Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

May 2012

One on One: Scott Berkun

Barbara Palmer


Book Excerpts

  • Change only happens when someone does something different, which a lecture cannot do. Often I am hired to be inspirational and tell people tales of how great innovations came to be. The problem with inspiration is that it is hard to take with you. What’s thrilling in the lecture hall feels awkward in front of your boss. Someone has to leave the lecture, go back to his everyday world, and take the risk of doing something different with what he’s learned. No speaker can ensure this happens.
  • Only well-chosen pictures are worth a thousand words, and even then, they can only be valuable if they are displayed long enough for the audience to comprehend their meaning. If you find natural ways to draw attention to things that illustrate your point, use them.
  • Crowd size is irrelevant - what matters is having a dense crowd. If ever you face a sparsely populated audience, do whatever you have to do to get them to move together. You want to create a packed crowd located as close as possible to the front of the room. This goes against most speakers’ instincts, which push them to just go on with the show and pretend not to notice it feels like they’re speaking at the Greyhound bus station at 3 a.m. on Christmas morning.
  • All good public speaking is based on good private thinking.
  • Most venues for speaking and lecturing in the modern world are dull, grey, uninspiring, poorly-lit, generic cubes of space. They are designed to be boring (which is why it’s hard to stay awake during lectures) so they can be used for anything. And like a Swiss Army knife, this means they suck at everything. Your average conference room or corporate lecture hall is bought and sold for its ability to serve many different purposes, though none of them well…Blame speakers all you want - and we deserve most of the blame - but some fraction of hate should go to whoever chose the crappy room to stick the audience in.
  • If the aliens landed during the TED conference, they’d obviously assume the guy standing on stage holding the microphone was the supreme overlord of the planet. For much of the history of civilization, the only public speakers were chiefs, kings, and pharaohs. But few speakers use the enormous potential of this power. Most speakers are so afraid to do anything out of the ordinary that they squander the very power the audience hopes they will use.

More Resources

In  “An  Open  Letter  to Conference  Organizers,”  at scottberkun.com , Scott  Berkun  argues that  although speakers  are  at the  center of conference agendas, they often are  neglected  by  meeting  planners who are  distracted by  a  whirlwind  of logistical details and  critical tasks. Read Berkun’s list  of 10 suggested  ways  to set  things  right.

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