Optimize Your Virtual Events

Videoconference technology has emerged as the savior of the pandemic era. In the midst of the disruption, if not near destruction, of numerous formerly multi-billion dollar industries, notably restaurant, hotel, wedding, airline and fitness, virtual communication has helped all of us to function and survive. I suspect we’ll all agree that face2face interaction is preferable, but videoconferencing has done an admirable job of helping us weather the storm.

Videoconferencing has greatly expanded online distance learning and allowed schools to continue educating students. Wedding planners are helping couples stage small ceremonies that allow potentially hundreds of guests to witness and virtually join the festivities. Fitness instructors and trainers are coaching their devotees via laptop webcams in living rooms and kitchens and ballet instructors are doing the same for their students.

Managers are holding video meetings for their teams. B2B sales professionals are introducing new products and services to prospects by way of video sales calls. Conference planners are scheduling and producing everything from panel discussions to district meetings. It’s all good, but it’s time to pay attention to videoconference production values and the viewer / participant experience. Things can go wrong and the program can go down in flames. As with face2face events, an action plan is needed to optimize your virtual event so that objectives will be realized.

Let’s start with the basic technical set-up. Virtual events are nearly always viewed on a small screen—tablet or laptop–and for that reason virtual event content planners, producers and speakers would be wise to think of television. Whatever the purpose of your program, be it a classroom lecture, B2B sales call, music lesson, or company meeting, content planners and producers should visualize a small screen perspective as their guide.

If the budget allows, hiring an event technology manager will be money well spent. Event tech managers will ensure that the sound, lights and background set are appropriate for the occasion. Placement of the laptop is integral to locating the most flattering camera angle for the speaker. Two or possibly three microphones may be used to adequately capture the speaker voices. Lighting is everything in show business and the event tech will position the lighting so that the set is neither too dim or too bright and speakers are not in shadows. The set background must also be considered. Having a bookcase in view is always a plus, as are a couple of healthy plants or modest floral arrangements. The company name and logo should also be visible, but its presence need not overwhelm.

Regarding the presenters, panel discussion participants are typically seated, whether all are in a room together and socially distanced or reporting in from remote locations. It is usually preferable for featured speakers to stand while delivering their presentation, since standing telegraphs energy and allows the speaker to use body language that is more communicative and engaging.

Next, think of shaping and delivering program content in a way that will connect with and hold the attention of its virtual audience. Psychologists have documented that virtual events tax our attention span because they’re literally difficult to watch for extended periods of time. Experienced producers of virtual events recommend building in some sort of a diversion about every 20 minutes, to keep everyone’s brain comfortable during the proceedings. Explore the options and learn to use the special features available on your videoconferencing platform. Polls, yes/no questions and small group chatrooms (breakouts) make the viewing experience more enjoyable for audience members. An event tech manager can be helpful with this process as well.

Pace the event content flow by breaking it down into 20 or so minute chunks and interspersing the text with interactive activities that draw in audience members and make them part of the show. Speakers and other performers have always used certain tactics to engage live audiences and now in the 21st century, speakers, event content planners and producers are discovering new, tech-based tactics to win over virtual audiences. It’s show business history in the making, folks.

Finally, there is the increasingly common hybrid classroom or special event to master, where part of the audience is live and the rest are viewing the proceedings virtually. Hybrid events pose a challenge, but they are not insurmountable. If it’s in the budget, renting or buying one or more big screens will create a more immersive and rewarding experience for both virtual viewers and the on-site audience. Interaction between face2face and virtual participants could create exciting possibilities. Q & A, simultaneous polls, contests and games can get them talking to each other as they watch the action happen live. Confer with your event tech manager and find out how to optimize the experience.

Thanks for reading,


Photograph: Kim Clark

Make Your Next Impromptu Speech Great

Here is the scenario: You’re at the meeting of a local business organization, where you are well known. Forty-five minutes into the meeting, the organization Vice President sidles up to you and asks if you’d be willing to speak on a certain topic for 5 – 10 minutes, before the President delivers the closing remarks and adjourns.

