21 Powerful Professional Speaking Tips I Learned in 2015
As many of you likely know, speaking is a major part of what I do here with The Sales Lion. As a small team of 4, about 50% of our revenue comes from keynotes, workshops, company events, etc. In 2015, I gave over 75 of these types of presentations, covering 24 different states and 6 countries around the world. Without question, it was an amazing year. I’ve been blessed again and again, much of which I’ve continued to discuss in my podcasts and other social media channels—sharing my lessons learned along the way.
But today, I’ve decided to wrap them all together and list them out here, with the hope that this may provide some value to aspiring or current professional speakers. Also, please note that I’m far from “having this all figured out,” nor do I think “my way” is necessarily the right way for you and your path. Fact is, much of what we call “success” or “best practices” is very, very subjective.
And with that, here goes:
- You can take your family/loved ones with you a lot more than your realize when you travel.
Many of you have read my daughter’s experiences at www.travelingwithdad.com , but suffice to say, that was one of the most powerful and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had as a father, and it helped me realize even further that if I truly want to bring a loved one (or my entire crew for that matter) to an event, it’s very, very possible.
2. Stop to smell the roses…and appreciate where you are in the world.
Having my daughter with me forced me to actually “see” these places I spoke. Normally, I rarely get out of my hotel room when I’m on the road, and I’ve come to realize this is dumb. The world is an amazing place, and if we’re traveling, why would we not take the extra time to get to know it even more?
3. Some audience members, no matter how skilled you are, won’t get it. Let them go.
Yep, there are always going to be doubters, haters, and grumpy people in your audiences. That’s life. Try and win them over, but if you see it’s not going to happen, let them go and don’t give them an ounce of your energy from that point on. On one occasion this year, I allowed a very negative audience member (who obviously had a lot of issues outside of what I was saying) to hurt the flow and energy of the talk. I won’t make that mistake again.
4. There is a difference between giving a workshop versus giving a breakout versus giving a keynote.
Scott Stratten was one of the first people to teach me this and when I first heard it, I didn’t really get it. And frankly, this subject is one that merits an entire post in and of itself. But to give you a sense of the difference, look at it like this:
- The primary purpose of a keynote is to inspire.
- The primary purpose of a breakout is to educate while inspiring.
- The primary purpose of a workshop is to promote implementation through education.
5. Everyone, regardless of country or culture, appreciates engagement.
Multiple times over the last year I had event organizers tell me something to the effect of “Marcus, although your engaging style may work well in America, I’m not sure how it will go over with our audience.”
And, with almost every single one of these events, the same person would comment, “My goodness Marcus. I had no idea they would come out of their shell like that.”
Fact is, people want to be engaged. They want their mind to be invigorated. Sometimes they just don’t know it.
6. Enthusiasm will never grow old.
Again, this is one of those traits that too many underestimate. Enthusiasm can come in many forms, but audiences feed off of a speaker’s love and passion for the topic. They can sense if you “truly” love that which you’re discussing. And when they sense this, they tend to lean in, pay more attention, and have a better experience because of it.
7. Event organizers aren’t nearly as “organized” as you might think. It’s a speaker’s job to help them make the event great.
On about 50% of the events I attended this year, I had to make at least one (if not more) recommendation to the event organizer as to ways the event (seating, sound, schedule, etc.) could be improved. Too often, speakers assume the planners have everything ironed out perfectly, but the fact is, they are human too and a second set of eyes and recommendations can be very valuable. This can also help you (as the speaker) bring even more value to the table.
8. Names matter.
People care about their names. They also like to be called by their names. Wherever I speak, I make it required that everyone has a *visible* name tag. And with smaller groups (30 or less), I do everything I can to memorize everyone’s name before we even get started. This name familiarity always has quite a powerful impact on quickly building trust and respect with the audience.
9. Just like anything else, an event has a “stated budget” and then they have a “real budget.” Value goes a long way with getting your fee.
There have been quite a few times when I’ve given an event planner my price and they balked at the high number. Yet, when I offered an “extra,” like a one-on-one meeting with their web team, or some private meetings with their main dealers, etc.—then they’d go from balking to “Really, you’d do that?? Then let’s set the date.”
Figure out ways to add value and you’ll find you’re getting your asking price much more often.
10. You never know who is going to be in your audience.
Often times, speakers underestimate who might be in their audience. When I was featured in the New York Times, it was because a reporter was in my audience. When I was asked to speak to Discover Card’s marketing department, it was because one of their employees was in my audience. The examples go on and on, which is why the simplest rule of thumb is this:
Pretend every person in your audience is the most important person you’ve ever spoken to.
11. The moment you attempt to sound smart as a speaker is the moment you start to look stupid.
Nothing turns off an audience quicker than a speaker who believes they’re intellectually superior to those they’re speaking too. I’ve watched some extremely high paid and well known speakers completely flop on stage because it was obvious they believed they were the smartest person in the room.
