[Strawbale] Speaking at public events

esbgteam esbgteam at gmail...
Thu Nov 10 18:16:23 CET 2011

Just came about this and can't help sharing it here, as sooner or later
many of us present some aspects of SB building for a large crowd, and most
of us don't have a training in doing so. Hope it's appreciated...


Dear Speaker:

Most events are boring because most speakers don’t prepare. And as much as
you know this I suspect you overlook how often audiences are
disappointed by you. How would you know? Audiences are unlikely to boo you
off the stage, and few people are mean enough to seek you out in the
hallway just to tell you how much you sucked. And if people won’t confront
the awful speakers, they certainly won’t bother to chat  up the mediocre
ones either.

Good organizers know most speakers don’t do a very good job, and they’re
all too aware of the common mistakes speakers make every year, in spite of
their recommendations. Arrogance, ignorance and sheer incompetence are
rampant – the feedback loop is broken.  Most speakers have never watched
video of themselves speaking and have a distorted sense of how good or bad
they are.

But this is good for you: the bar for public speaking is low. With simple
forethought and commitment, you can do a much better job than most other
speakers regardless of how much “talent” you have.

   1. *You are not Bono.* It is an honor to be invited to speak somewhere,
   but you’re not a rock-star. There are many other speakers and
   the organizers have to attend to their needs as well as yours. Even if you
   are keynoting, it’s not your event (unlike a U2 concert). You are an
   invited guest into their world. Treat the hosts, speakers and other guests
   with respect. If you have a long list of requests, prioritize them and the
   make the request early. Some speakers have huge egos, and often it gets in
   everyone’s way, especially the audience’s.
   2. *Your mistakes on stage are your own fault. *You are a performer.
   Good performers don’t blame their tools. If your laptop flakes out, or your
   movie won’t play, you are responsible. If you have special needs, let the
   organizers know early and ask for a rehearsal. If you can’t get one,
   simplify. If at the rehearsal the tech guy is on drugs, or the organizer
   seems overwhelmed, simplify. It’s your show and you will be judged
   regardless of where you point fingers. Practice and prepare accordingly.
   Have a simple 5/10 minute fallback version of your talk you can do even if
   the there’s no electricity.
   3. *Drop the bio intro*. No one cares. 95% of the time your bio is on
   the website or in the program. The audience can get it if they want it,
   right there, on their phone, at any time. History is boring. All the
   audience needs to know is if you are credible or not, and they’ll decide
   that for themselves after you’ve made your first point or offered your
   first bit of advice. 30 seconds is more than enough time to say your name,
   job title and why you care about the topic. Anything more is a waste of
   4. ***Know your audience. *Most speakers forget the slides are for the
   audience, not for them. The audience is sitting there because they want to
   learn, get inspired or be entertained. Whatever your topic, find out what
   the 5 most pressing questions the audience has about it are and answer
   them. If the audience leaves with 5 solid answers to their 5 biggest
   questions, they’ll be very happy, even if you have zero charisma and didn’t
   crack a single joke. This simple premise often explains the best talks at
   any event, and few speakers even try to do this. Ask the organizer for job
   title breakdowns, age ranges, and other demographics. Ask for the full
   schedule so you know what talks are before and after yours, so you can
   adjust your material accordingly.*
   5. *Being nervous is normal and can be managed. *Our bodies respond to
   being in front of crowds. It’s ok. But there are things you can to do
   minimize and compensate for this particular kind of fear. If you practice,
   get exercise the day before, and arrive early to the room, you’ll cut down
   your fears dramatically.
   6. *There is nothing inspiring about winging it. *If you paid $50 to see
   a show, would you want to see the actors and musicians winging it? You’d
   call them unprofessional. It’s not only disrespectful, your gamble is
   likely obvious to everyone in the room.  Why speak if you’re only going to
   do it half-assed? Say No instead.  All good speakers practice more than you
   think. Their carefree vibe is the result of hard-work, not the lack of it.
   7. *Honor your commitments. *The dog did not eat your homework, nor your
   slide deck. The organizers know all the excuses and they’re embarrassed for
   you that you need to make them up. If you are a professional, treat your
   deadlines professionally. If you need more time ask for it advance, not a
   day after the deadline has passed. Don’t double book and bail last minute.
   It’s a sure-fire way to never be invited back again.
   8. *The organizers have more power than you think – treat them well. *Event
   organizers are often producers of the show – meaning they can make speakers
   look very good or very bad. Be nice to them. Make it easy for them to help
   you.  In a pinch, they are the only people who can find the tech guy, fix
   the lights, or a thousand other little things you won’t realize you need
   until the last minute.
   9. *Don’t party too hard if you can’t handle it. *Drink as much as you
   like. Drink before, after or during your talk. But don’t use it as an
   excuse for why you sucked. If you can’t handle a late night before an early
   morning wake-up, do what your audience would want you to do: go to bed
   early, do a good job, and then party harder with your new fans after your
   talk is over. Fly in the day before the event to give yourself insurance
   for a good night sleep before you perform.
   10. *Get there early*.  You can learn much from watching the speaker
   before you. What is the energy like? How filled is the room? More important
   perhaps, organizers need to see you and know you’re ok. They have many
   things to worry about, why make them worry about you? Get their cell # and
   send a text when you arrive or if you are running late.  And stay around
   after your talk. People will want to ask you questions, and often you’ll
   learn insights that will make your talk better next time.
   11. *Be smart with your slides*.  Make them simpler. Always simpler.
   Avoid small fonts: no one can read them (in rehearsal, put up your most
   text heavy slide and walk to the back of the room). Don’t have dense slides
   – no one will understand them anyway. If you insist on dense, complex
   slides, put them online before your talk so people can choose to follow
   along. Reading off a screen is much harder than you think.
   12. *End early. *Practice so you know how long those slides actually
   take. Plan to leave time so people can get to their next session early,
   beat traffic or the crowds at the lunch lines. Stick around in the wings so
   people who want more can get it from you (provided there isn’t another
   speaker right after you. In which case, get the hell out of their way).
   13. *Put your contact info up twice: at the beginning and at the end*.
   In large fonts. And leave it up long enough for people to copy it. You want
   people to contact you. They will tell you about typos, references, stories
   and books that you will find interesting. It’s one of the payoffs for all
   the work you put in.
   14. *Use an end to end checklist*.  There are many little things to do,
   and they’re easy to forget. Work from a simple checklist to help you
   prepare, perform and follow-up after your talk.

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