You have just 30 minutes to prepare. How can you quickly organize your thoughts and create a concise and compelling speech that your audience will appreciate and that you’ll deliver like a pro? Here’s how you do it.


Every speaker must quickly capture audience attention. Open your speech with an attention-grabbing statement that expresses a point of view that you know most in the audience share.  Alternatively, you can surprise or even shock the audience with an unexpected fact or a provocative question.  When you open your talk, the goal is to draw  audience members in and persuade them to sit up and listen.


Once you have their attention, you next show your audience that you deserve it. Earn their trust and respect when you reveal qualifications and experience that define you as an expert, or a person with special insights, who has timely and relevant information to share.

As a member of the host group you will automatically be given a measure of credibility, but you may have other qualifications that enhance your authority. The person who introduces you may share all, or part, of that background information. Stopping short of boasting, make known your claim to expertise.

Acknowledge success/ Identify problem

The organization leader who asked you to address the group will tell you what s/he would like you to achieve in your speech and if s/he neglects to do that, it is incumbent upon you to confirm the purpose of your talk.  Whether there is a recent victory to celebrate or a looming challenge to overcome, call it out and rally the support of audience members. Enthusiasm and passion, expressed in a way that your audience will expect and accept, is injected here.  Inspire unity for the cause.


Organization leaders may be planning to roll out an initiative and you may have been asked to speak to build member approval and solidarity around that solution. If there are good times ahead, the solution may be for members to continue their enthusiastic support of the organization and the cause. If turbulent times seem inevitable, the solution is the same. The purpose of your speech is to inspire loyalty to the organization and the cause.

Call to action

As your speech concludes you must give audience members an outlet and direction for their enthusiasm and commitment to the organization.  Should they sign up for a special committee that will implement the solution, be it celebration or problem? Or is this a fundraising initiative and you’d like to inspire commitment for contributions?  Give a deadline and urge immediate action.


End with a concise outline of the major points you made in the speech. Re-state the call to action and the deadline. Thank your audience.

Regarding general recommendations for public speaking, thank the person who introduced you when you take the podium. Keep your talking points simple and easy for the audience to remember. If you can weave into your speech a story that illustrates or summarizes an important point, so much the better.  As Travis Bernard, content marketing guru at TechCrunch, the thought-leader technology industry blog based in San Francisco, CA says, “What would be useful for my audience to learn and how can I package this lesson or bit of information in a compelling story format?”

Thanks for reading,


Image: Edgar Bundy (1862 – 1922, British) The Coffee House Orator, 1880.  Courtesy of Touchstones Rochdale Arts and Heritage Centre Museum, Greater Manchester, England

On Conducting an Interview

Because you are an ambitious Freelance consultant, you regularly provide content marketing that showcases your expertise and reinforces your brand with current and potential clients and, when good fortune intervenes, motivates them to give you some much-needed billable hours.  As you plan your activities, you may at some point reach out to a fellow Freelancer, a good client, or another expert and ask to include that individual in your content marketing by way of an interview.  Featuring another perspective every once in a while keeps your marketing content fresh and more interesting to the audience.  I’m thinking of doing exactly that sometime soon, if my target interview guest is willing to speak with me on the record.  Stay tuned.

At some point in your professional life it is likely that you may decide, or be asked, to interview someone, so you would be wise to learn the process.  Successfully conducted interviews hinge on good preparation.  While some of us may feel that interviewing is an intuitive skill and that we should be able to manage the process spontaneously, that will not be the case.  You could probably muddle through, but why not take a couple of hours and learn how to get it right?

Think first of an interview guest to invite.  Who do you know who might tell a good story, or share some useful information that will be appreciated by your audience and does it seem possible that you’ll be able to convince that person to speak with you? 

Second, consider the basic interview format. Will your guest agree to a face-to-face Q & A that will be required for a video, or will it be a phone interview that is suitable for your podcast, blog, or newsletter? Email interviews often do not produce the best results according to many journalists. 

Third, brainstorm questions or topics that might be interesting to your audience and play to your guests’ strengths. You may want to write up a list of potential questions, or make note of possible topics. Visit the Twitter feed, Facebook page, LinkedIn profile and conduct an internet search to find out what may have been written by or about your proposed guest.

