I have been a professional speaker, lecturer and trainer for over 25 years. Whether it is in person at a conference keynote or breakout session, online in a webinar or virtual conference, or hybrid via technology to an in-person audience, some basic truths of being successful at it carry no matter the platform. I thought it would be interesting to share some of my insights from my experience and invite you to do the same – do you speak at events, teach CLE, or want to? Have some war stories or funny anecdotes to share? Here are seven of mine.
1. BE PREPARED
It seems so simple. But I have to resist the urge of just winging it on a topic I feel I know so much about – like social media and the law. I make myself go and do research, and then update my slides each time I am asked to speak, even if they are only weeks apart. Why? With a subject like social media and the law things are always evolving – facts, legislation, cases, attitudes. The other thing to prepare is make sure you get all the logistical information of where, when, how, etc. of the session. Not knowing simple things like room numbers, parking or what browser to use can be frustrating. Oh, and did I mention – practice?
2. BE FLEXIBLE ON TOPIC
I may not write out my complete speech opting sometimes instead to use an outline. But I do try to poll my audience before I start if I can so I can adjust the content to meet their needs and interests. But be conscious of moving too far off topic and learn some tips to bring it back on track. They came to listen and learn about a particular topic and they should finish the session having received that information.
3. BE FLEXIBLE ON DELIVERY
I always say that it is the presentations focused on technology aspects where the technology doesn’t seem to work. The laptop doesn’t connect to the projector or the tablet app isn’t running, or…You get the point. When it is an in-person session I prepare a low-tech version (or no technology) as well as the high-tech version with the powerpoint, videos, etc. And if the technology works and then fizzes out in the middle, I can also just pick up and continue with the talk without it.
4. KNOW YOUR LIMITS
As an attorney I am bound to a duty of competency. I take that seriously as to my speaking engagements as well. I want to make sure I know the subject matter and have all the accurate information to share. Participants are depending on me to give them this data and for it to be correct and useful. If I am not sure about the topic I do not accept the assignment or I ask for some time to do some research before saying yes. This item also relates to your presentation style – some speakers are natural with humor – others are not. Know which one you are and play to your strengths.
5. BE A RESOURCE
There is so much information out there – when I speak I like to share it with the attendees. Putting the urls so they can easily access the information later or putting a list of resources towards the end of the slide deck for easy reference. Checklists are a great share-a-way. If you mention a book – give the title and the author. But remember to “brand” these with your name, company name, website, Twitter account handle, etc. so they can remember you and connect with you again.
6. BE PATIENT WITH Q&A
Set up the rules up front regarding questions. Do you want them during the presentation or after? Will you accept emailed questions after the session? Some participants may want to make a statement instead of just asking a question. If they do ask a question, repeat it so everyone can hear it and then answer. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you will get back to them – and then do. Keep your word.
7. KNOW YOUR WORTH
In the beginning, many of my speaking engagements were free – the idea was to be able to get exposure. I have since learned to charge for my speaking, especially if travel is involved, but to say it from the beginning. You will be surprised that many requesters actually have budgets to pay you – even a small honorarium. But it suggests value. On my website I have a tab for speaking requests and I put it right there that depending on the location, travel fees and a speakers fee will be charged. That doesn’t mean I don’t do an occasional free session – usually as pro bono public education for non-profit organizations.