Do yourself a favor—find a way to maintain incredible self-confidence while maintaining a humble spirit, it will go a long, long ways.
12. Light matters…a lot.
It’s shocking how many events have poor stage lighting. As a speaker, it’s your job to identify lighting issues and if you can’t fix them, find the spot on stage (or in the room) where you’re most visible to the audience, and then present from there
13. The Stage matters…a lot.
When it comes to stages, especially with audiences of less than 1000, the biggest mistake event organizers make is they have the stage too far from the audience, something that automatically creates a “divide” between the audience and the speaker. If possible, always shorten the distance between you as the speaker and the audience, as this will make a much greater impact than you think.
Also, there were times this year where I saw event organizers made the main focus of the stage the slide deck/screen instead of the speaker. Why this is becoming a trend is beyond me, as it’s absolutely a terrible idea on multiple levels.
14. Audience seating arrangements matter…a lot.
This subject, like others before, deserves an entire article, but here is the gist of it:
The more empty seats you have in a room, the less effective the speaker will be. Smart event organizers will do their best to ensure there is a 1-to-1 seat to attendee ratio. This ensures the audience is shoulder to shoulder, naturally creating a more personal and powerful event.
Another common mistake is when event organizers use round tables for audience seating, which will often times force attendees to turn their seats entirely around so as to not develop a neck cramp while watching the speaker.
The best solution for this is to either eliminate round tables entirely or at least eliminate the chairs that are facing away from the stage.
15. Don’t trust “tech” (AV) to do their job well.
Despite the advances of technology, I had more tech team blunders in 2015 than the previous 3 years combined. Honestly, I have no idea why this was but I’ve learned to double and triple check everything the tech team is doing on my behalf, and I certainly never assume that they’ve “got it covered.” Although your involvement with the AV team may annoy some, it will prevent major disasters because ultimately, their issues affect your brand.
16. Crap happens. Deal with it.
Speaking of #15, at HubSpot’s Inbound Conference this year I was speaking in front of about 800 or so people and my slide deck went down literally the second I started speaking. The AV guy messed up and for the first 10 minutes or so, I had no slides on the screen.
But unlike other occasions in the past, I didn’t allow this blip on the radar to affect me. Instead of making a big deal about it, I just kept on like nothing was wrong.
Remember, the audience will follow your lead as a speaker. If you’re stressed, so are they. If you’re relaxed, so are they. So when things go wrong, keep moving forward. Not only will your audience be impressed, but they’ll now be quietly cheering you on to success.
17. The best way to get more speaking gigs is to….speak.
I get asked all the time, “How do I get more speaking gigs Marcus?” It’s a great question but the unfortunate answer is that you need to get in front of more audiences. In 2015, over 60% of my gigs came from audience members of previous presentations I’d given.
18. Getting “in” with speaker bureaus isn’t easy
Relating to #17, the other way to get more speaking gigs is to get in with a speaker bureau(s). In case you’re not familiar with them, speaker bureaus are contacted by larger organizations and events in an effort to leverage their large speaker pool and identify the ideal “fit” for their audience.
For professional speakers like myself, if you get in good with one bureau (and they recommend you often), this can bring you in multiple high paying gigs annually. Sounds great, right?
Well, the issue is that it’s not easy at all to get in good with these agencies. On a personal level, this has been my biggest failure as a professional speaker to date. In fact, of all the gigs I gave in 2015, none came from bureaus, something that bugs me daily and is a major initiative heading into 2016 for our team at The Sales Lion to improve.
19. The power of asking the right question at the right time is everything when it comes to self-discovery and enlightenment of an audience.
The old saying “The Answer Lies in the Question” has never been truer than it is today.
Great speakers understand it’s their job to not necessarily “tell” the audience what they want to teach them, but rather to help the audience discover these things on their own. This skill is easily the biggest factor in a successful workshop but it can also be just as critical when on a stage speaking to a thousand or more people.
20. Unless you’re a celebrity, most people have no clue who any “thought leaders” are.
99% of the audiences I speak to have no idea who I am when I get there. Heck, 98% likely don’t even know who Seth Godin is.
As many know, digital marketing is a very small bubble in a world full industries, subjects and yes… “thought-leaders.”
Because of the way vanity metrics and social media work, it’s important a speaker always stays grounded when it comes to who they perceive to see in the mirror each day.
21. Standing ovations generally only occur when you cross over from business to personal.
I’d be lying if I said standing ovations weren’t important to me (or any speaker for that matter). Frankly, I’d love to get them with every single speech and presentation I give. As I look back on this past year, the times when I got a standing ovation weren’t when I shared the greatest “business” advice ever, but rather they were the times when I injected the personal into the story, bearing some of my deeper thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Sure, being an expert and sharing expert advice can engender respect from an audience, but being “human” can engender something much, much deeper.
Have any you’d like to add to the list? Go for it. Just leave your thoughts, comments, or questions below…