Invite your potential interview guests in a phone call. Some requests require a more personal approach than email.  Immediately upon reaching an agreement with your guest, send a confirmation email.  Two or three days in advance of the interview, send a second email to confirm the interview time and place and specify whether a phone call or in-person meeting will take place.

In all formats, introduce the guest to your audience and give a brief bio. If your interview will be video or podcast (audio), welcome your guest warmly and thank him/her for agreeing to appear. Your audience needs to hear, and see, this greeting. If the interview will appear in text you will still give a warm welcome and thanks and that exchange will appear in print.  

As you ask questions be friendly and upbeat, to help your guest to feel comfortable and safe.  Avoid “gotcha” questions designed to make the guest feel judged. Keep your mouth shut and practice active listening as you take notes as the guest speaks  (you can record as well and if you plan to do that, ask permission).  If you hear a particular word, phrase, or aspect of the topic that piques your curiosity or seems to give unexpected insight into the question, enter it into your notes and then ask a follow-up question. In this way, your interview will become a conversation, rather than a stilted Q & A session.  The best interviews are what seem to be a relaxed and intelligent conversation between the host and guest.

FYI, it is sometimes necessary to ask the same question two or even three times, in different ways, to persuade your guest to give a complete answer. It’s important to build rapport throughout the interview to make the subject feel comfortable sharing information.

You may need to nudge the interview back on track if your subject goes off on a tangent, in particular if this is a video or podcast conversation.  A useful phrase could be, “How does that relate to the big picture”? Conversely, you might draw out more information from a reticent guest when you ask, “Do you have a story that will illustrate your point”? At the end of the interview, thank your guest for participating and enlightening the audience.

If the interview will appear as a podcast or video, your guest may appear for 15 – 20 minutes, unless his/her topic is especially compelling.  If you are interviewing for your blog or newsletter, 15-20 minutes is probably still a good time limit for the conversation. Overwhelming your guest or audience is to be avoided.

Interviewing a guest for your chosen content marketing platform will build your audience and enhance the brand of your guest as well.  Create a win-win situation for you and the guest by carefully considering the benefits that will accrue to each of you through the proposed interview and be sensitive also to the interests of the audience.

Thanks for reading,



A Superb Speaker Introduction

Excellent public speaking makes those who have it appear both credible and smart and those who wish to obtain or maintain the appearance of authority and expertise are advised to cultivate the art.  Public speaking not only refers to s/he who makes a featured presentation—keynote speakers, guest lecturers, panelists, moderators, or the toastmaster at a social function—but also includes s/he who introduces a speaker.

An invitation to introduce a speaker is an honor and a vote of confidence and you would be wise to prepare for the occasion.  The introducer bears the responsibility of preparing the audience to respect the speaker and trust his/her information or story line.  If you receive an opportunity to introduce a speaker, keep the following suggestions in mind:

Show that you have the credentials to make the introduction

S/he who introduces a speaker must earn the confidence of the audience.  The leader or some other high-ranking member of the sponsoring organization usually introduces speakers, and earns that confidence by way of the authority vested in his/her position. Alternatively, a VIP speaker may be introduced by a similarly ranked colleague or guest VIP, who earns the confidence of the audience and as well conveys the importance of the speaker.  The guest VIP who introduces the high profile featured speaker will merit his/her own introduction and that will be given by a member of the sponsoring group.

Direct audience attention to the speaker

A speaker introduction is in reality a sales presentation and obtaining audience buy-in for the speaker and topic is your mission.  Your first order of business is to persuade the audience to be fully present in the moment. Typically, audience members are engaged in other activities in the intervening moments between speaker presentations, or as they await for the program to begin.

Some will be in conversation with those nearby, perhaps discussing the previous speaker or the program agenda.  Others will be focused on electronic devices, checking email, sending texts, or posting social media updates.  Your introduction must provide a bridge that transports the audience away from distractions and leads them to the subject of your introduction, the speaker.

