The Five Mistakes Too Many Speakers Make 2017-2018

The Five Mistakes Too Many Speakers Make 2017-2018

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I’ve written recently about insights, secrets and success factors for public speakers. Attending a conference a couple of weeks ago, I was more struck by the common mistakes that speaker after speaker was making and so I thought it was time to write about what to avoid. Here are five mistakes I’m seeing a good deal at conference venues everywhere – and how to fix them.

1. Dress your brand, not your tribe. The single most important thing you do as a speaker is show up. By that I mean, you stand in front of an audience, for twenty minutes or an hour, and the visual field you create is what audiences look to first, most, and most lastingly.

And yet most speakers miss the chance to stand out. I don’t mean you should wear a duck suit like Elton John did once for a concert in Central Park. I do mean that you should dress your brand. Something that makes you unmistakable, and that is particularly you. Too many people just dress in the costume of their tribe – business casual, or suit and tie, or power suit or whatever.

2. Ditch the props and open up. When speakers get together, they talk about tech mishaps, slides that were wrong, mikes that didn’t work, video that failed to play – if it’s technological, sooner or later it will go wrong. Only one of the speakers at the most recent conference I attended used no slides at all – just him, in front of the audience, vulnerable and emotionally available.

Show up with authenticity and you cannot fail.

3. Say less and gesture more. Most speakers fill up the silences with their voices, afraid to stop, afraid to let the audience go for an instant because they might stop listening, afraid to take a full emotional moment. But it’s those moments that make a speech memorable.

Watch a great speaker and see how much of his or her intent is conveyed with the right gesture at the right moment. One of my favorite gestures from my acting days was the double-take. You look once, look away, and then come back with renewed awareness. Whatever the point was, you didn’t get it right away, but when you do, you’re shocked, or surprised, or appalled, or whatever the case may be. It always gets a laugh from an audience because it’s such an easily recognizable emotional moment, one that we’ve all experienced.

If you’re not gesturing at least some of your presentation, you’re talking too much.

4. Talk the journey, not the destination. We’re so afraid these days that we’re going to lose our audiences to their cell phones that we all too often cut the journey short and just give the conclusion. But if you cheat the audience out of the journey, you cheat the audience out of real understanding. The moment when Luke Skywalker and the other heroes get their medals at the end of the first Star Wars movie is a great moment – but can you imagine ifGeorge Lucas had simply given us that, without the journey, the battles, the struggles, and the discoveries Luke and the others made along the way? The movie would not have just been too short; it would also have been meaningless. That’s what you risk when you just jump to the end.

Take the audience with you on the journey.

5. Lose the clichés and get inspired. During the course of the conference and its dozen or so speakers, we repeatedly moved the needle, drank the Kool-Aid, had due respect because it was what it was, had the necessary bandwidth, or didn’t, broke down silos, and – God help us – even experienced more than one paradigm shift. These clichés are comforting, familiar, and substitutes for thinking. Don’t utter them. Please. Do your own thinking, tell your own story, and take us on a real journey and you’ll naturally avoid these energy-killers.

We get inspiration from courage, from honesty, and from triumphing over failure. No matter how many silos you break down you can’t beat that.

Inspire your audience with your real words, not borrowed ones.

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