As a conference, event and expo emcee across Australia, Brett de Hoedt sees hundreds of speakers each year. He even speaks himself on occasion. Here’s his advice for speakers; from the novice to the ‘professional’.
Greatness by association
Waaay too many speakers throw in life lessons, quotes and anecdotes from the lives of the great and the good. Please don’t waste audiences’ time telling them things they already know about people they already know such as a) Nelson Mandella b) Richard Branson c) Steve Jobs d) His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama or any of the usual suspects. And that list includes sporting ‘heroes’. These people exist in a similar but different universe.
Frankly, sport is a very simple area of endeavour with more support and rewards for protagonists than members of your audience receive in a lifetime. Thus it is not a good metaphor or parallel for real life and business. Do some real research and find unexpected and unknown inspirations if you must – this will make you look original; even smart which audiences still appreciate.
Go with the flow
Don’t be a robo-speaker. There’s a default setting for professional speakers these days that turns many of them into automata. The approved style involves a Lot. Of. Pauses. I mean A. Lot. The pauses are meant to convey gravitas and garner attention but taken to an extreme, as they so often are, they make for verbal constipation.
Hands behinds backs
Robo-speakers also use unnatural, exaggerated poses or hand gestures, often repeatedly unleashed in synch with a key word or concept for emphasis. I’ve seen hands at right angles to represent windows (of opportunity) mimed bike riding (the bike was being riden to our goals) and a cat licking its tail (don’t ask). This is silly and belongs in a Parisian school for comedia dell’arte.
Don’t start your presentation with an overview of your organisation. Boring. The audience should know that from the bio in the program or the introduction that you provided to the MC. I’m sick of hearing who co-funds the speaker’s unit, within the sector, within the department…. I’m sick of hearing how the current program came out of the previous program which was based on a pilot program…
Your hero’s journey is over. Tell us what how you got there.
This will sound harsh but here goes. If you have a heart-wrenching, inspirational type story to tell please tell it. People love that stuff. However, there is only so much value for your audience in being told to be like you. Give them concrete ways to turn your inspiration and example into specific actions that might help them towards their own goals. Vagaries like “dig deep” “team work” “find another way” are too broad. Think of yourself as a navigator. Nobody wants directions such as “keep driving” “you’ll get there” or “you’ll know your destination when you arrive”. We all need specific directions. Too many presentations spend too much time on themselves and too little on the audience.
There is no longer any excuse for bad use of this tool. One simple rule: no words; just pictures – the more obtuse and cryptic the better. Use each picture to inspire the next passage of discussion.
Seek meaningful relationships
I’m staggered at how many speakers fail to ask the audience for so much as a show of hands to gauge an opinion on an issue. People get bored sitting down all day – involve them. I saw a speaker (who was otherwise pretty weak) instantly raise energy levels during a late afternoon session buy asking people to pair up and confer for 60 seconds on a relevant issue. It can be that simple.
Enough with the video clips
More and more presenters glam up their sessions by playing humorous YouTube clips; often from The Simpsons or a US Tonight Show. Don’t use long clips and don’t use them until you’ve established yourself on stage. Be careful – clips be funny or clever or telling but they aren’t your work so you can look a little…dodgy…using them.