promise of the speech’s title or description. Even if you walk up to the microphone with 3-5 words written down or in your mind to speak to, have a plan. Nothing is worse for an audience member than a speaker that just rambles on about whatever with no real purpose.
Watch The Clock
Speaking as both someone who speaks for a living and who organizes events using other speakers, the one pet peeve everyone from the audience to the event organizer has is a speaker that goes too long. If you’re supposed to speak for an hour, schedule 40 minutes of talk time and leave time for questions … then talk for 40 minutes, not 55. Edit your outline or notes down so that you can get in the major points and then leave some time for the audience to chew on it, digest it and follow up with questions. By not respecting the time you’ve been given, you disrespect the audience (not to mention the speakers who follow you) which leads to a less than successful effort.
While every speaker has their own style and no piece of advice will work for everyone the same here, I can’t think of an audience anywhere that likes a stiff on the mic. Some of the worst speakers I’ve seen either read a speech verbatim from notes, recite the bullet points on their presentation slides (as if the audience isn’t smart enough to read them) or who drone on and on without at least gesturing, moving around a bit or asking the audience questions to get some response and engagement going. You’re a real human being that has a personality, can laugh, smile and move around. Use those abilities. No, not everyone can use humor or dance around the stage to be visibly engaging, but everyone can smile, as the audience questions, nod and be personable. If you don’t think you can, you may want to reconsider speaking.
Don’t Rely On Slides
I’m not saying don’t use them. I use them often. But I’ve found that audiences pay closer attention to what you’re saying when you’re talking with them, not showing them images or bullet points. Some of the best public speakers out there don’t use slides at all. If you know what you’re going to say, are passionate about the topic and know the outline you want to follow well enough, slides are just a crutch — get rid of them. If you’re speaking about something that needs some visual context, or you want to use visuals for impact or entertainment value, that’s fine, but always be prepared to go without them. Projectors, power, WiFi … all of it is susceptible to failure.
These five tips will help you tackle audiences, not topics, and do a great job in doing so. You’ll have more engaged listeners, get better speaking reviews and probably have more fun in front of the room than you ever have. Not only that, but following these tips will also deliver the one outcome that tells you whether or not you’ve done a good job: You be asked back!
Enjoy your time on stage. And make the most of it, for you and your audience.
About the Author
Jason Falls is a professional speaker, author and consultant based in Louisville, Ky. He has spoken on three continents, in four countries and nearly all major U.S. markets on digital marketing, social media marketing and communications. He can be found online at JasonFalls.com or at his industry blog, SocialMediaExplorer.com.