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Speakers - You'll Be Remembered By What You Do, Not By What You Say

Aug 17, 2007
When called upon to speak to a group, it's more important to deliver on the audience's expectations than on yours. What does the audience want? What do you have to do to get invited back? Here is how three speakers on the same panel made three distinctly different impressions on their audience.

At a recent industry event, every day was packed with breakout sessions along various specialized subjects. Each session had three speakers and a moderator.

The moderator introduced each speaker with a shortened bio and called on each one of them in turn for a few minutes of comments.

The agenda allowed each of the three experts fifteen minutes for their prepared statement - taking up about half of the ninety minutes allocated for the session.

The balance of the time was dedicated to Q&A from the audience. The Q&A was why we were all there. Most of us knew enough about the speakers already; we wanted to ask them specific questions only they could answer authoritatively.

Every one of the concurrent sessions at the conference used this agenda format. Timing was critical because there was another meeting immediately following this one, in the same room.

Speaker number one was a crowd favorite before the presentation even began. She was already well known within the industry. Her engaging manner and her clever use of her Power Point slides got everyone's attention.

She is somewhat of an industry personality and certainly an expert in her field, someone we would all like to question in depth.

Mounted on the lectern where each speaker, the rest of the panel, and those in the press area could see it, was a clever little stop light timing device.

The light moved from green to amber and then to red. When she saw the red light she made a sheepish smile toward the others on the panel and kept right on talking.

In my mind she went from engaging to self-absorbed at that moment. The longer she spoke the more restless the other panel members and the moderator became.

When she hit the twenty-minute mark some people from the back of the room left. By the time she hit thirty minutes there was a chill in the air - everyone was tense, except her.

The second speaker was very gracious. He is an industry leader who was there to give back and if his Power Point presentation had worked I think he would have gotten the meeting back on schedule.

However that was not to be. After several awkward attempts he abandoned the Power Point and had his assistant pass out printouts of the slides to about half the room.

In the end he promised to email the slides to everyone in the group and sat down clearly distracted by the mess he found himself in. He won't agree to help out the association with a presentation again any time soon. His time was twenty minutes!

In you want a riot on your hands don't live up to the expectations of the group. In this case that meant a forty-five minute questions and answers session.

With that in mind the third speaker was out of time before he got up to speak.

What he did turned a fiasco into one of the best sessions of the week.

After brief introduction he turned to the moderator and the audience he said, "Well enough about me, let's take some questions."

Instead of turning the mike back to the moderator he handled the entire Q&A phase. He wove some of his prepared comments into the questions asked by the audience and kept a tight rein on speaker number one so she could not ramble on.

His masterful style increased our opinion of his company.
For those few minutes he was the face of a very very large company. When I think of that company now I see how he confidently dealt with a difficult situation, meeting our expectations when we thought all was lost. No matter how many facts from his original planned speech we missed - we more than made up for them in the way we perceive his company.

He got most of his material into the discussion.
We weren't there for more facts and figures. We were there to get to know the speakers better. When he got up there and immediately went into the Q&A there was a collective sigh and a feeling that if you have a problem, he and his company can handle it - no matter what.

He came across as being very approachable.
When he smiled at the audience and said what he said he knew we knew that he was our friend. Now we had something in common. We could call him up and we'd laugh about the session as only people who have shared the same experience can.

The only thing an audience will remember two days after your speech is whether they liked you or not. That's it. It has been a month and his is the only name I remember from that session.

And if you want to be invited back - in addition to meeting the general expectations of the audience you have to consistently meet the number one criteria of the folks running the meeting.

They expect you to be good enough or they would not have invited you in the first place, so if whatever you say is OK with the audience it's fine with them.

However, what you must do if you are to please the meeting planner is end your speech on time.

Every successful meeting is a complex web of interlocking activities. Going over your time by a few minutes may seem like a small matter to you - but it could simply be the first in a string of dominos that result in a meeting agenda gone bad.
About the Author
To leverage the best practices of your contemporaries for greater profits read about the http://www.21stCenturyPeerGroups.com process. Wayne Messick is an experienced family business consultant whose web site offers thousands of free resources for business owners at http://www.iBizResources.com
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