Thursday, June 16, 2011

Was Your Intention To Be Awful As The Keynote Speaker?

Not everyone is expected to be a captivating and inspiring speaker when they take the stage at a business conference.  There are many reasons that people are selected to address an audience, and presentation skills are often assumed to be sufficient if a person is accomplished in some other area of expertise.

Too often when seeking ideas for keynotes and breakout sessions all the attention is put on content.  Industry experts and mavericks are desired, as they seem so compelling in advance.  Most can hold their own and deliver the information to the crowd in an acceptable manner (some are even GREAT), but too many are just awful and clearly have not prepared beyond having their marketing department create a PowerPoint deck.

I have seen a trend where speakers begin by telling the audience how much they lack in the area of presentation skills.  They set the bar low hoping that they will be forgiven for sucking the energy out of the room.  While content is clearly very important, those who are sitting in the chairs expect a level of competency in delivery, too.  After a talk people will defend a bad speaker who had good content, but should they have to do this?

I contend that it is not too much to ask that business speakers have content and speaking skills.  Attendees invest a lot of time and money to be present at conferences and they deserve more than a canned pitch from some executive who does not even want to be on the stage in the first place.

My mantra is "Just because someone is smart or has done something cool, it does NOT mean they belong on the stage".  Speakers should be vetted before being asked to present.

It is not hard for an executive to improve their speaking skills.  I am not suggesting that everyone needs to perform like a professionals speaker, but when you are committed to giving your best to an audience you are willing to commit to the necessary preparation.

Nothing beats experience in developing your public speaking.  But if you think "winging it" is an acceptable plan, you will never give your best to those listening.  I find that every speech I give requires a minimum of four to five hours of preparation (even it I have delivered the same talk at an earlier conference).  Longer for new presentations.  If you are not planning to invest that much time, then do not accept the speaking opportunity in the first place.

Nobody plans to be awful as the keynote speaker, but many end up in that place.  This can be avoided if you are serious about putting the audience in a place of honor.  Remember that your talk is not about you, but about those watching you.

Those who have to speak to promote their businesses should make it a priority to become good at presenting.  There is nothing stopping you from making your delivery as good as your content.  When you have both you have impact.

(***Often when I talk about in importance of speaking skills people push back and boast that "public speaking skills without content is also awful".  Well of course.  I am not suggesting that you just deliver mindless drivel.  But it is called "giving a speech", therefore you must remember that it is a gift to those listening.  To not care about how you present, when everyone can improve, is selfish.  All speakers should strive to be "motivational speakers", as if you do not plan to touch your audience at a deep level, why ever take the stage?).

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is the author of "The ABC's of Speaking", available at

Similar in design to his highly sucessful "The ABC's of Networking" now in its third printing, "The ABC's of Speaking" will help anyone achieve superior results when speaking in front of groups between 2 and 1,000 attendees.


Brett Lewis said...

Thom - I couldn't agree with you more. Some speakers should not be on stage, regardless of how great their content is. Thank you for your posting.

michele price said...

YES Thom thank you for saving me the time to write this piece. At our TEDxhouston we had some great speakers then we had those do did exactly what you said...sucked the energy out before they started.

It is second time I made suggestion to vet better by holding the people who are invited to TED up to a higher standard of delivery. They smile and someone in group pops up with "The content is more important than the how polished a speaker they are" SIGH. Maybe next year.

Thom Singer said...

Michelle - I find those who say that sentence about "Content is more important" comes from well meaning people who don't want a "fluff" speaker. That is understandable and noble... but the reality is that requiring BOTH content and skills is not too much to demand (especially for TEDx)

Paul Peixoto said...

Some good points made here, Thom. I can't completely agree with Brett, though. I work in the data-driven world of coaching medical presenters who's presentations live or die on the strength of their data.

My coaching goals often then, focus on bringing the presenter's personality into the presentation. We're all gifted communicators. The problem is that personality is often left behind when approaching the lectern.

The key in the content/delivery equation is balance.