Selling today is all about giving back to your customers, and customers prize transparency. One of the ways I give back to my community — and strive to be transparent — is through public speaking events. What’s more transparent than what you can see and hear?
When invited, I almost always go, and I often speak for free. These days, I truly enjoy being on stage. But that wasn’t always the case.
Like most people, I considered speaking in front of a crowd my worst nightmare. People who know me would describe me as the silent type. Even among friends, chatting at a dinner party is not my favorite thing to do.
But I’ve never let that stop me from expressing myself, and neither should you. Because I was, and am, passionate about open innovation and licensing as a business model, I had to find my voice. And, with a little bit of practice, I did that. You can, too.
First piece of advice: Things will not go as planned.
After giving quite a few talks, I found one thing to be true: Things will not go as planned. Once, I found myself in a local library standing before an audience of children younger than age 6. The presentation I had prepared was for adults! (I still tease my business partner about that little misunderstanding.)
I’ve also shown up to speak at what I thought was a meeting of local inventors, only to discover that the promoters never informed their members about me. Apparently, they’d decided I should be their private coach.
I can laugh at these experiences now, having spoken to all kinds of groups, from private gatherings in nearby California to packed auditoriums across the world in Sydney, Australia. Here is the best advice I have to offer:
1. Be flexible.
I recently delivered a presentation on how to license ideas to companies embracing open innovation. And there were quite a few last-minute changes: I was to be the keynote, and wrap up the conference. But at the last minute, a congressman invited to speak in the morning wanted the afternoon spot. This meant the organizers had to rearrange things. They were very apologetic, but could fit me in only during lunch.
Speaking at lunchtime is not ideal. People are eating, and more likely to pay attention to their meal than to the speaker. Nonetheless, I agreed.
But once I began speaking, I’d only made it to my second slide when the promoter motioned me from the sidelines. Surprise! The congressman had arrived early and had only 30 minutes for us. I could tell the promoter was mortified. I smiled, told him there was no problem and handed over the microphone.
My message? Human beings don’t like unforeseen changes. Unfulfilled expectatons — even small ones — mess with our brain chemistry. But, fight it. Keep a cool head and keep smiling, no matter what gets thrown at you. If you manage to curb your immediate emotional response, you might even be able to take advantage of the situation.
In this case, the circumstances provided a great photo op: When the congressman walked offstage, I was there to shake his hand, and my team captured the moment. I turned lemons into lemonade. It was also clear that both the organizers and the audience appreciated my flexibility.
2. Know your content.
To completely rock the house, know your content frontwards and backwards. You should be able to speak about your subject for hours, without visual aids, under nearly any circumstance to any group of people on the planet. I’m serious.
In other words, don’t depend on your PowerPoint presentation to do your legwork. Don’t include more than a few words on any one slide. Include just enough to help keep yourself on track. And be ready for anything to happen. The power could go out, the computer could break down, your presentation file might go missing. Speakers who know their stuff are so much more engaging because they’re at ease. It’s like listening to a friend.
If you love what you’re talking about, your passion will stoke your capacity to learn and retain a lot of information. But, you’re still going to need to develop your material and practice — a lot! So, organize your ideas on paper, articulate them out loud, and then go over the details of your delivery.
3. Know your what your audience needs.
To deliver a great presentation, truly know your audience and its needs. You must figure out what you have to offer that these people can walk away with that is going to positively impact their lives. It’s not about selling. It’s about delivering!
Tim Ferriss once told me to never hold anything back, and he was absolutely right. To attract a devoted following, deliver information people can use, and make it as unique and personal as possible. Feed your audience with great content. Believe me, your audience will keep coming back. And eventually they’ll pay for your services.
4. Connect with each and every person in the room.
If you learn how to properly connect, all those people in the audience will feel that you’re speaking directly to them personally.
First, arrive early to walk the room, shake hands and talk to people. Of course, multiple people means germs. To avoid getting sick, refrain from touching your face and wash your hands afterward.
Thank everyone for being there and tell them they’re going to have a great time. If there’s a camera operator, introduce yourself. If you have a best side, this is a great chance to tell them that. This is your time to shine! So, smile big and keep on smiling. The effort you put into building relationships early pays off.
This is also the perfect opportunity to get a good look at the stage from the audience’s perspective. By looking at the stage, I determine how to walk and stand; but the important thing is that before I get up there, I’ve already made friends with everyone. The vibe I strive for is: I’m having fun, and so should you!
Next, start your talk with a story, with subject matter everyone can identify with. Think about a story involving vulnerability: People respond to it. Exposing yourself in such a casual and confident manner — warts and all — makes you relatable. The audience starts to trust and root for you. In return, when I’m speaking, I do my best to remain transparent and accessible. I make eye contact with individuals when I’m up on stage, which is important.
5. Command the stage.
You can only fake it until you make it so much, so never pass up an opportunity to speak.Small, big — it doesn’t matter. I treat a room with ten people pretty much the same as an auditorium with 1,000. Bring your A-game every time.
And be aware of your body language. Stand up straight, keeping your shoulders dropped so that they are relaxed. Keep your hands open and avoid crossing your arms or your legs. Don’t sway or pivot in one spot. I also always walk around so that I can smile and look at every member of the audience. Do your best to avoid neglecting anyone. For larger audiences, slowly pan around the audience and focus on the faces you see there. .
I personally find that a lapel (also known as a lavalier) microphone (as opposed to a regular hand-held mike) offers the most freedom of movement and allows me to gesticulate naturally.
Speak confidently from your diaphragm. If you try to use your throat alone, you’ll burn out quickly. If you use your diaphragm for power and your larynx only for control, you voice will carry over to the last row and you won’t lose your voice.
Be careful not to fill up the silence with crutch words like “um” or “you know.” This is something we do in regular conversation to avoid losing our turn to speak when we haven’t finished talking. But, guess what? Nobody is going to be interrupting you on stage, so learn to take pauses. In fact, dead space on stage creates suspense and makes you more interesting. Embrace the silence.
6. Practice, practice, practice!
I stand in an empty room and pretend others are there while I go over my delivery, in terms of content and form. I always time myself to make sure that I’m within my allotted interval. You too can also practice in front of a mirror, videotape yourself or ask someone to watch you and offer pointers.
Don’t practice the day of the event, because you want to be fresh.
7. Stay sharp on event day.
Set up with time to spare, so you can make sure everything is in working order. That includes your equipment, yourself and your team, if you have one. Rest up, feed yourself, have plenty of water on hand and make sure to drink it. Dress appropriately for the occasion, but make sure you wear something that makes you feel like a million bucks.
People have taken the trouble to come to hear you. They have chosen to spend their valuable time listening to what you have to say. So, be ready. You owe it to your audience to be the best possible orator you can be, because selling today is all about giving back. Start developing your public speaking skills now.