BY KATHY CAPRINO
NOTE: This article was originally published in Forbes.com
As a frequent speaker at live and online conferences and events, I’m in the company of hundreds of folks each year who are top authors, experts and consultants. In many cases, these are thought leaders who perform public speaking as just one aspect of their professional endeavors. In attending these programs, I’m continually astounded at how many content experts are, in fact, wholly ineffective speakers.
In my studies on communications theory in practice, and in developing my own speaking chops, I’ve learned one core lesson about presenting: just because you know your topic inside and out, doesn’t mean you know how tocommunicate about it, or share your knowledge in ways that engage and connect, or spark continuing interest in your work. My colleague, Krista Carnes, Founder of Booking Authors — a consulting firm that helps experts and authors connect with new opportunities and audiences, and a member of the Maestro Market start up team – shared this:
“One big mistake I find is the incorrect assumption that speaking at a “big name” event or two is the only way to get attention. There are no “small” events when you’re starting out. Most people, no matter how much passion they have, are simply not ready to get in front of large audiences. In striving for those large opportunities only, many overlook exciting, creative ways to engage with their communities and tribes – ways that nurture the development of presentation skills and personal presence that are crucial in today’s digitally-driven age.”
Observing amazing and powerful speakers who move and motivate us (watch some TED Talks for inspiring examples), and comparing them to ineffective speakers, I’ve observed five core behaviors that keep speakers from achieving their key goals – to motivate, enliven, inform and educate. Below are the top five mistakes content experts often make as speakers when trying to engage audiences, stimulate crowds, and connect deeply with others.
TOP 5 PUBLIC SPEAKING MISTAKES – FAILING TO…
I’ve made some of these mistakes myself, and have lived the experience of losing an audience. None of us are born astounding speakers, and there’s always more to learn, but the first step is to acknowledge your own gaps.
1. Meet the Audience Where They Are
First and foremost, speakers must remember that their deep knowledge about a topic isn’t (usually) shared by the audience. Listeners aren’t in the same place you are – they haven’t spent years studying this area, researching it, living it. It’s new to them. So you must meet your audience where they are, finding a way to hook them in. Then take them on a stimulating journey of initial discovery through full-out engagement so that your key points can be understood and embraced. Assuming that they know what you know, or care in the way you care, is a mistake. You have to generate a significant level of interest from the beginning, and pique that interest continually throughout your presentation.
2. Make a Heartfelt Human Connection
In the past few weeks, I’ve been a part of a number of national events that highlight speakers who are at the top of their fields. I’ve seen evidence that being a nationally-recognized guru doesn’t mean you have any degree of social or emotional intelligence. I’m finding that numbers of these experts simply fail to engage us on an emotional, heartfelt level – they don’t connect in a personal way, or give the sense that they truly care a whit about the audience and its ability to productively use the vast information they know and share. In the end, their lack of a human connection makes their presentations feel overwhelming and unsettling– they push us away with all data, facts and statistics, and no heart and soul. They’re simply not likable.
3. Show Respect for the Listener
Again, I’ve seen scores of speakers alienate an audience by expressing disdain or criticism for some common behavior or thinking. For example, if you’re speaking to social media novices about what they need to do to get up to speed in the social media arena, you must understand that many folks are afraid and insecure about taking the plunge, and you need to be gentle with them, not judgmental, critical or flip.
In the end, If you hate or disrespect your listeners for their lack of savvy in your area of expertise, they’ll hate you back. And if you leave your audience feeling that they are losers, failures or unworthy of your respect, then you’ll achieve the opposite of your desired effect – you’ll bruise their sense of self-worth and create a huge rift between you and your audience. You’ll lose them forever.
4. Inspire Follow-Up Thinking/ Action
It’s not enough to present information without inspiring people to follow up with new action or thinking. Your words and messages simply won’t last in the minds of the audience members if you don’t motivate your listeners to DO something different with what you’ve just shared and taught. Think about how you can connect and engage with your audience after your talk, and help them on a path of thinking or behaving differently, making use of your information in ways that better their lives. If you don’t, you’ve missed a key outcome of serving as a speaker/presenter – to inspire positive action.
5. Leave a Lasting Message of Significance
Finally, with the millions of webcasts, seminars, workshops and talks available today to us –either in person or online — your talk will not stand out or be effective if you don’t leave the audience with a clear message of significance – something lasting, meaningful, and impactful. If you’re simply sharing dry information, but don’t touch on the vital “essence” of your material (the living, breathing heart of what you care about and why we should care), you’ll fail as a speaker.
In the end, it’s not easy to be a compelling speaker or presenter, and deep knowledge of a topic doesn’t necessarily contribute to your ability to reach people. But addressing these mistakes will help you communicate in ways that make you the speaker that people ask for most and remember best.