A week ago, before heading off to Maui for a blissful vacation from which I am returning as I write this (#Ilovemylife), I attended a two day conference with 20 of my clients – most who have been working with me for 4 or more years. At the conference, I witnessed one of the best speakers I have ever seen/heard, as well as a few of the worst. The best one was Joey Coleman. The worst included a very famous Wharton Professor with a best-selling book. Interestingly, both of them spend more time speaking/teaching than doing anything else in their business and it is the primary way they make money, yet the difference between the two was strikingly profound.
I do a lot of speaking myself – on average about 25 speaking gigs a year – and although I know that it is a strength of mine, I know there are lots of opportunities for my own growth and development as a speaker. One of the things I always observe and note when I see someone speak is what they do that “blows my hair back” and where they falter or distract from their brilliance. These are the 7 biggest blunders I’ve seen speakers make:
- They don’t prepare and practice enough – The reality is, if a speaker makes it look easy, I absolutely guarantee that they put a ton into the preparation for their talk (which isn’t easy in our busy lives!). The people that make it look easy barely look at their slides. The slides are there for audience engagement, not to keep them on point. They know their topic inside and out. They have practiced in the mirror. They’ve timed out their stories and slides. They have done more than one dry run. These days, when I do a new talk, I practice at least 4 hours before I do it on a webinar and at least 10 when I do it in front of a live audience for the first time. Even if it’s a signature talk I’ve done 20 times, I do several timed dry runs of my opening, any content I’ve changed, and my call to action/closing because these are always customized for that audience (see mistake #4!)
- They don’t cater to all learning types – Most presentations I see really only cater to the auditory learner. Many people think using PowerPoint engages a visual learner, but if it only has text bullets or hard-to-read graphs, it won’t. Using pictures and symbols that are metaphors for learning, work well for visual learners. Getting audience engagement and participation, as well as encouraging people to write things down, engages your kinesthetic learners. Lastly, storytelling evokes learning in all 3 learning types, as well as engages both the left and right part of the brain of audience members. Using stories throughout your presentation that pertain directly to your material is one of the best ways to engage your audience and solidify learning.
- They cram in way too much information – Most people include too much information because they are trying to add value. Unfortunately, this often has them talking like energizer bunnies to get through all the content and not going deep enough into the content they are giving. Most of us only absorb about 20% of what we see/hear in a presentation. You can increase that absorption level by covering less, going deeper, and using examples and stories for the material you are sharing. Stories and examples are memorable, as well as proof that what you are sharing is important, relevant, true and/or actionable.
- They don’t cater their presentation to their audience – The Wharton professor I spoke about above made this mistake. About 20% of the content in his talk (which is clearly a signature talk that he has done many, many times…boringly so) was completely irrelevant to the audience. With just a little bit of research and due diligence with the people who put the conference on, he could have quickly ascertained this and deleted that content. If he knew his audience, he could have woven in stories and examples that would have hit his points home (like Joey did so masterfully), and it would have also impressed us, like it did with Joey, who not only researched his audience but used examples of various different individuals in the audience of 150. He not only researched us as a group, but looked at each of our individual websites, Linked In profiles, and Facebook profiles. He used to be a criminal defense attorney, after all. It was truly remarkable how much research he put into his talk to cater it to us. As a professional speaker who gets paid well into the 5 figures to do 2 hour talk, one would hope he would do some research, but he definitely set a new bar for me for excellence in this area.
- They aren’t grounded and present – More people fear public speaking than they do death (it’s true). It’s no wonder that people’s fear of speaking can make many speakers have an out of body experience of sorts. I’ve had that happen and it is really unnerving. If you aren’t grounded, you can’t be present. If you aren’t present, you won’t notice when people are engaged vs. getting their iPhones out to browse to check their Facebook newsfeed. You won’t be able to change and shift the energy in the room if you are unable to read it. Being grounded and present also allows you to be in the moment; to answer questions that come from the audience without losing your train of thought; or to change things up when your audience isn’t responding they way you thought they would. One of the things I work on most with my clients before a speaking gig is on grounding exercises so they start out grounded. I also brainstorm different ideas with them that they can pull out of their hat if they need to engage their audience in a different way. And, remember, if you are really well prepared, you are far more likely to be grounded and present because you can focus your energy outward more readily.
- They don’t engage the audience – I love to watch people speak and see how they engage or don’t engage an audience. Speakers that focus on putting a ton of content in 8 point type on Powerpoint slides and reading each bullet to you verbatim are usually the least engaging. Humor is a great way to engage an audience. Storytelling is a great way, as well. Showing videos and interesting visuals is another way. You can ask your audience for a show of hands if “x,y or z” has ever happened to them. You can ask them to give a high five to their neighbor. There are a million ways to engage your audience and the key is to plan out different ways throughout your talk to foster that engagement.
- They take themselves way too seriously (which, in turn makes them painfully dull to witness no matter how smart they are) – When I first started doing public speaking as an Executive, I made this mistake. I thought it was important to be professional and focus on the intellectual importance of the content. Well, turns out content is only 7% of what will make your presentation successful. Just 7%! How you deliver that content is what really matters. If you are having fun, your audience is likely having fun too. If you make your audience laugh and have fun, you will be far more memorable than giving them great content. Sadly, a lot of presenters who are really good at presenting have pretty mediocre content, but they are still more memorable than the boring people with great content so they get away with it. Be memorable AND have great content. That will make you a world-class speaker.
I believe that speaking is one of the fastest and easiest ways to attract new clients and I believe that almost anyone can become a really good speaker with some training, support and practice. I hope you found this interesting and helpful. Moreover, I hope this will help you become an even better speaker! As always, I welcome your comments, thoughts and feedback.