Speaking to Motivate and Inspire Audiences

John Bell asked:


It can be flattering and exciting to have someone call and ask you to speak at a conference or convention. To get such a call suggests you are considered to be an expert in your particular field. If this were not the case you would not have received the call! However, being both a recognised expert and putting over your point to an audience in a constructive, educational and entertaining manner requires careful planning and a high degree of skills. Your aim ought to be to motivate and inspire the audience with your expertise and speaking ability.

There is a saying, ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail’. Your research and planning begins when you get that phone call. There are important initial questions you must ask the person who has contacted you if you are to stand any chance of success.

Firstly, the obvious – you need to know the date and venue of the conference. Asking this question at the beginning can save a lot of wasted time. Excitement at being offered the honour of representing a company at an important event can sometimes fog your usual clear thinking. Take into consideration the venue – if it is some distance away organisers will prefer you to arrive the day before. To do so removes the worry that you might be delayed en route to an airport or railway station. Ask the organiser if they would prefer you to arrive the day before. If they do, it may affect the fee you quote!

The next thing to establish is a title for your talk. Most organisers already have a rough idea for the theme or basis of your presentation. Agreeing the title of the talk with the organiser will allow you to focus your mind on content later. It is worth taking a little time here to clarify an important issue which, if not addressed at the outset, may later cause disappointment for the audience, yourself, and the organiser: there is a distinction between the title of your talk – sometimes referred to as topic – and the objectives of the organiser.

For example, the title of your talk may have been agreed as, let’s say, ‘New Appliances in the Fight Against Asthma’. The title is a short overview of the topic. However, your client’s desire might be that by the end of your presentation, delegates attending the conference will have an understanding of the benefits of their new product. This is an important clarification in the early stages of the development of your presentation. From experience I have found the simplest way to clarify the object is to ask the organiser/client immediately after the title has been agreed. Ask them, ‘By the end of the presentation, what do you want delegates to be aware of?’ In other words, ‘what is the aim/objective of the talk?’

Your next move is to establish who will make up the bulk of the audience: what level are they in their organisations?, what skills do they possess?, etc. Knowing their level of knowledge will also be useful. Knowledge of the audience at an early stage is an important factor which can determine whether your client’s goals and objectives will be achieved. For example an audience of consultants specialising in asthma will have different learning priorities to trainee doctors. Pitching your presentation at the correct level is an important part of successful presentation.

Learning about your audience before you start, and preparing, before presenting are paramount. You need to know exactly who they are, as a group. For example, if you are told it is a conference for members of a profession, ask the organiser where the delegates stand in that organisation. As a generalisation, merely for the purpose of illustration, managers tend to have been trained as managers and have little to no knowledge of technical matters. Reception staff and administrators may know little about sales, and sales staff may not have a clue about financial matters, and so on.

It is important to establish not only who they are, but also what they are. If they are doctors, what is their level of knowledge likely to be on the subject you have been asked to present on? There is little point in talking to nurses for 45 minutes on a basic understanding of asthma if they are asthma specialists with a better understanding of the disease than some general practitioners (and probably you!).

Ask your client to establish what the audience are likely to want to know. Experts on asthma may be keen to learn about a new delivery method for asthma medication. Add information like this to what the client would like as a ‘go away with’ message and you are well on the way towards a successful speech.

Follow the tips I will provide in this series of articles on public speaking at conferences, conventions and seminars and you will deliver a polished, informative presentation that motivates and inspires delegates.

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