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15 tips on speaking at business events

I have an confession to make. 
OK, an admission. 
I’ve been responsible for about 100 conferences, maybe more, in the last 15 years.
Scary, but manageable

I know conferences sometimes (often?) have a bad reputation. 
Many are dull. I get that.
In my defence, I’ve always tried to make mine interesting. 
Generally I hope I’ve succeeded. But it’s not up to me to judge. I may well be delusional. 
Anyhow. My point is that I’ve been responsible for a fair few, and speak at a fair few more. And have sat through quite a few others, often as moderator. 
I’ve seen great speakers, I’ve seen mediocre speakers. I’ve seen awful speakers.
Last year I was involved in an event where one panellist simply sat, head down, and read out a legal statement. 
She then refused to say pretty much anything else. 
Presumably this was due to percieved legal risk, or lack of confidence, or both.
So, having done all this, which may not amount to much, I realise, I offer below a few tips for speaking at events, based on what I have seen since 1999. 
Many of these tips, I also know, are in the standard blogger event advice, repeated Ad Infinitum across the web. 
So I make no claim to originality. 
But here’s a few thoughts on what I believe works when engaging in public speaking, nonetheless.  
Don’t speak at all unless you’ve practiced and rehearsed. A bad speech
or set of comments is far worse for you than none at all.
2) Go slow. Slower than you think you need to. 
Speak less, say more. That way there is no need for notes or prompt
cards. Be interesting in a short space of time, make people think. 
4) Tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them.
5) Never, ever, ever show a corporate video. If you show video, make it funny.
Ban bullet points
. In fact, only use PowerPoint if you will show
pictures to tell stories with, or some stunning set of stats, or charts.
7) Smile. A lot. But don’t grin like a maniac.
8) Make a joke, even a bad joke. People will laugh, that will relax you, and them. 
Remember everyone (except perhaps old enemies or competitors) wants to
see you succeed
and give a good speech. For one simple reason. Because
it’s their time as well as yours. 
10) Remember there’s nothing wrong with a pause
11) People mainly remember stories, not policies. So tell a couple of stories.
12) Thank your hosts. Good grace matters.
Turn up early, and reference earlier sessions in your speech. It shows
you care enough about engagement to be there earlier in the day. Not
just to turn up and be in broadcast mode.
14) Time your speech, practice timing. Sticking to time counts.
15) Build in Q&A time, and end on a note that encourages questions and thought/reflection from the audience. 
I’m sure there’s more to add to this list. But any list longer than this risks overwhelming with numerical points, so I will leave it there. Comments on others will be published, unless self-promotional. That’s my privilege on this blog.


Three focused, detailed and practical sustainable business events for your diary

How to get beyond policy, manage risk and build relationships

10 November, 2014, London. More details here. (In Association with the Institute of Human Rights and Business)

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30-31 October, 2014, London. More details here.

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1 Comment

  1. Kris Hoellen

    Nice reminders. Another I would add to the list which I think is implied is treat your time like a performance – don’t speak in a monotone, know your audience, keep them interested through content and delivery.