I just returned from a conference where I was a speaker on a panel. Since I am generally a keynote or breakout speaker, I rarely am on panels. It was an awesome experience. And…I attended the other panels of the conference and the morning keynote. As someone who trains speakers to be impactful and memorable, I believe my observations and suggestions are important to deliver to you.  My commitment is to contribute, always, and my observations and suggestions will make a difference for you, if you are a speaker or called on to speak as part of your job.

This event had a great keynote advertised. It was completely in my genre and she spoke about much of what I speak about, so I was excited. And….it was such a let-down. Why? Not what she had to say- her content was awesome. However, the disconnect between her content, what she said, and how she delivered it and who she was ‘being’ had her keynote be NOT memorable or impactful but hard to get through!

Here are the things that DID NOT WORK and WHAT WORKS and why:

1. DID NOT WORK: Standing behind a lectern the whole time. It doesn’t work because the audience experience being lectured to, talked AT and disconnected from the speaker. Our brains naturally distrust when we are not connected.

  • WHAT WORKS: Stand and move in the front of a large room or move into the audience if you can (depending on room set up). Talk WITH people, not AT them. Connect with them. Eye contact matters. When you connect with people, they experience a surge of positive neurochemicals which increases their ability to trust you, and thus increases your chances of being memorable and making an impact.
  • When you are speaking, look at people- not above their heads, not darting around the room, but actually look someone in their eyes and talk to them for a while and then move on to another person in another part of the room and talk to them for a while, and repeat this. (We all tend to have a favored side that we look to- I recommend having someone support you in making sure you are speaking with everyone on all sides of the room. This simply can be having someone on your support team move to a side of the room you are neglecting, for example.)

 2. DID NOT WORK: Reading from a script. This does not work because: see above- this has her disconnected. It also shows a total lack of preparation and lack of confidence. Her topic talked about being confident- while she is behaving in a way that demonstrates a lack of confidence- that decreases trust and credibility. Personally, as a participant, it demonstrates to me a disregard for my experience and has me feel disrespected. You have my attention by virtue of delivering the keynote that sets the tone for the entire conference— it seems that you should do the work to prepare for an engagement and care about my (as a participant) experience.

  • WHAT WORKS: Prepare. Prepare. Write out your speech, practice it ALOUD many times. Practice it in the mirror. Practice it aloud to another person. Preparation is not about getting every word down or getting it perfect. Preparation allows you to be comfortable so you can speak with people and interact with them. They came to hear you, so preparation allows you to be fully you.
  • Do NOT READ your script or your slides. This is boring! If you have slides, they can read them, you should be expounding on your points.
  • If you forget some of what you intended to say, it is fine. Remember, they don’t have a copy of your script, so they don’t know. (and it is fine to have notes and refer to them if you forget- just say so: e.g. “Let me look- I think there was one more point I wanted to make sure to tell you”—as you look. In other words; be transparent–which goes a long way to increase trust and credibility.
  • Create the space in language that allows people to connect with you. That increases the probability that they can join and participate in the conversation and discover with you. That sticks with people!

 3. DID NOT WORK: Talking too fast. People’s brains are interpreting, synthesizing, processing what you have to say. When you talk fast, they miss much of what you have to say. This also happens when you are nervous, don’t know your material and lack confidence. You must deal with this during your preparation so that you are speaking in a cadence and tone that works for the audience.

  • WHAT WORKS: Practice speaking slowly. Talk slower than you do in a conversation one on one.
  • Let what you say land. If you have something important to say, say it and then be quiet. Let people process what you said.
  • Ask questions that let people interact with you and also lets you know if what you are saying is landing and impacting people.

 4. DID NOT WORK: Not walking your talk. If your talk is about being confident and bold and you hide out, don’t demonstrate what you are saying, you lose credibility. People stop listening or paying attention.

  • WHAT WORKS: Be Yourself. You may make mistakes, you may say something stupid, you may trip or do something you had not intended. So what? You are human. Your humanity makes you relatable. You want people to experience being with you, and if you try to not be you, you rip them off the real opportunity of being with you.
  • Some other points about WHAT WORKS:
    • Make sure you can be heard. If you don’t have a microphone, make sure you project so everyone can hear you. You may sound like you are yelling to yourself, but you are not. I often ask, “Can everyone hear me” in this situation. If you notice the people in the last rows, seem distracted, consider you are not loud enough.
    • Humor is good. We all love to laugh, so sprinkle in some humor. Be sensitive to off color jokes or any humor that might be offensive. Self-deprecating humor is great.
  • Be willing to dance in the conversation, AND don’t give up your room! This is one of the most challenging aspects of public speaking for newer speakers. You want to be out with people and may answer questions or go different directions during your speech. Most important, however, is to remember that this is your speech and not to let someone derail your direction. This takes finesse, at times, when someone is trying to take the conversation where they want it to go. I find if that happens, you can simply say “Let’s discuss this after we are done here so I can make sure everyone gets what I promised.” And then be available to meet that person at the end of your presentation.
  • Join a public speaking practice group, like Toastmasters, or take opportunities to practice with a speech coach or take a training course, like our Impact Speaking Lab.

Have fun! Being center stage and having a conversation with a larger group of people at one time on a topic that you are interested in can be fun if you simply go with the flow and enjoy the ride.