Many professional speakers have a talk in search of an audience and then wonder why their listeners don’t find what they say relevant! The preparation is exactly backward. This process is particularly true of executives—both before and after they leave their corporate positions.
Having coached executives for three decades, I routinely see the process: Someone lower in the bowels of the organization puts together the first deck of slides for audience A and purpose A. Another speaker grabs that deck, tweaks it, and uses it for audience B/purpose B. The deck gets tweaked again and passed on up the ladder until it reaches the executive, who needs it for audience G/purpose G.
When executives resign, retire, or otherwise move on and hit the speaking circuit more frequently, chances are even greater that they design the one-size-fits-all speech and rarely change their prep methods or delivery style.
Few succeed. But those who do, gain celebrity status and command hefty fees. Let me suggest a few tips to make the results more satisfying:
Public Speaking for Executives: 5 Tips
Analyze Your Audience Before You Build Your Speech
What is their primary interest in listening to you? What do they already know about your topic? (Don’t tell them that!) What don’t they know that you can tell them? That’s sacred ground.
Speak With Your Audience—Not At Them
Think of your speech as a conversation, not a performance. Find a few people (5-7 will do) located in different parts of the room, make strong eye contact with them, and direct your comments to them as if in a meaningful, one-on-one conversation. You’ll find that almost everyone in the audience feels as though you’re talking with them individually.
Random, sustained eye contact around the room to individuals compels people to “tune in” as if you were having a private conversation. Glancing at the group as a whole, on the other hand, creates distance and provides the feeling of anonymity.
Don’t Confuse Laid Back With Boring
Executives often fear intimidating others by an impressive title. So in an attempt to be approachable, they “dial it back” with informality. Their reasoning is sound, but their manner misses the mark. That is, you should “dial back” displays of arrogance and find commonalities with the audience. But never “dial back” your energy or enthusiasm for the topic.
Engage Your Audience With Interaction
Interaction doesn’t equate to having people do back rubs, shout slogans, or lip-sync with a favorite rock star. Engaging your audience can mean telling stories with which people can identify, using illustrations or exercises that engage all their senses, asking rhetorical questions, using “you” rather than “I” phrasing, polling the audience for their opinion, telling hero stories about audience members, and so forth.
Go Big or Go Home
The final reason executives bomb on stage in their management meetings, industry conferences, or shareholders meetings is weak delivery. No matter how impressive your title, how positive your earnings report, or intriguing your research, you can still bore audiences. They’ll leave shaking their heads: “The information was great—if you could stay awake long enough to hear it!”
Telling a great story with little or no thought about how to set it up, shape it, phrase it, and land it can kill it. Likewise, with your entire speech: Delivering a speech without shaping your message, and making it memorable and actionable can be far less effective than simply sending an email.
Your choice: Go prepared or go home.
To improve your speaking skills and personal presence, pick up a copy of these two books: Speak With Confidence: Powerful Presentations That Inform, Inspire, and Persuade (McGraw-Hill) and Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader (Berrett-Koehler). Click the following link for a additional pointers to increase your executive presence! Executive Presence Checklist