Written by: Patricia Fripp
A few years ago, I had a conversation with my friend Jeff Davidson, a prolific author and popular professional speaker, about why it is that speakers sometimes fail to hit the mark. The result of our brainstorm was the article below, which explains the three most common reasons speakers do not connect with their audiences or live up to a meeting planner’s expectations. They are still true today. Whether we are experienced professional speakers, or aspiring speakers, it is a good reminder of the continual commitment and work required to consistently deliver excellent presentations:
Three Reasons Speakers Fail to Hit the Mark
Be aware of these three common mistakes speakers make – professional speakers included. All three have to do with a lack of adequate preparation.
1) Not Understanding the Assignment
Before ever leaving your own office, it is critical to understand why you have been scheduled to speak to this group at this time. Such understanding necessitates that you read about the organization, get information about the organization’s current challenges and hot buttons, and learn what the meeting planner has in mind for the presentation. Five-minute conversations over the phone with a meeting planner are unlikely to give you all you need to know in that area.
If you’re a celebrity speaker – brought in so that people in the audience can go home and say, “Guess what? I saw so and so!” – it may seem like it barely matters what you speak about, as long as you are semi-coherent and don’t offend the group. However, the best celebrity speakers will make an effort in advance to understand something about the organization they are speaking to help ensure a successful presentation.
As for us non-celebrities, the people in their seats want to hear ideas and concepts that directly relate to their own professional and industry challenges – or, ideas and concepts that relate to issues of universal importance that affect their communities, state, nation, or the planet.
The only way to come armed with the proper information is to spend some time – at the very least, a full hour –researching the group you are speaking to and its unique challenges.
2) Failing to Know Your Audience
Beyond understanding the organization and why you are invited to speak, knowing your audience is in itself an art and a science.
- Who are they?
- What is their age range?
- What is their educational background?
- How long have they been with the organization?
- What is this particular meeting designed to do for an individual audience member?
Then probe even deeper:
- How far have they come?
- Do they know each other or are they assembling for the first time?
- What will they hear before and after the presentation?
- What did they hear last year or at a similar meeting?
- How would they like to feel and what would they like to “get” as a result of your presentation–when they leave the room, how will they be changed?
As you can see, you cannot simply intuit the answers to these questions. You must take the time to ask the meeting professional who hired you, the movers and shakers who will be in attendance, and other key operatives of the organization. This usually requires an email or fax request in advance, sometimes going over the questions by phone since your contacts will more often than not be very busy people.
Unless you can get answers to these types of questions, don’t accept the presentation. Without this information, your presentation may hit the mark if you are incredibly lucky, but chances are that you will simply dance around the periphery of what you need to do and say to be successful. If it’s a one-time presentation, and you don’t intend to do much more speaking, you’ll probably be able to get away with this. However, if you want to speak professionally, there is no effective substitute for “knowing your audience.”
3) Not Arriving With Sufficient Clearance Time
Whether your presentation is across the world, across the country, or across town, increase your probability of success by arriving in plenty of time. This may require coming in the night before you’re scheduled to present.
When you arrive early, you gain a considerable advantage, which can often be the make-or-break factor in the success of your presentation. You get to settle in, calm down, check out the facilities, walk the room, familiarize yourself with equipment, make adjustments, and talk to people. In doing so, you give yourself the edge over the speaker who arrives “just in time.” Technology allows us to be productive all day long wherever we are – so arrive early!
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