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The kiss of death for public speakers

Public speaking 1Have you ever heard a public speaker say these things?

“Look at this chart on the screen. You probably can’t read it, but …”

Or how about this?

“I’m a numbers guy, so I apologize now if this seems a little complicated.”

Or this?

“I’ll be throwing a lot of data at you, so get ready. There’ll be a quiz at the end.”

I’ve heard plenty of speakers say these things.

In fact, I attended a lunchtime presentation where the keynote speaker said not just one, but all three of these things to the 150 businesspeople in his audience – people he was trying to impress and sell on all the cool impacts his company makes on our community.

His first 2 minutes were deadly.

You could almost hear the heavy sighs and see the word balloons popping up like Jiffy Pop above people’s heads:

  • “He wants me to squint? I won’t even bother looking at the screen then.”
  • “This is complicated stuff? Let me work on my grocery list …”
  • “Ugh – the last thing I want to do today is take a quiz …”

self sabotageSelf-sabotage is the kiss of death for a public speaker.

Will you be dead to your audience the next time you’re onstage?

Here’s a test:

If you’re preparing a speech right now and feel even just a little bit guilty about something you plan to say or show during your talk, then follow your gut, and do something about it. Now.

If you’ve included a boilerplate chart in your deck that can’t possibly be read or understood by your audience, then why are you including it?

What’s the one nugget your audience needs to know from all those columns and rows? And can you distill that single nugget down to a single image? (Yes, you can.)

If you’re a numbers person, that’s great: The world needs people like you! But not everyone in your audience thinks like you do, and you shouldn’t expect them to.

It’s your job to make things easy by creating meaning. Can you look at your numbers and interpret what they really mean – to the people in your audience – instead of just spewing raw figures (or worse, showing them on the screen)?

And just like before, can you find a single image that conveys the meaning you need to convey, and leave the numbers where they belong (inside the spreadsheet)?

complicated presentationNo one wants to field a bunch of data being thrown at them, so just stop. It’s your job to connect the dots for your audience and not just do a data dump (leave that to the IT folks).

If you’re a speaker, you’re a communicator, not a computer. So round up your data, draw conclusions and tell stories instead.

How? It’s easier than you think.

We recently revamped a company’s quarterly presentation of financial results to global employees by helping the executive team craft takeaways from a plethora of data; these takeaways inspired the execs to tell “where we’ve been” and “where we’re going” stories that employees actually remembered better than any CPA’s report.

Whenever you speak, you’re trying to convince people to think or feel or behave a certain way.

How can you expect to gain the persuasive points you need to move people into your corner if you say something that snaps shut their otherwise open minds?

Fall is prime time for conferences, and that means keynotes and breakout sessions. If you’re a featured speaker who’s now having second thoughts about a comment or self-deprecating apology you plan to make upfront, just stop. And call it like it is.


Then rid your speech of this deal-breaker with your audience right now – before you walk onstage and shoot yourself in the foot.