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How to Avoid Common Conference Speech Mistakes

Im always amazed at how so many people speaking in conference settings worry about how well their presentation will go down with the audience. They will spend days on their slides, worry about what they will say, and get really stressed about the questions that might be asked at the end.

However, research into learning theory- how people retain and recall information, consistently shows that one of the key areas in a presentation is right at the start. This makes sense when you think about it – even in the middle of a really long series of presentations, each time a new person starts there is that sense that maybe this one will be better. You can almost sense people “perking up” for a few moments.

And its those few moments we are going to hone in on. This is the key time that you can get some real traction for the rest of your presentation. Im going to share with you three key techniques that I use all the time, and which I can guarantee will give you a better start to your presentation than pretty much everyone else.

The first thing to make clear is that you need to drop all the usual poor starts that people use, and overuse, that you have heard a million times before. You know the sort of things:

  • “You’ll have to bear with me, Im a little nervous…,” – Do we have to bear with you? No.
  • “Ive got the graveyard shift” … fantastic- set your sights so high!
  • “Before we start, a little about me” … sorry I don’t care about you, I want you to help me.
  • “I’m what stands between you and lunch” … See the stupid graveyard comment above.
  • “We’re running late, so I’ll do my best to…” No one cares any more!

Right those out of the way- change your perspective about having to tell us who you are first, and anything about your business or position at work. See above – work on getting to how you can help us quicker, and if we are interested in you, then you will have the perfect chance to tell us in a moment. So here are my “go to” approaches to open a session. Ask a question. Yes as simple as it sounds. A question related to your topic of course. You can wait for the answers from audience to shout out, you can ask your audience to consider your question in small groups and give you some feedback, or you can even ask a rhetorical question where you don’t need an answer. However you choose to do this, what you will find is that your audience is engaged immediately with something of interest to them, not forced to listen to you talk about yourself. Get some answers from your audience and then you are into your introduction and how you can help us…. Tell a story. Or a quote, a statistic, a song lyric even. Golden rule is that when you have finished, do NOT say “And I like that because …” If you have to explain the choice, its the wrong choice. The story makes people laugh, consider, engage – anything that is linked to your key points. NOW you tell them who you are and how you are going to help them in this session.

Run an activity. More simple than it sounds – put some instructions on the screen and ask people to carry out what you want – such as a “back of the envelope audit for your organisations customer service levels” …give people a minute or two then you have some ready input from them. And whatever results they have will work for your presentation… i.e. they have no idea how well their customer service levels are so you are here to tell them. Or they think the levels are too low – so you are here to help them improve…and so on. At which point we are now more interested in who you are, and how you can help us…

The argument I will always put forward is that these approaches are not different for difference sake, they are different because they make a difference. They work, really well, pretty much every time.