by Mark Sanborn
In Part 1 of ‘7 Reasons Why Executive Speakers FLOP,’ Mark Sanborn explains that public speaking — like all skills — needs to be developed, esxpecially for C-Suite leaders. He cites an unclear purpose and lack of preparation as two big reasons why speeches and presentations are delivered unsuccessfully. In this post, he continues with the key mistakes to avoid when speaking to a room.
Failure to capture attention
The scarcest resource in the world used to be time; today it is attention. The average listener is bombarded with messages from many different sources. From email to radio to voicemail to cell phones, everybody is trying to tell us something, and your attempt to give a speech is just one more bombardment.
That’s why what you say and how you say it had better grab the audience’s attention right out of the shoot. You don’t have time to “warm up.” (e.g. “Thank you for inviting me to be here today. It is indeed my pleasure to address you. What a great meeting it has been so far. Blah blah blah blah blah.”)
As my friend and high-powered speech coach Ron Arden says, “In the theater, you’ll never see an actor warm-up on the audience. They warm-up backstage.”
So forget the hackneyed concept of warming up the audience. Hit them square between the eyes with something that will break their preoccupation with what they need to pick up at the grocery store on the way home from work.
Most importantly, make your remarks relevant. Postmoderns are less interested with the question “Is it true?” and more interested in the question “How does it affect me?” Sure, you need to be intellectually honest to prove your points, but never forget to prove that your message matters to the listener.
Ego-driven leaders are more concerned with what followers think about them than they are with what followers do because of them. But you don’t necessarily have to be arrogant to be pompous. Sometimes it happens accidentally when a speaker confuses impressing a listener with influencing him or her. Impressing people is, for the most part, a head-game: It changes what they think of us. Influencing people is a behavioral game: It changes what people do because of us.
A preoccupation with self is deadly. Self-absorbed speakers present to get their needs met, rather than meet the needs of the audience. The audience instantly recognizes it.
One of the best-kept secrets in speaking is this: The audience wants you to do well. Everyone knows how painful it is to watch a speaker bomb in front of others, so instinctively, the audience is pulling for you. And they’ll cut you a lot of slack — and allow for mispronunciations and other mistakes — if you are sincerely interested in them.
If you speak down to them or try to blatantly impress them, they’ll turn on you like a pack of rabid dogs. It won’t be as obvious as the rabid dogs, but beyond their polite or at least neutral non-verbals, they’ll be mentally dismantling you for being a pompous ass. You wouldn’t be asked to speak unless someone believed that you have credibility and something to say. That is enough. Don’t undo that assumption through efforts to prove your status to others.
“Isn’t life a thousand times too short to bore ourselves?” That wasn’t uttered by a tired audience member, but it could have been. Helen Keller said it.
An audience today contains many people who were raised on MTV. That means they spent formative years watching music videos that often contained 150 images in the course of a minute. Watching a talking head is, for them, about as stimulating as watching software load.
Nobody ever flops who entertains. Don’t get me wrong: to be simply entertaining is not in itself a worthwhile goal for an executive presenter, but is sure beats the alternative, which is to be boring. Sell the sizzle and the steak.
Great restaurants know that the presentation of cuisine is as important as its preparation. Presentation and perception go hand-in-hand.
“Amusement” comes from two words meaning “not to ponder.” “Entertainment” on the other hand, is engaging. The value of entertainment for a speaker is that it mentally engages listeners. I’ve found the best way to educate is to slip good ideas in on the wings of entertainment.
By the way, telling a joke is risky. When it works, it works well. When it fails, nothing fails worse. The best way to avoid groaners is to use humor in such a way that it illustrates your point. If the audience doesn’t laugh, the illustration is still of value. And if they get a chuckle out of the humor, that’s just icing on the cake.
Remember this variation of a familiar acronym: FEAR is False Endings Appearing Real.
I’ve seen it a hundred times. A speaker starts to conclude, even tells the audience of his intent, and then tells a pithy, witty story. The audience responds favorably. The speaker gets a rush. “Wow, they liked that. I’ve got an even better story,” he thinks to himself. And then he ends again, with another story/quote/challenge/admonition/etc. Like a junkie who has just had a good fix, the speaker keeps ending until there is no positive response, but rather visible signs of disgust. By then, it is too late.
You can only effectively conclude once, yet I’ve seen executives conclude over and over. Each false ending weakens the message that was in front of it. The false ending nightmare usually begins with these words, “In conclusion….” That triggers hope in the audience’s mind. “Hey, it’s almost over!” They expect you to wrap up quickly.
In my mind, that means either summarizing or making a final point. Several points, or the introduction of new points, is not a conclusion.
A simple rule to remember: A good ending happens only once.
The beginning of excellence is the elimination of foolishness. You can bump up your speaking performance by analyzing your last presentation by asking these seven questions:
- Did I stick to my allotted time?
- Did I develop and present purposefully?
- Was I thoroughly prepared?
- Did I capture attention at the very beginning?
- Did I positively influence listeners?
- Was I appropriately entertaining, or at least not boring?
- Did I end only once?
An affirmative answer to each of these questions virtually guarantees that the next time you make a presentation, you won’t be a flop. Not only will you be flop-proof, most likely you’ll be perceived as an articulate and effective speaker.
*This article originally appeared on MarkSanborn.com.
Mark Sanborn, CSP, CPAE, is president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc., an idea studio dedicated to developing leaders in business and in life. Sanborn is an international bestselling author and noted authority on leadership, team building, customer service and change. Follow Mark on Twitter @Mark_Sanborn.