Recently we shared some tips to help you position your colleagues—or yourself—to speak at conferences or trade shows. Maybe we put the cart before the horse—at least insofar as assessing attitudes toward public speaking. Or in the words of Jerry Seinfeld:
According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.
The more we examine this topic, the more we learn. We’re talking deeply rooted fears: fear of rejection, fear of risk, fear of being afraid. Well, guess what? It’s time to get past all this. Help is on the way.
Let’s talk about the real world. In every team meeting, Shawn is the person who speaks up, knows the most, and explains patiently. The obvious conclusion is that Shawn would be an ideal speaker at the next conference. However, when you approach Shawn, you come face to face with all the fears we just mentioned as well as a few of Shawn’s own.
How can you help Shawn get past those voices that say speaking is for other people?
- Help Shawn develop content. That requires focusing on one topic. You have already observed Shawn knows a lot, but in an hour time slot, one topic needs to stand out.
- Stress the importance of allowing personality to shape the presentation. No one wants to listen to a robot. Real life examples make any speaker more credible.
- Let Shawn know the best humor comes from authenticity and actual experience; don’t listen to the old advice that says to open with a joke. Plus, jokes are minefields today.
- Share a few lessons from improv. For example, the “yes, and…” tactic is very helpful when you encounter a challenging audience member. Rather than dismiss that person’s comments, respond with “Yes” (as if you are affirming the contribution} “and” (to get back on track after an interruption or an off-topic question).
- Tell Shawn that buzz words block communication because they are used so often and in so many contexts that they become meaningless.
- Make sure Shawn understands that the speech should be non-promotional. The goal is to establish your company as a thought leader, not to set up a sales pitch.
Next, help Shawn develop objectives for the audience. What should they want to learn? As with any objective, make each one specific and actionable. What insights or best practices should audience members expect to take away from the presentation? What behavioral changes or insights will result from attending this session? What will they be able to incorporate in their daily work processes?
More often than not, conferences are providing options for presentation format. Does Shawn need 90 minutes or 45? Is classroom style appropriate, or would the content be better delivered with groups sitting at rounds, perhaps offering the opportunity for small group interaction? At the risk of using one of those buzz words, think outside the classroom box.
Finally, offer to help Shawn get some speaker training. If you remember from the last post, this process should start 12-18 months before the actual event, plenty of time to get to Toastmasters or other programs that help to dispel the fear. Recruit visual support for Shawn—you don’t have to do a traditional PowerPoint, but visuals help to engage the audience and reinforce the message. Then enlist a few of Shawn’s colleagues for a rehearsal. Their feedback can range from assessing eye contact to body language, all of it helpful.
Speaking at trade shows and conferences demonstrates thought leadership and enhances your presence as an exhibitor and/or a sponsor. Successful face-to-face marketing is multi-faceted, and is within your reach.
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