What’s the difference between a great speaker and irrelevant speaker for your next sales kick-off meeting, user conference, customer meeting or other event? Topic, experience of the speaker, and other factors certainly play a role. But I’ve found there are often six attributes that can differentiate great speakers from duds in most cases.
The most effective speakers tell stories. They start with stories, but also fill their entire talk with stories that bring their ideas and key points to life. Oftentimes when I’m on stage, I literally start with the words “Let me tell you a quick story…”. An otherwise semi-distracted audience immediately quiets down, puts down their phones, and leans in to hear what’s next. Great stories, told well, are the lifeblood of great speakers and presentations.
Pragmatic & actionable
Stories alone, however, aren’t enough. There needs to be a point, ideally something that’s specific enough that the audience knows what to do with it after your speaker is off stage. Some presentations are valuable purely with high-level ideas. But most of the time, your audience needs specific takeaways that are accessible and actionable.
Keeping the audience’s attention also often includes interactive content. It can be as simple as the occasional “raise your hand if…” statement. It can also include asking the audience to write something specific down for consideration, later brainstorming or next steps. I’ve also seen highly-effective speakers hand out a fill-in-the-blanks worksheet or workbook to be followed and filled in during the presentation. Great way to keep attention and increase information retention.
I’m never a big fan of speakers who only show up for their appointed time, speak and then leave immediately. Especially if you’ve flown them in from somewhere else, I expect good speakers to attend a reception before or after, get to know the attendees, and provide additional value. I also love speakers who make themselves available to attendees afterward for questions. The volume of questions is never very high, but the offer alone makes a huge difference (accessible speakers tend to be more believable speakers).
Specific ideas are important. Good speakers tell great stories and make big points, but also often get very tactical and tell their audience exactly what they need to know and what they need to do. The more specific the “what to do next” checklist, the more likely the audience will follow through and see the benefit of the message.
Goes without saying, you’d think, but I’m often surprised by speakers that come in with a canned presentation that clearly wasn’t at all customized for the audience. A little amount of customization can make a huge difference in how relevant the message is for one audience vs another based on industry, expertise level, role, etc.