Speaking lessons for any current or aspiring speaker
Over the years, I have presented at many events across the country—everything from keynote speeches to two-day workshops. As a speaker, I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly and learned some important speaking lessons. Here are a few I wanted to share.
Be a Student and Do Your Homework
I know many speakers who have crafted a presentation they do over and over again. The problem is, every audience is unique. That’s why I spend time upfront with the event planner to get a good snapshot of attendees. Where possible, I go a step further and try to interview attendees in advance. For example, I was scheduled to speak to a group of teleservices business owners. I had several topics that I proposed, a few of which were focused on technology. I assumed there would be great interest there. After interviewing several members, I discovered the real need for these businesses was information on how to connect with and win big business clients. The lesson here—don’t make assumptions about an audience. Do your homework if you want to deliver a successful, well-targeted presentation.
Two Is Better than One
When event planners ask me to do a keynote or major presentation, I ask if they also have other opportunities. Let’s face it, travel is expensive. I often suggest doing a mini-workshop or presentation in addition to the main speech. As an example, I spoke to Women in Auto Care on the topic of leadership. This keynote was based on a book I co-authored called, Stop Wishing, Stop Whining. Start Leading. When I saw the conference plan, it looked like there was an opportunity for some shorter presentations, too. I suggested that my Top Five Presentation Mistakes… and How to Overcome Them might be a great addition to the line-up. They agreed. I had the opportunity to speak on two topics I am passionate about, while they got additional content and saved on travel expenses.
Not Every Speaking Opportunity Is a Good Fit
It is flattering to be asked to present, but I have learned that some opportunities are not a good fit. I try to be objective about this because it takes a great deal of time and effort to put together a presentation. If the audience is not one that will be receptive to your message or is not your target audience, then the results can be disappointing for you and them. Additionally, I look at the time allotted. Can I do something that will be impactful in that time? I like to promote the organizations and events that hire me, so is this opportunity something I feel comfortable promoting? If the opportunity isn’t a good fit, I take a pass.
Get Feedback and Listen
It’s easy to assume you know how well you have performed. You feel like you know, and you may be right, but you may be wrong. Certainly, you can tell if your audience was engaged, but I try to go deeper. I seek out feedback by asking some very specific questions.
- Was there anything missing that I should have covered?
- Was the content relevant to the audience? Was the level of information appropriate?
- What other comments do you have for me?
- Would you hire me again?
That last speaking lesson is telling. To me, the greatest measure of success is getting asked back to present—or being given a referral. When that happens, you know you have accomplished your mission.