Career Connector

How To Not Be a Boring Speaker

I have a number of presentations and workshops coming up this fall, and I’ve been thinking about how to structure my talks for maximum value and interest. In my research, I found a Tim Sanders blog post with a phrase that particularly bears repeating: “Do your research about the audience, where they need to be moved to, and how that intersects with your expertise or experiences.”

It seems so obvious that the audience holds the keys and yet, most of us forget that. We labor over our PowerPoints with just the right wording and hope that everything we think we should say will fit on just a few slides.

And yet, we’ve been told by successful presenters that the key to a great presentation is in knowing your audience and speaking to them from the heart. Unfortunately most of us either don’t know how to do that or we are fearful of failing to deliver on some level. Or we’re afraid that without the PowerPoint safety net, we’ll get too nervous and flub it all together. I’m as guilty of these fears as the next person.

But I’ve got a couple of talks lined up over the next month, and I’m determined to prepare differently. No PowerPoint, for starters. And lots of thinking about how I can be of service to each audience.

I’m curious to hear your experiences and tips too.


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6 Responses to How To Not Be a Boring Speaker

  1. Jake P says:

    Allison, I write a lot of articles for Speaker magazine, which is published by the National Speakers Association, so I’ve had the amazing good fortune to interview some of the best in the business. My number one takeaway is: Tell stories. They have a way of connecting with the audience in ways that straight info can’t. No matter what the story, people will find resonance in their own lives.

    Tim’s point about research is also underscored by just about everyone I’ve talked to. I just interviewed Harvey Mackay for an upcoming issue, and one of his tips is to show up early and introduce yourself to as many audience members as possible–and if you’re nimble, incorporate a few of the nuggets that you glean on the fly. “I was just talking to Betty Smith, and she mentioned how people are struggling with their TPS report cover sheets. Well, I had to laugh because that reminds me of a time when….”

    Good luck with it!

  2. Allison says:

    Jake, that is another great piece of advice: tell stories. I would say, though, that many people (including me) are not natural storytellers and may not want to use that technique until they’re very sure of themselves. I actually took a storytelling class here in NYC last year, and it was very useful. It’s a fantastic tool but should be used with caution!

    I love the idea of showing up early to schmooze with participants. It’s a great way to glean their interests and concerns and as you say, insert their comments casually into your presentation. Thanks, Jake.

  3. Jake P says:

    That’s a good point, Allison. A storytelling class sounds like a fun & practical way to get comfortable with it.

    Newbies looking to improve their speaking skills should consider joining a local Toastmasters group. I did it many years ago, but the lessons stuck with me. Many companies will pay for your membership, too, as an education and training expense!

  4. Allison says:

    Another good thought, Jake. Thanks. I also think that it’s a good idea to examine the kinds of environments that are most ideal for you as a speaker and pursue those opportunities in particular.

    For example, you may be better in a workshop or panel setting, where there’s a lot of give and take with others, vs. a straight speaking gig. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to do both, but the truth is that some people are not as good speaking on their own as they are as part of a group. Curious to hear what others think.

  5. Chris says:

    Hi Allison — I love the idea of no PowerPoint! I think that PowerPoint ensures that your audience’s eyes are on the screen and they’re not listening to you, they’re too busy reading the PowerPoint. Time to start a no PowerPoint movement. Unfortunately, teachers are still using them at my daughter’s middle school — I really wish they wouldn’t — it starts bad public speaking habits that will be hard to break.

  6. Allison says:

    Thanks, Chris! I agree we should start a movement:) Tell your kids teachers to cease and desist!!

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