06/03/2020

Two simple ideas every conference speaker should know

Picture the scene – you are due to speak at your industry conference – you arrive early – you are speaker number six and you … Read More

Picture the scene – you are due to speak at your industry conference – you arrive early – you are speaker number six and you have a few hours before you take the stage.

What should you do during that time between arriving and speaking?

What not to do

Before answering the question let us look at what not to do. Too many people spend their time painstakingly reading and re-reading their slides, adding in various scribbles that they later struggle to read.

Then they re-read their speaker notes and add in more scribbles that they also struggle to read. The scribbles from the slides and the speaker notes do not even match up with each other.

These futile efforts create additional tension for the presenter and add miniscule value to the output of the presentation. While re-reading and scribbling they fail to notice what other speakers have said and they become oblivious to the overall mood of the room. They are so focussed on the waves that they miss the tide.

The first thing to do – active listening to the speakers

Put your speech away where you cannot see it. I used to place it in an envelope that lived under my conference chair.

This frees you up to focus on the present and what is going on around you. Take a blank piece of paper and a pen – listen carefully to what every speaker before you actually says.

Your objective is to write down at least one thing from each speaker that makes an impression on you. It could be a statistic, a quote, a core principle or an anecdote. This forces you to engage with the conference and it keeps your mind sharp. So if you are speaker number six, you should have at least five interesting pieces of information on your page.

Before you speak, review these pieces of information and ask yourself – can I somehow incorporate a reference to one of the items during my speech? This always goes down well with the audience and the speaker that you quote. It shows you were listening, it shows you are thoughtful and it demonstrates that you can be spontaneous.

The second thing to do – active observation of the audience

Every audience is different. Even the exact same group of people on the second day of a conference will be different. The really smart speakers know this and they adjust their presentation to reflect this. Observe the audience carefully while you are waiting to speak.

  • What is the overall mood of the room?
  • Has the mood varied at all over the course of the conference?
  • Does one section of the audience appear to hold greater sway?
  • What sorts of things have gone down well so far?
  • What sorts of things have not gone down well so far?

You are not going to conduct wholesale restructuring to your presentation at this late stage but you can make subtle changes. To paraphrase a quote I once heard, you cannot direct the wind but you can adjust the sails. Watch, listen and learn from the audience – there are almost always nuanced amendments you can make to create an improved outcome.

Conclusion

Most people really do not relish those few hours at a conference leading up to their presentation. There is nothing you can do to change your speaker position but there are things you can do to improve your results.

Stop the energy-sapping efforts that do not help you.

Focus on the other speakers to keep your mind active.

Focus on the audience to help you connect with them.

 

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