A clever way to gain audience attention is to capture their imaginations with a rhetorical question related to the topic.  Consider opening your introduction with “What if…?“, “What is it about…?“,  or “Have you ever wondered how…?” The question will allow you to segue into the topic, which ideally will be perceived as compelling, to validate the audience member’s decision to attend.

Endorse the speaker

Now that you have the audience’s attention and confidence, it’s time to portray the speaker as an expert who is deserving of the audience’s time, attention and money (if admission was paid).  Put them in the mood to hear the talk by saying something like… “I first heard (the speaker) about three years ago, at a reading s/he gave soon after his/her book (title) was published.  I’ve been anticipating the release of this new book (title).” “I’ve heard more than one expert address our topic this afternoon, but I believe that (the speaker) gives the most comprehensive and clear representation of the facts…”

You may in addition give a build-up that precedes the above by listing awards and honors that the speaker has received, if applicable, or reading quotes about the speaker that have appeared in important publications.

Create intrigue and excitement about the topic

Tempt the audience with a smidgen of how the speaker will meet or surpass their expectations for the talk.  Read a sentence or two of an early review of the book that will be discussed.  Describe a useful piece of information that audience members will receive as they listen to the presentation.  Make them know that a worthwhile pay-off awaits.

The introduction

Continue to demonstrate that you make excellent speaker introductions by weaving the sense of anticipation into your actual introduction, perhaps in this way… “Let’s all welcome (the speaker) and let him/her give us the real story about what’s going on.” “Let’s invite (the speaker) to tell us what happens next in the ongoing saga of this character. Please join me and give him/her a warm welcome.

Thanks for reading,




Approach the Podium: How To Get Speaking Engagements

One of the best ways for a Freelance consultant to demonstrate and validate our bona fides as an expert in our chosen field is to get in front of an audience and deliver a talk to peers and prospects. As we all know, billable hours and referrals are built on confidence and trust and we must do everything possible to encourage and sustain their growth. If you would like to get on the speaker’s circuit but have not yet done so, begin by acquiring some public speaking experience and as you do, think about topics that you can convincingly address.

I’ve been teaching since 2006 and I’ve found it to be a learning experience for me, as well as for my students. Teaching is a wonderful place to start building your public speaking resume and you will be (modestly) paid as you and your students learn.  Absolute beginners are advised to approach an adult learning center to explore opportunities to teach a workshop that you propose.

As your teaching skills become more proficient, browse the catalogues of community colleges and four-year institutions and contact department heads to inquire about teaching for a semester. BTW, the workshop that you proposed and taught at the adult learning center represents curriculum development and in the world of teaching, that is a plus. You could be asked to expand your workshop into a semester-long course.

Step up your activity in local business or social organizations that offer professional development or even current affairs programs. Attend a program or two, get to know and build relationships with the program organizers and make it known that you are able to serve on a panel that will address a subject in which you have special knowledge.

Speaking on a panel is a great way to let program organizers see you in front of an audience. Do well and you may next be invited to moderate a panel and eventually, receive an offer to be a keynote speaker. If you know of a potential speaker, moderator or panelist who program organizers may want to feature, do not hesitate to make the referral. That will be a feather in your cap and increase your value to the organizers.

Give careful consideration to the topics you can speak to and the corresponding prime audience demographics. Should you approach organizations where you are not known, it will be very important to help program organizers understand where your topics and their audience needs intersect. Create a one page document for each of your talk titles.

List the your name and company name at the top, followed by your talk title in a bold and larger font. In five or six bullet points, describe the primary content of your talk and the benefits that audiences gain by attending. It is also useful to write a 60 second pitch for the talk that you personally make to program organizers and to those who can make referrals for you. Add your talk titles and those descriptive bullet points to your website, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook pages.

If you have presented a webinar, or recorded a podcast or video, upload these to your website and social media accounts, so that program organizers can see and hear you in action. Larger organizations may request that you send in a few of your Power Point slides for review.

