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Speaking at a Conference? 8 Tips for Industry Leaders

Speaking at a Conference? 8 Tips for Industry Leaders

I returned from a major industry conference two days ago

Was I disappointed!¬† While the networking was good, the presentations overall were… average.¬† And “average” is so far below the potential of anyone who speaks at a conference.¬† Brave New World entrepreneurs must seize opportunities like this big time!¬† Yet time and time again, the vast majority of conference presentations fall in to the abyss of meaningless… boring… forgotten.

Indeed, there were a few diamonds in the rough.¬† A few industry leaders actually cared about their presentations.¬† They not only prepared well, but they executed well.¬† And they made a big impact.¬† They strengthened their own personal brands and maximized their lead generation.¬† Could this be one of their secrets…

… to earning their roles as industry leaders?¬† I have no doubt!

The vast majority of presenters, on the other hand, squandered a huge opportunity!¬† They — and their presentations —¬†were a lackluster average.¬† Two days after the conference, I can’t remember what their big ideas were, or even what their topics were.¬† More critically, they squandered the opportunity to¬†generate leads from the conference.¬† If they generated leads over the two days, it wasn’t a result of attendees storming the stage after their presentations.¬† Today I not only don’t regard them as industry leaders, I’ve forgotten them.

Speaking at a conference is a golden opportunity to accomplish what entire marketing departments die for: lead generation and brand building.¬† Don’t squander it.¬† Capture it!

Here are eight tips for getting the most out of this opportunity:

  1. Prepare.¬† And prepare means dedicating time.¬† This is marketing, and marketing drives sales.¬† Winston Churchill used to prepare one hour for every one minute of speech.¬† I personally think that’s unrealistic in today’s busy world, but you get the point.¬† Don’t wing it!
  2. Know¬†thy audience.¬† Much like we should be customer-focused in our selling, we must be audience-focused in our presenting.¬† Seems like a no-brainer, but do you know what one presenter told me at the conference buffet?¬† That his presentation was the same one he gave to a new vendor three months earlier, albeit with a few tweaks.¬† I would’ve choked on my chicken satay, but I had seen his presentation… and it was lackluster.¬† It was not appropriate to this audience… at least it didn’t impact them.¬† Who is your audience?¬† What will motivate them?¬† Shock them?¬† Make them laugh?¬† Make them think?¬† Make them realize they have a need they hadn’t considered?
  3. What’s the big idea?¬† What big point do you want the audience to remember when they’re flying home, taking the bus to the train station or, like me now, sitting in their offices two days later?¬† You should have one big point (see blog post below, “Simplicity Sells”).¬† Everything else you present should support it.¬† If it doesn’t, jettison it.¬† Get rid of it.
  4. Edgy is good.¬† Edgy is great.¬† If 50% of your audience is happy that somebody is finally saying this in public, and 50% can’t believe this presenter has the¬†audacity to suggest they should move away from their comfort zone, then you will be noticed.¬† You will build your brand.¬† You will generate leads… maybe not from those who think you’re audacious, but you probably don’t want them as clients anyway.¬† What do you stand for?¬† Make it clear.¬† Make it edgy.
  5. Don’t sell from the podium.¬† This is counter-intuitive to some.¬† After all, why else should you be investing this time and brain-power?¬† Well, paradoxically, the best way to sell in this environment is to show and not tell.¬† If you’ve got something innovative to say, you’ll be building your brand and generating leads.¬† But if you open with, “… and by the end of my presentation, you’ll see that we should be your agency of choice…”¬†people will¬†walk out on you.¬† Several speakers at this week’s conference¬†said exactly that,¬†followed¬†by 10 minutes of credentials, and several audience members stood up and walked out, some politely, some not.¬† Other audience members were soon fidgeting with their¬†Blackberries.¬† Others were whispering to each¬†other, and¬†seemingly not about the presentation at the front of the room¬†but about other business in the back of their minds.
  6. Spare me the bullets!¬† The bullet points, that is.¬† Use PowerPoint the way it should be used, as an engager, not a crutch for remembering your speech!¬† Six bullet-points per slide, and 10 words per bullet-point, slide after slide,¬†is laughable.¬† Slides are meant to lead, not read.¬† Try using a photo that creates a reaction.¬† Try using just four words on a dark background, and nothing else, like the title of a chapter.¬† That sets an emotional, engaging tone while you¬†deliver the message.¬† All eyes — and ears — will be on you.¬† You are the messenger.¬† Your slides are the backdrop.¬† Sure, there is a¬†place for a slide with bullets.¬† But only occasionally.¬† When you must, keep to five or fewer bullets per slide, and five or fewer words per bullet.
  7. Deliver on your promise.¬† The title of your presentation is, essentially, a promise.¬† The organizers may be promoting you for a month before the conference, and the audience may have choices for other presentations in adjacent rooms.¬† They’ve chosen you.¬† If you don’t deliver on your promise, you will have breached the audience’s trust.¬† This relates to Point 2 above.¬† Know thy audience.¬† Then fulfill your promise.
  8. Rehearse.¬† This goes beyond preparing.¬† Preparation could be interpreted to mean researching, composing, creating a PowerPoint deck, etc.¬† Rehearsing means… yep,¬†closing the door, looking in the mirror and running through it… with no excuses.¬† Rehearsing means asking family members to sit and observe… or office mates.¬† Sure, this is a bit uncomfortable.¬† But isn’t standing up in front of your industry peers and knowing, as your half-way through,¬†in your heart of hearts, that the whole thing would be going better if you had only invested the time to prepare… and rehearse?¬† Isn’t that more¬†uncomfortable?

Isn’t squandering a huge opportunity regretful?

On the other hand, isn’t knowing that you nailed it, that you delivered big, that your slides led them to following your every word,¬†that every word was crack on, that people took note of your edgy message, and they took your business card, and you took theirs, and you have a reason to meet next week… isn’t that what you want to achieve?¬† Isn’t¬†that worth it?

Don’t leave it to chance.¬† Industry leadership is not easy.¬† It has to be earned.¬† If you are so fortunate to be granted the stage at any public speaking opportunity, let alone a conference in your industry, seize the day.¬† Knock ’em dead!

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  • Brilliant and insightful. Finally, someone gets it. Speaking at any conference is a gift. Too often people squander this opportunity. I believe Steve Jobs rehearses for months before his presentation. His success definitely supports your argument about building brand recognition.
    When conference organizers select their speakers, they should send every speaker a copy of this blog post.

  • Thanks, DrPresentation. My angle was, as you’ve noted, that speaking at a conference is a gift.
    I also like your point, that conference organizers should support the speakers. So now that we’re on the point, maybe they should set criterion and benchmarks for the speakers.
    Thanks again,