Cindy Hartner, CSEP, is a familiar face for many of us in the events industry. Cindy has held workshops for MPI, ADMEI and SPIN groups and has served as a Past President for MPI and ILEA chapters. She also taught high school for a period of her life and if she was able to get through to teenagers, then she must be a presentation expert!
Cindy’s sharing her tips on speaking and presenting as our industry enters a period of growth and recovery. Public speaking and presenting can be intimidating, and most people will never become professional speakers — but will still need to speak in front of groups at some point in their careers. Cindy’s tips are helpful for presenters at all levels. Her advice is also especially relevant after a pandemic that has changed the way we interact and receive content.
Through this pandemic, I have found that authenticity, humility, and humor resonate more with audiences than simply being an authority on a subject. Because we have felt so adrift during this long stretch of uncertainty, people need to connect now more than ever before.
When crafting a presentation, step back and reflect on what is really important in your message and how you want the audience to change as a result of listening to you. Are you trying to educate them? Connect the dots between two concepts? Disrupt traditional thinking? Inspire them to dig deep within themselves for answers?
Toss aside the traditional data and marketing PowerPoint. If you could say something to change people in 30 minutes, what would it be?
People can get information anywhere today — meaning the traditional educational role of speakers has been turned on its head. Now, audiences look to a speaker to interpret information, connect new information to what we already know, and challenge us to think differently.
This disruptive role of a speaker now often leads to audiences feeling incomplete and unfinished. It leaves them talking in the hallways about what something meant to them. Maybe it feels a little uncomfortable, but it challenges the audience to reflect and seek solutions versus just telling them the answers.
Tailor your decisions on humor to your audience and your subject matter. Certainly there are serious topics where humor may not be appropriate. However, humor can also help ease or validate discomfort for an audience — so there may be a benefit to using humor, even for uncomfortable subjects. Slow down and read the audience as you go so that you can adjust your message as necessary. It also never hurts to laugh at yourself or to find ways to humorously empathize with your audience!
Naturally, you want to prepare and rehearse. Keep a directional outline rather that scripting absolutely everything you say so that you sound fresh and conversational.
Also good to know: speaking on a virtual platform is so difficult. You can’t read the audience, and it’s tempting to look at yourself to make sure you still look okay (guilty there!). Work with the virtual platform and ask for a rehearsal so you can continue to sound natural and approachable. Some people put a mirror and/or their notes up by the camera so it looks like you are reaching out to the audience directly.
Overall, you must be yourself. Tap into why you are an expert on the subject, use your own vocabulary and vocal stylings, and move around in ways that make sense for you when presenting. The best speakers don’t try to be a version of someone else. You feel like you can relate to them, maybe even want to befriend them.
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