Speaking of Power Point, if you are fortunate enough to land a speaking gig that gets you in front of potential clients, strongly consider paying an experienced graphics specialist to customize slides for you. it is so in your interest to present high-quality slides that represent you and your brand well. While you’re at it, have your graphics person embed your photo into your “one sheet” talk info documents,  so that they can be used by you and program organizers to promote your talk.

To make your goal to obtain speaking engagements a true marketing plan, commit your proposed actions to writing and make a list of organizations where your speaking talents as keynote, moderator and panelist are best suited. Ask clients and colleagues which conferences they attend as you make your choices. Then, visit the program websites and find out about previous speakers and topics.

Finally, be aware that the vast majority of speaking engagements are considered opportunities for exposure and are unpaid, but that should not discourage you from selectively and tactfully asking for an honorarium.  If you speak in a location that is more than an hour away, or where the parking cost is large, ask if expenses related to getting you to the venue will be covered. If you must take a hotel room, ask if the program organizers will reimburse the cost.

Generally speaking, lining up teaching or speaking engagements is a long-term project, since schedules and course catalogues are determined far in advance. Consider it something useful to do when business is slow.

Thanks for reading,


Master Moderator: Run A Panel Like A Pro

Speaking opportunities are a time-tested way to position oneself as an expert. Speaking engagements are often gateways to connecting with prospective clients, strategic partners and referral sources. Being showcased as the keynote speaker is the most coveted role at the conference, but an invitation to join a panel is highly desirable as well. Should you be asked to moderate, you may work with the conference organizer to select the panel speakers.

When considering speakers, remember that the goal of every panel discussion is to bring together three to five smart and witty people to have a dynamic discussion about an intriguing topic. A group of highly regarded, yet boring, experts will not do. The best panel discussions are lively. The moderator and speakers will enlighten and entertain the audience and draw them into the discussion with questions and comments.

Panel preparation Invite experts who communicate well and have the ability to engage the audience. Research the panelists and their work and let that guide questions that you will ask, in addition to questions on any big developments that the audience will want addressed (like the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act if health care is the topic).

Experienced moderators suggest that you send panelists a group email that lists three questions that you will pose and ask them to suggest other issues/questions that they feel should be addressed as well. At the conference, introduce the panelists to one another and suggest that all of you sit together while whatever meal is served or as the keynote speaker is on, so that everyone can get somewhat acquainted before the panel goes on.

Panel discussion objectives At the start of the panel, thank the audience for attending and introduce yourself. State the title and purpose of the discussion. Three sentences should be sufficient to describe why the topic is relevant to the audience and the community (professional peers or the public).

Introduce the panelists The moderator always introduces the panelist and the introduction should be brief and to the point, letting the audience know why they’ve been invited to discuss the subject. Smart panelists will give you their own introduction for you to read.

Layer the questions A-List moderators know that there is a sequence to follow when posing questions to the panel. The opening question is the “view from 30,000 feet”, an overview that allows panelists to give their perspectives of the big picture regarding the topic. The next couple of questions become more specific, boots on the ground. Once everyone is warmed up, throw in a curve ball with a tough question.

You the moderator are looking to elicit from the panelists concrete examples, war stories, amusing anecdotes, the outrageous truth and provocative or controversial opinions. It’s OK for panelists to pose a question to another, as well. Panelists may ask questions that are sharper and more provocative than those you’ve prepared and the answers may be more candid.

Keep the energy flowing and resist the predictability of going down the line of panelists every time, to allow each to answer your question. If the first three give a similar answer, give another question to the next two, transitioning by saying “The question seems to be answered…” as you pose another to the next panelist(s).

The wrap-up question don’t bother to ask for a closing thought, that’s been done all too often. Instead, ask panelists what they think might be an important trend that we’ll be talking about next year at this time, or to make some counterintuitive out-of-the-box prediction about what the industry will look like in five years.

Audience questions To the best of your ability, allow 5 – 7 minutes for audience questions. Following the audience questions, give a brief closing wrap-up and thank the audience for their attendance and participation.

