Master Your Set-Up Before You Set Foot On Stage
Inspirational vs. Informational:
As far as speaking, I think one great tip that I’ve learned, that took me a little bit too long to learn, is there’s a difference between inspirational speaking and informational speaking or tactical. What I realized is companies generally want to inspire. There are tactical informational step-by-step, but those tend to be the bog world type conferences, and often those are not the paid speaking gigs.
I know a lot of the people watching this now want to sort of move their practice either from free gigs to paid gigs or paid gigs to more paid gigs. One of the big things I’ve learned in the last years is it’s not the same type of speech. If you look at Seth’s talks or Sir Ken Robinson or those kinds of things, it’s inspiring. It’s not a how-to.
I think us as practitioners, we know certain things so we’d like to default a talk to the how-to. There are very few paid speaking engagements where it’s framed around a great instructional talk.
What I try to do is two steps. One, finish the slides and the outline. Start with the outline. So I start with a mind map and a theme. Then I try to finish the slides earlier. I like to include relevant things, so maybe news things or timely things. But now I’ve got more. I can just swap that in at that particular spot and I know that I’m going to talk about something current.
I like to once I’ve done that go through the flow by myself, record it using ScreenFlow or microphone, and then play it back, because even that, just hearing yourself you’ll notice spots where you thought your energy was high and it was really low and a lot of spots where you stuttered or said “um” or “uh” a lot. So I start with that. Then I usually wrangle a few friends, buy them beer or whatever I have to do, and just try to practice it, because it’s really important to get in front of live people. Sometimes it’s hard to architect, but I would say do whatever you have to do. It could be in your basement. It could be at a friend’s house. But practice the timing, practice going through the slides because the transitions are really, really important.
Also, a big thing is practicing how you end the talk. If there’s one thing I think that all speakers could improve on drastically, it’s how they end their talks. I’ve seen amazing A+ TED type talks, and then literally at the end they’re like, “That’s my time. That’s all I have...” It just trails off and it kills the whole energy and the impact of the rest of the talk.
What I’ve tried to do, and I stole some of this from Seth, is end with a really provocative question. You see this a bit at TED. Or a statement or a claim. It really should be, not to use the idea of dropping the mic and walking away, but that concept of I’m done speaking. You should know I’m done speaking. Ending with a bang and not trailing off is something that I’ve found practice really, really helps with, because the audience, when they decide how long they’re going to clap or if they’re going to give you a standing ovation, a ton of it is based on what you just said in the last ten seconds. So if you can really—one thing I would say is practice the whole thing and practicing your timing, practice your transitions, but really practice the last 30 seconds and the last minute. Maybe even practice that before you practice everything else, because another thing I learned from Seth is the only reason to give a talk is to change the audience, to cause a change in the attendees that are there. Just practice nailing that last minute, and that will actually—if you change how that is or how you want to change the audience, that might change your upstream content.
Try not to start with, “Hi, I’m Jenny Blake,” or, “Hi, I’m Clay Hebert.” Your story, hopefully that’s really well covered in your intro. The person that’s introducing you, make sure that they introduce you in an appropriate way. You should write that script. You should hopefully know how to pronounce your name and things like that. You should already have this intro. The audience should know who you are, and so it’s much more interesting. People expect you to say, “Hi, I’m Jenny Blake and this is what I’ve done,” and your personal story. It’s much more interesting to start with something they’re not expecting like, “In 1956...” Just a story, just start with a story and assume that the introduction was enough to explain to the audience who you are. Then just pull them in.
Pretend it’s like the first page of a book. The author Stephen King doesn’t start with, “Oh, by the way, I’m Stephen King.” That’s on the flap. That’s on the intro. So just start with a story and hook them, and they’ll already be leaning forward in their seats.
I give it a full pause to let them think. You want to almost make them feel a touch uncomfortable like, is he done? Then by saying thank you you’re answering their question saying I am done. That’s what I’ve done is an interesting or inspirational quote or challenge or call to action for the audience. Then say powerfully, look straight at them, look them in the eye or eyes, pick out somebody and then, “Thank you.”
To make sure that your slides present and the clicker works and your lavaliere, those are really easy things. Anyone can do them, and yet if you’re a great speaker who delivers great stuff those are the things that can derail you if they go wrong. So if you’re at that caliber and you’re getting paid to speak, just do what you need to do, whether it’s them or you, to make sure that those won’t derail your great content and your great message.
When things go wrong:
I think when AV might go haywire, I would say your ace in the hole trick is present a shorter version of what you were going to do, and then open it up for more Q&A because that gives you a chance to engage with the audience. By looking ready and not flustered, in changing the format and just saying, you know what, whatever is around me broke, I’m just going to take charge and change the format, you also look more like a pro and more like you’re in control of the situation. Versus being on the receiving end of these AV problems.
What does it mean to speak like a pro?
I think to develop a speaking practice that you’re proud of, that makes you money and that changes the audience, that carries your message. That’s really moving. Speaking like a pro is, like I said, changing the audience and making a career that doesn’t give you all the stress and anxiety. The litmus test might be that you know if you’re looking forward to giving talks instead of dreading giving talks I think you’ve made it as a pro.
Top Tips and Resources:
Build your own kit. It can be a combination of communication and an actual thing that you take with you, but to have a talk go poorly because of some clicker or AV issue is unacceptable for a really smart person because for $10 we can all solve that problem. So do whatever you need to do between communicating with that organizer and building your own kit, like you say, and just have it. It can fit right in your laptop bag really simply. You talk about looking like a pro. You look like a real pro. When there’s a missing adaptor for your Mac you’ll go, “Here, I have it.”
Practice in front of people. Get feedback from other people. Ideally, if you can research the venue and if you can match where you practice to something like that, if it’s a wide shallow room maybe practice in a wide shallow room. But do a dry run.
Then I guess related to that, one of the biggest mistakes I made in my whole speaking career thus far is creating a completely new talk for each conference.one takeaway tip is develop your two to three or four standard talks that you give. It doesn’t mean that you can’t personalize it or tweak it. But then also on your speaking page put those. Say these are what I talk about. Then if you can have a custom specific testimonial to that talk where it’s like "Jenny inspired me so much about X" or "Clay taught me so much about crowdfunding," then the person who’s booking you as a speaker can see, oh, that’s the topic I need and people seem to love it.