By Nick Gold, MD at Speakers Corner
The busy exhibition seasons is upon us, and alongside the excitement and anticipation of showcasing your company, might be a more unwelcome feeling: dread.
Perhaps you’re expected to speak on a panel, but the idea of speaking up terrifies you. Maybe your main worry is being able to answer questions correctly when put on the spot. You might know your company’s key messages inside out, but you dread the idea of addressing an audience of peers – even if they are there to hear you speak!
Although I can sympathize because we aren’t all born-speakers, there are definitely things you can do to prepare yourself. I am lucky enough to spend my life around some of the best thinkers, personalities and orators there are. Being at the forefront of the international speaker industry, I have picked up a few tips to share with you ahead of the exhibition season.
A few quick, initial tips to consider are as follows. You are there for the delegates, not the other way around. Very few people are born speakers, but anyone can stand on stage. Understand that everyone in the room wants you to succeed – there is nothing worse than listening to someone who is struggling on stage. Be comfortable. This might mean wearing jeans, or how you stand, but the important thing is to remember that the more comfortable you are, the more you will deliver on stage.
In terms of the key areas to prepare, step one is communicating your key messages. What are your core beliefs? Why are you there to deliver them? Once these are firm in your mind, you can focus on how to deliver them. I’ve always believed that the best way is storytelling. Make it personal, tell a story. This will elicit an emotional response in the audience, leading them to remember the messages you delivered on that day.
The next step is preparation. This starts with physical preparation that any speaker should follow. This means getting to the venue early, knowing the layout, and befriending the technicians. They can help you with slides and knowing where your microphone will go. Perhaps they’ll even let you have a quick test while the audience are sipping coffee.
The next aspect to preparation is knowing your style. What do you do with your hands while you speak? How do you handle a podium? Can you speak while sitting down? Becoming familiar with your instinctive style is a key part of your preparation.
The final part of preparation is practice! It might sound tedious, but you should practice until you are completely sick of hearing your spiel. This way, there is space to freestyle on the day whilst also securing your key messages in your mind.
The format of your speaking is crucial. Take panels, for example. They require a specific kind of preparation and etiquette. It is vital to start with the question: why are you there? Why is the panel being held, and what does your voice add? You also need to consider the other people and get familiar with their stance. This includes the host or facilitator, who is a crucial part of panel success.
The best panels follow great etiquette rules. This means all speakers are aware of how often they speak, not interrupting others, and making eye contact with the host. The hardest part of panel participation – but arguably the most important – is active listening. You must respond to what the other people are actually discussing, rather than waiting for the opportunity to relay your prepared spiel when it might not be totally relevant.
My final bit of advice ahead of the exhibition season relates to confidence. I have seen a lot of speakers, and though their style and content vary, one thing they all do is own the stage. For the performer type this can have an air of arrogance, but for others stage presence derives from the speaker’s complete belief in their own expertise and message. That means, if you have key messages and are prepared, you can own the stage.
I would always steer away from starting negative. Ditch the throwaway comments about your nerves or inexperience: remember that people want you to succeed and are on your side.
Finally, be aware of the energy given to you by your nerves. How you dissipate this energy is critical to your success. Speaking slowly is obvious, but worth reinforcing. Pausing for effect can be a great way of buying yourself some time to think. Use the stage around you: a lectern provides security but also introduces a barrier between you and your audience so be sensitive to this. Finally, if you fidget, think about how you can combat this. Some speakers like to hold something – a pen or paper – so their hands are doing something.
So, ahead of this year’s exhibition, I encourage you to spend some time thinking about these public speaking tips. I believe that if you know your key messages and are willing to give adequate time for preparation, you will have the core ingredients to deliver a successful speaking engagement.