So you want to be a speaker?
So you want to be a speaker! Speaking in front of a large audience is different than facilitating a workshop, or leading a small group for an hour in an event like a track session.
I know from experience, that making that transition is not easy. You will stumble occasionally, but each time you will get better if you learn from each session you do! We are all learning and we can all improve – just like I can. While this isn’t a comprehensive list on how to do a keynote, this will get you started or help you improve what you already have.
Below we have listed a simple acronym that outlines 6 SMARTE principles you may want to consider, if you would like to be a speaker.
S – Stories – Use them, limit them and make them relevant.
It is necessary when speaking that you use stories, anecdotes and examples that are meaningful to the audience and relevant to the content. Too often speakers go on with long winded stories about their personal experience. That’s the last thing a conference organizer wants to hear! Gear your stories towards what the audience needs to know. Begin with an assessment of those needs. As you are developing your speaking notes, keep the session focused on the audience. Put yourself in the audience’s shoes and think from their perspective ‘can they relate to this story?’. After you have set the context of the story, you need to make the point, then tie that into how the audience can use that point. Otherwise they are kept hanging. Make sure you offer variety – as telling stories just about yourself can seem very one sided. Include short anecdotes and stories about others – including clients, colleagues to illustrate a point. Often people will start planning their speech with ‘what do I want to tell them’ and your speech will then turn into a one way lecture – and that is not a keynote. Stories should support your content, be short, precise and relatable by the audience.
M – Motivation – Understand this!
In a keynote, when you are guiding a large audience on a journey, you have to find the balance of including something motivational within your content, so people can aspire to do or be something different. Your audience needs to know how the information is going to be useful. Why does the audience member need to know this information? What benefit will it have for them at work? Why have they decided to attend this session? Why is this session relevant to them? As you are developing your speaking script or notes, determining the rationale, benefits and reasons why an individual should attend this session will encourage the participants’ buy-in. During a keynote, adults need to be actively involved in the session or they won’t be motivated to apply your take-aways. A recommendation is to request a pre-call with your conference organizer prior to the session, to ensure you can tailor your message to the conference audience.
A – Audience Centred – Keep it focused on them.
A speaker can lecture for an hour and cram in a lot of content– but I can guarantee most people still need to do something with that information to apply it. Additionally, facilitating games or activities that are unrelated to content can be inappropriate, a waste of time for the participant, and a waste of money for the organizer! Activities such as case studies, real work simulations, examples, questions or games that put individuals into work-related roles or teams can enhance their experience. Using simple activities such as “Turn to your neighbor take 30 seconds to discuss the most important ‘nugget’ you heard in the last 10 minutes” can keep your audience engaged.
Adults thrive when listening to content that builds on their own experience; content they can relate to and contribute to. While this may mean that not all individuals are comfortable with what they are hearing, our goal as speakers is to stretch the audience outside of their comfort zones – but not too much – so that they can’t connect the dots between the content and their experience. They need to be able to see themselves doing it and aspire to it! Check with your event organizer around what is appropriate and what works with the audience. They will know often better than anyone.
R – Reinforce your content and prioritize
You know a lot about your topic or you wouldn’t want to speak about it. Because you know so much, you’ll be tempted to include EVERYTHING. First rule is DON’T! Prioritize what people need to know and what is nice to know. Check in with your event organizer. Run the key points by him or her. We all absorb information differently. Some of us are more auditory, visual or kinaesthetic or a combination! Ensure your ‘need to know’ points are delivered verbally and have visuals such as a handouts, clear power point slides (not filled with text) or flipcharts to back it up. Telling people your point doesn’t work in a keynote. Telling them the point numerous times doesn’t work either-contrary to popular belief! You will sound repetitive. You need to be able to build the content so the point flows out of a story, anecdote, experience or research. If there is anything people can hold, build or discuss, be sure to include. Follow up with a community of practice portal or and a dynamic website as it allows people the freedom and time to use the knowledge you’ve shared in real life.
T – Transfer of your knowledge to the audience workplace
The audience wants to apply the new knowledge from your session to their workplace. Or they wouldn’t be there! Ask specific, probing questions to elicit responses that demonstrate the linkage of content to work. The audience can answer them ‘in their head’ or in pairs. The knowledge you want to share has to be transferable to their experience. Don’t assume the audience will do that without your help. Work with the conference organizer to incorporate language, examples and case studies into your talk. You can illustrate your content by giving simple examples or complex case studies and questions that force participants to create those linkages. Have them solve a short problem that’s related to your content in their head or with a partner. Show them how to solve a problem using your knowledge. Write down insights or take-aways. If they can’t relate your content to their work lives, they won’t find your knowledge relevant to their experience.
E – Environment – You create the tone of your session.
What environment do you want to create as part of your talk? Will it be more formal and research based? Will it be casual and safe to listen and learn? What is the audience like?
Is the atmosphere of the conference and the audience professional or casual? You may have no choice over the physical space of a room. However, you want to get into the room before your session to get a feel for how it will work with your session. Where you will stand and how you will move given the constraints of the physical environment?
The look and feel of your slides, how you dress, the language you use should be reflective of the audience. Don’t get up in a suit on stage and look like a consultant if the audience is more casual. You need to be relatable. Check with the conference organizer before your session when you can get into the room to check the environment. I’ve never known one to refuse, as they want you to be a success as much as you do!
These are some key principles of being an engaging and effective speaker. Use the SMARTE acronym as a checklist while you are developing your session. While many other factors need to be considered, such as the structure and flow of your keynote, using these SMARTE principles will measurably increase your chances of success.