I make my living as a professional communicator, which means I have the honor of speaking to audiences at conferences, association meetings, and corporate events all over the world.
One of the benefits that I truly enjoy when speaking at events is attending other keynotes, breakout sessions, or workshops whenever possible. I’m always interested in learning, and I also want to watch great speakers in action, so I can continue to grow and improve my speaking skills as well.
At a recent conference, I chose to attend a breakout session led by a speaker with an impressive title. His bio listed many professional accomplishments and years of experience in a topic that I was very interested in learning more about. Even though his session was scheduled a few hours before my closing keynote, I made a point to get to the convention center early in order to take advantage of the opportunity to learn from him.
Unfortunately, very quickly into the 75-minute session, it became clear that learning was going to be a challenge. Even though his professional experience and accomplishments related to the subject were impressive, the speaker conveyed zero excitement or passion for the findings of the case studies and research that he shared, and he didn’t seem to care at all about connecting with the audience.
Pretty soon, in an effort to salvage my time investment, my note taking shifted towards capturing quotes and actions from the speaker that affected my ability to learn from him.
10 Audience Engagement Killers
- “I’m not going to bore you with that…”
- “We don’t have time to talk about that today…”
- “What time is it?”
- “Here’s a picture of an article I wrote in 2008…”
- “I’m not going to go through each one of these…”
- “How much time do I have left?”
- “There are a variety of reasons for this, we just don’t have time to talk about them here…”
- “I’m not going to go into this, it’s too involved for this gig…”
- “Am I still okay on time?”
- “This slide shows a whole bunch of reports which focus on financial metrics. Blah, blah, blah, blah…”
The 10 statements above were exact quotes from the speaker during this session – even number ten.
Unfortunately, I left the session frustrated, because myself – and about 150 others – had wasted 75 minutes of our time. We had met the speaker’s expectations of not being able to understand or take action on the information presented, but he did not meet my expectations as an audience member – which is for the speaker to provide value.
I can guarantee you that no meeting planner plans for their audience to leave a session having learned nothing new or at least challenged to try something new – and no speaker should either.
As someone who has been speaking on stages for over 15 years, I know that speaking in front of any size of audience can be tough on the ego. Even when I feel that I’ve knocked it out of the park, there is always someone in the audience who didn’t connect with my material, or who didn’t care for my delivery.
But I also know that I can increase the odds that my message will connect with the majority of audience members if I can answer the following question:
“What do I want the audience to DO with this information following my presentation?”
Once I have the answer to that question, I then need to care enough to use the time that I’ve been given to help the audience to understand why and how it’s possible for them to do just that.
Successful speakers care about the audience and their learning experience.
If you’ve been selected or appointed to speak in front of an audience – you’ve been given the valuable gift of people’s time. Whether it’s a keynote in front of thousands, a DisruptHR Talk, or a presentation to your team in a conference room, you can show your audience respect and appreciation by never making the following mistakes as a speaker:
5 Mistakes Successful Speakers Never Make
1. Never show, mention, or refer to something the audience cannot see clearly on the screen.
Examples: “I know this is an eye chart, but…” or “You can’t see this, but let me tell you what it says…”
2. Never show a statistic, reference a study, or display a quote without also sharing the source.
Who said this? When was it? How can I follow up to learn more? <- What your audience is thinking.
3. Never include stats, studies, or reference material on a slide that is more than 2 years old.
If your idea or premise is based upon 10-year-old research, find (or create) new research to support it.
4. Never refer to your own presentation materials, content or speaking style as boring.
Don’t plant seeds that you don’t want to grow. If the audience wasn’t already thinking that – they surely are now.
5. Never ask how much time is left for your presentation.
Asking the audience about time remaining shows a lack of preparation – and implies that you plan to fill the allotted time – no matter what. Bring a clock, use a time app on your phone, or have a friend hold up a sign to keep track of time – but never ask the audience to do it for you!
Any presentation that you create and deliver should be with the goal of educating, informing, encouraging and inspiring your audience. They’ll love you for it – and maybe they’ll even say something nice about it afterwards!
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