End on time The panel discussion will likely be 45 – 60 minutes long and it is the responsibility of the moderator to facilitate an engaging and informative discussion that makes the panelists (and you) look good by posing questions that will quickly get the relevant information onto the table and make the audience value the experience. Make the organizer happy by staying on schedule. Ask the organizer for 10 minute and 5 minute warning signs.

Thanks for reading,


Be A Rock Star Panelist

Being invited to speak on a panel is a golden opportunity, a wonderful way to demonstrate your expertise and ability to think on your feet. Being on a panel is an excellent marketing technique and it can also be fun. There is an art to it though and if you want to be invited to participate a second time, make sure that you look good the first time.

1.   Know the subject

You’ve been invited to join the panel to share your deep knowledge and experience and/or your intriguing and compelling perspectives regarding the subject matter. You are there to inform and enlighten the audience. Do not disappoint. If you do not possess the expertise, then you must decline the invitation, regardless of how wonderful the opportunity is.

2.   Control your introduction

One week before your appearance, confirm details with the program organizer and send a three sentence bio that should be forwarded to the panel moderator. As a precaution, print out a copy and hand it to the moderator before taking your seat.

3.   Speak up and speak clearly

Veteran speakers say that the optimal distance between your lips and the microphone is one inch. Lean in (but don’t hunch over) and speak clearly.

4.   Entertain and inform

As with a program keynote speaker, a panelist is there not only to inform, but also entertain. A bored audience tunes out. Witty sound-bytes work wonders. Sprinkling in a few makes you look smart and you will be remembered by those in the audience.

5.   Tell the outrageous truth

Prepare yourself for a tough, possibly embarrassing, question form the moderator. Fear not, because this is a good thing. You will then have the opportunity to be gutsy and funny, and show the audience that you are a straight shooter. Tell the outrageous truth, especially when it’s obvious. If the question is that scary, plead the fifth amendment and let the audience laugh with you.

6.   KISS—Keep it short and simple

Real experts know how to boil complex issues down to their essence and give answers and explanations that can be readily understood by non-experts. Avoid tossing around technical jargon and you’ll look like the smartest person in the room and win the admiration of the audience.

7.   Answer the question that you want to answer

Unless you feel that you must take the fifth, answer the question that was asked, but do not hesitate to take the discussion in a direction that lets you express your unique perspective, or demonstrate your expertise and experience. Give your answer and segue with “… but the real issue is…”

8.   Face the audience and not the moderator

It is tempting to face the person who asks the questions, but be mindful that s/he is not the audience, but the vehicle for posing questions that tease out information that audience members are presumed to want.

9.   Never look bored.

Active listening will help with this one. Looking engaged while another panelist is droning on, or resisting the reflexive action of making a face if someone says something that you find inaccurate or ridiculous, is perhaps the hardest part of being a panelist.

10. Listen to the other panelists

Being able to refer to something said by another panelist adds to the value of the information shared. If you want to politely refute a previous panelist, or add more information to a point that has been made (“…I think the real issue is…”), you’ll need to listen carefully. Jotting down a couple of notes is a good idea as well, to help you remember what was said and/or formulate your rebuttal.

11. Never agree with the other panelists (much)

Moderators frequently put the same question to every panelist, so that different perspectives on the question can be brought forth. The last speaker often will have nothing to add. Rather than stating that you agree with the previous panelists, with a smile, say “I believe the question has been answered…”

12. Know the other panelists

The organizer should tell you who else is on the panel. Internet search and find out their area of expertise and what they may have written or said about the subject. You do not want any surprises and honestly, you want information that will help you look smarter.

Thanks for reading,


Presentation Checklist: Audience Matters

Next week, I will make two 15 minute presentations and in four weeks, I will make a 30 minute presentation and also preside at a big meeting. The latter engagement is an annual event and I knew well in advance of my obligation, but requests for the first two talks came up unexpectedly. Fortunately, I have time to prepare for all. Here’s how I’ll get ready to stand and deliver:

Who’s in the house and what do they want to know?

All presentations are ruled by the audience and the information that is desired. That information is the purpose of your talk and it determines what you’ll present. Find out also if any stakeholders whom you must persuade will be unable to attend and arrange to follow-up with them personally, if possible.

