Tag: How to become better as a speaker

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I did not do any speeches this week, instead I went on a one week vacation with my wife to San Fransisco to visit family, friends and to attend a wedding of a good friend.

I might not have been working, but I took any chance I could get to become better as a speaker.

An example: While in San Francisco me and my wife decided to go to Oaklanda stand-up performance with the cult comedian Sinbad.

I also attended the final game between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets in the Oracle Arena. Well, technically the game was in Houston but the whole stadium in Oakland was full with fans who wanted to watch the game on the big screen jumbotron TV.

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Watching Sinbad do his stand-up routine I was reminded about things like:

  • the importance of looking like you enjoy being on stage.
  • the power of improvised storytelling
  • the value of engaging with the audience in a non-threatening way.

Watching a basketball game in a sold-out stadium where there was no team playing (!) I was shown the power of how the surroundings around the main event (be it – like in this case – a basketball game, or in my case, a speech).

It was fascinating to see how the audience would scream, cheer and boo even as neither team was there to hear it. It felt – almost – like being at the actual game.

(On this trip I also came up with what will, perhaps, be the theme for my next book, while sleeping in in our hotel room one day.)

As professional speakers we have a lot of time of, ie time when we are not speaking. (I am guessing the average professional speaker makes 70-150 speeches per year leaving close to 200-300 days in a year when we are NOT speaking…)

But if we want to be on top of our game we have to think about speaking every single day. That is one of the things I love with this job: that we get so much time over to live a life we want, yet can spend so much time developing ourselves in the area – speaking – that we are passionate about.

The best of both worlds. Not just work-life balance. But work-life harmony.

 

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The pictures in this blog posts are for two speeches that I have done in the last month or so.

One from a classic old hotel in Rome for a speech for Visa’s clients from EMEA.
And the other one from the iconic Waldorf Astoria on the Bund in Shanghai a few days ago where I spoke to the top managers at the global management conference of Permira.

Both conferences had about 200 attendees (which means they were not a very large conference) and both conferences had substituted the traditional backdrop for a LED-wall stretching the full length of the big stage.

Big LED-walls are of course not something new, but they used to be used only for big conferences with 500-1000 people in the audience because of the cost of setting them up.

I am writing this post because at both the Visa conference and the Permira conference the event managers joyfully told me: “The cost of getting a LED-wall was virtually the same as to get a traditional backdrop”.

I guess that means that we speakers have to get much more used to speaking in front of an LED-wall. (And as a speaker I can see that happening: In the last 6 speeches I have done 3 had LED-walls and 3 had printed back-drops.)

So what is the difference, you say? Not a huge one, but a few things to think about:

1) Less chance that the laser-pointer will work (the light on the laser pointer is just not strong enough to show up on the LED-wall) so if you are going to pinpoint something on stage be sure you have an alternative way of doing it.

2) More light behind you (so make sure you do not only do a sound-check, but also a light-check, especially if you are using a flip-chart where it becomes very important that the light facing the stage is strong enough)

3) If you are not using slides: Make sure you have a background picture that re-inforces your message, or that you at least approve of the back-ground picture they will be showing during your speech (Like in the picture to the left where they threw up a huge picture of the Chinese Wall behind the panelists, if you are panelist you would like to know that beforehand.)

4) If you are using slides: Ask to see the back-ground framing-picture that will be used around your slides (your slides will be “picture-in-picture” on a much bigger picture, be sure you know what that picture is. (I guess I am saying, do not only do a sound-check and light-check but also a “background check” 😉

5) Especially notice if there are any animations happening in the background picture and decide if you want the background to be animated or not (most of the time they will have an animated background as well as a static background. Personally I would choose the static background DURING the speech, and let the animations happen between speakers.)

6) If it is a big conference, or if you find out about the LED-wall early enough to make changes to your slides, check if the client wants you to leave the “safety” powerpoint slide and instead want you to go for the slide-deck that shows up on the full wall. (So add that question about “what kind of technology will be used for the backdrop?” to your briefing call list of questions.)

7) Realise that our audiences is quickly getting used to huge, animated, lit up stages – even for small conferences – and that puts different demands (and expectations) on us as speakers. No, it doesn’t mean we HAVE to have flashy animations in our speeches, but it does mean that audiences will expect it more and more.

That’s my thoughts on professional speaking this week based on what inspired me the last few days.

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As a professional speaker I am passionate about what people who book speakers think makes a great speaker.

That is why – at the Asia Professional Speakers Convention 11-12 May  that I am chair of this year – we have a panel of three buyers of speaker services sharing about just that. Check out www.AsiaProfessionalSpeakersConvention.com if you are interested.

And that is why I yesterday I asked the question to Mike Doughty. Mike Doughty is today a speaker and the founder of Get Business Fit. We had a conversation today about speaking as two speakers sharing peer-to-peer, but I also took the chance to ask him about his views from “the other side”.

Mike used to run an event company that would book some of the best speakers in the world. Over the years he booked over 100 speakers – and paid more than 2 million dollars in speaker fees.

I asked him: “What makes a great speaker great?”

His answer?

“The ability to articulate a different perspective in a way that is engaging.”

 

Sometimes a short, precise sentence is the only thing you need to be reminded of what is important.

As a speaker is your message different?

Are you giving a new perspective?

Are you articulating this message in the best way?

And do you do it in a way that is engaging?

If you answer “yes” to all these four questions you are on your way to becoming a great speaker, now work on getting even better at all four. If your answer – honestly! – is “no” or “a bit” or “perhaps” or “I think so” etc, then put all your effort on fixing that one thing that is missing.

Personally I think the one thing I need to work most on is “articulate”. As a non-native English speaker speaking almost exclusively in English I constantly struggle to use a more nuanced vocabulary in my speeches. What is the thing you need to work more on?

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