Love them or hate them, as an SME leader you are probably going to be asked to make lots of them. Be prepared.
No yawning at the back – Put your best stuff at the beginning or you risk lose your audience’s attention
By Rachel Bridge
If your business is doing well, you are likely to be asked to make a speech at a conference or industry dinner at some point. If you are not a natural, it can be an unnerving experience. Here’s how to do it right:
1. Know your audience. Find out everything you can about the people who are going to be listening to you before you stand up in front of them. How much do they already know about what you are going to be talking about, how much prior knowledge can you assume? Pitch it too low and you will bore them, pitch it too high and you will baffle them.
2. Stick to the time allocated. No matter how much the audience appears to be enjoying your speech, they still want you to end when you are supposed to. If you have been given a really long slot, don’t keep rambling on to fill it; stop and take questions.
3. Give your speech a structure so people get a sense of where it is heading. Organise your content so that, for example, there are three areas you want to look at, or five key points you want to make. But don’t do a long preamble at the start telling people what you are going to be talking about it. Just get on with it.
4. Start with your best stuff. Jeremy Lee, founder of JLA speakers agency, says: “You should always start with your best material because then you will hook your audience and they will listen. If you save up your best story until three quarters of the way through then frankly you might have lost them all by then.”
5. Treat the microphone with respect. If you have been fitted out with a wireless lapel microphone, act as if it on is on at all times. Because it may well be and then the whole room will hear you discussing what you had for breakfast before you go on stage. Or worse.
6. Be yourself. Speak in your normal voice, just at a slightly slower speed. Lee says: “Don’t act and don’t start declaiming in a Shakespearean way. It will make people switch off. Whether you are taking to your own staff or to potential clients, what you want them to buy into is you, not some bizarre amateur-dramatics version of you.”
7. Go easy on the Powerpoint presentations. If you must have one, don’t just stand there and read it. It is there to add value to your speech, not be it. Use pictures or phrases or even single words and explain what they mean. Including a short video can be a nice way to keep an audience engaged, but make sure you actually know how to make the equipment work, otherwise it’s just horrible and painful to watch.
8. Ditch the jokes. If you have secretly always wanted to be a stand-up comedian, this is not the time to see if you could have made a career of it. And never ever make jokes at the expense of your business. We all know what happens to people who ignore this rule. It never ends well.
And finally – don’t memorise your speech verbatim; write it down as a series of stories then put them in bullet points on a piece of paper in your pocket. That way it is there if you need it, and you may find that you don’t.