Hecklers and haters

While researching your talk, ask the organizer if anyone in the audience might have a reason to undermine your objective and why that would be so. To neutralize expected opposition, acknowledge somewhere in the solutions section of your talk that some in the audience may have considered another recipe for resolution and state how your approach will likely be more effective, sustainable over the long term, easier or less expensive to implement, or whatever. Handle the matter like a sales objection, because that’s what it is.

Audience size

The size of the audience guides your method of presentation. An audience of five is intimate and calls for a different approach —most likely more relaxed and personal— than an audience of 50. A larger audience often requires that the speaker use visuals, along with a speaking style and pacing that engages a bigger room.

Does the audience know you?

Friends in the house will make your job easier because you will feel more comfortable standing in front of them. If you are mostly an unknown quantity, it’s important to establish rapport with the audience early in the talk. A statement about how you understand or empathize with a priority or concern is a good ice-breaker and gives you credibility, since you agree with them.

What do you want audience members to do post-presentation?

Design your presentation to frame your call to action as logical, effective, beneficial and inevitable. Describe what you would like audience members, in particular the thought-leaders and decision-makers, to do on your behalf. Do you want them to donate money or time? Approve your proposal? Vote in a certain way? If you are able to make fulfilling your call to action easier for them, then do so.

Thanks for reading,


Present With Pizzazz

In this column I have often urged those who want to establish themselves as experts in their chosen field to find speaking and teaching opportunities.  Getting out in front of an audience is a time-tested way to identify and impress potential clients and referral sources,  a good way to drum up business.  So maybe it’s time to review a few useful presentation techniques that will make you feel more confident and therefore more likely to pursue this strategy.

Keep it simple and tell a story

The best speakers know that the more complex the topic,  the more important to make it easy for the audience to understand.  Distill a complicated message into fewer words.  Include a personal anecdote or story that illustrates a key point you’re trying to make.  A story makes your presentation more compelling by placing the message into a context that is relevant to the audience.  A story paints a picture and helps the audience make sense of the topic.

You are the star

You are the speaker and the stage belongs to you.  Do not allow slides to upstage your talk.  How do you do that?  By not using your slides as a crutch.  By not posting your entire talk onto slides.  Avoid presenting a boat load of text-heavy slides that you read from,  instead of speaking to and connecting with those who came out for you.  

On your slides include important charts and graphs,  key statistics,  major talking points and relevant visuals that support and advance your message.  Practice your presentation often and get to know your material,  so you won’t be overly dependent on slides.

Engage and involve your audience

Most of all,  give the right talk.  Know what the audience expects you to address.  The person who schedules your talk can help you choose a topic and give you the heads-up re: big questions that audience members may want answered.  To keep your audience engaged,  pose a question or two at some point in your presentation.  Also,  be willing to answer questions as you go along and make your presentation more of a conversation with the audience.

We deliver

While good content is essential,  that alone will not win over an audience.  Body language and delivery also matter.  Audiences size up and judge a speaker within the first three minutes of a presentation.  Be sure to project confidence,  expertise,  good humor and approachability.  Smile,  make eye contact and use a pleasant,  yet authoritative,  tone of voice.  Show appropriate enthusiasm and passion for your subject matter.  Let the audience know that you like being up there speaking.  

How to get to Carnegie Hall

Practice and practice some more.  It takes a lot of work to make a presentation look effortless.  Skilled presenters give the impression that their clever ad libs and convincing responses to questions are all ex tempore,  but nothing could be further from the truth.  The fact is,  successful presentations are built on lots of preparation and rehearsal time: wordsmithing what may sound too complex or unclear,  deciding what text and visuals to include on slides,  how to integrate the slides with the talk,  anticipating questions and formulating good answers.  Read your talk out loud and record your voice,  to make sure that you pace your delivery appropriately.

An effective presentation should inform, educate and entertain.  Make that happen when you simplify your message and de-clutter your slides,  interact with the audience by asking and answering questions throughout your talk and practice a lot.  Hit your mark and the audience will regard you as an expert.  Mission accomplished.

Thanks for reading,