Fixing the unfortunate habits of professional speakers

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All speakers improve with practice and guidance. I’ve been working on my delivery for decades, and I still have a ways to go.

So when I offer this advice to speakers, whether coming to Y’all Connect or another conference, I do so with both professional experience and having watched hours and hours of our speakers on video.

I also have the feedback from hundreds of guests. They have given many compliments over the years, but they have also pointed out the recurring bad habits that detract from an otherwise stellar presentation.

If you’re a professional speaker, I offer these five tips so that you can make the biggest splash and win the hearts and minds of your audience.

1.  Stand still. Pacing for 60 minutes is distracting and pulls focus from your visuals and your message. Channel your energy into your words and your upper body. If I have four main points to make in an hour, I’ll stand in four spots during that hour. It takes practice to avoid dumping nervous energy into your feet.

2. Use remote controls. They prevent you from shuffling to your computer and back to your spot 30 times in an hour, just to click advance on your slides. They’re cheap. They’re small. They’re easy to use.

3. Slides are not books. Why do speakers insist on dumping paragraphs of info and charts with tiny type into slides?

Keep the amount of text to a minimum. Use at least a 30-point font (see Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint for more). And for goodness sake, don’t read the slide to the audience.

I’ve included one of my recent decks to show how little text I use on each slide.

Slides are neither required nor always necessary. But when done well, they enhance a presentation and an audience’s understanding of new and complex concepts.

4. Time yourself. “I see that I have 5 minutes left so I’m going to speed up and rush through my last 10 bullet points and stillgo overthetime limitwhichmeansnotimeforaudiencequestions …”

I have many ways of determining if someone has practiced his presentation. An easy sign to spot is running over the time limit, leaving no room for audience questions. If you’ve practiced, you know how long it takes to run through your material. You will need to leave 10 to 20 minutes available for Q&A (unless you’re the keynote speaker).

When I see a speaker who hasn’t bothered to rehearse, not even once, I see someone who doesn’t respect my time or the audience’s time. I see someone who doesn’t really care.

5. Repeat (and paraphrase) an audience member’s question back. Pity the audience members (in person and watching later on video) who sit through 40 seconds of barely audible mumbling, followed by the speaker spitting out a random answer.

Repeating the attendee’s question serves four purposes. First, we can capture the question on audio so our video viewers can hear the question. Second, it demonstrates to the audience that you heard the question correctly. Third, it allows the rest of the audience to hear the question. Fourth, it gives you the speaker an additional moment to reflect on a thoughtful answer.

We want our guests to learn as much as possible at Y’all Connect and adore our speakers. My role is to pick the very best pros and guide them on potential topics. Before now, I was hesitant to offer any guidance on speaking, but that was short-sighted on my part.

By serving our guests and our speakers, I can make this a better event for both. Even I’m getting better with practice.

What tips do you have for speakers?
Let us know in the comments.

See our speakers shine onstage in our Y’all Connect video series …

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About Wade Kwon

Wade Kwon is conference director for Y'all Connect. See his full bio.