Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

October 06 2016

Preventing Uh-Oh Speakers

Janelle Brittain, CEO, MBA, CSP

Janelle BrittainYou’re standing at the back of the conference meeting room, as the Subject Matter Expert speaker walks up to the podium. He begins by reading the first three PowerPoint slides, then reading his notes in a dry monotone voice, then turns his back on the audience and reads the next slide. Uh-oh! People are already walking out!

Seduce Them into Practicing
What is one thing that non-speaker speakers hate more than speaking? Practicing. But when speakers know their material, they can focus on engaging with the audience. That’s when the exciting electricity happens.

So how can you get them to practice? 
First, emphasize throughout your Call For Speakers, that you expect that the speakers will have rehearsed their presentations. Then, require that they tell you how long each segment of their program is. In order to know the length, they’ll need to practice it and time it. Another reason to have this information, is if time is running late, they need to know what segment they’ll cut in order to fit their presentation into the time.

Require Interaction
In your Call For Speakers, ask them to have an audience interaction at least every 15 minutes. If they need some guidance on how to add interaction, you could provide some guidance like:

Ask the audience a question such as:

  • What has been your frustration with x?
  • How many of you…?
  • What has been your experience with …? 

Then feed off of what they say. Really listen to their points to see how they can relate to your message.

Another approach is to ask the audience to share with a partner/neighbor, answering a question that explores one of your points, like:

  • What would you do next?
  • What are your concerns about X?
  • What do you think your staff would do in X situation? 

Be sure to ask for some of their thoughts/answers and play off their ideas. This creates great energy around the subject and creates more take home applicability of the material.

Engaging Construction
Most non-speakers don’t know how to put together an engaging speech. If this is a critical speech, provide more guidance for how to set it up for success. Focus on these three critical areas.

  1. Begin with a Bang! You want to grab the audience’s interest right away, so begin with a surprising statistic, a great quote, a relevant story or a provocative question.
  2. Insert relevant exercises or interactions in the middle. The middle is when people are most likely to take a snooze, so to keep them engaged have a lively exercise where they get a chance to talk.
  3. Memorable Closing. Pull together the most important point(s) with a photo, quote, story and/or 2-3 bullets.

Remember the great quote from Mark Twain, “It usually takes me three weeks to prepare for a good impromptu speech.” 

Making Heroes
Part of your job is to help your speakers be heroes…even though they might be reluctant heroes. By guiding their speech planning from the very beginning, you will set them up to be more engaging speakers. You’ll have met your goal of creating meaningful and memorable meetings. Through what people learn at meetings, they can help make this world a better place. The ripple effect of your work can change the world! Let’s do it!


About the Author 
Janelle Brittain, CEO of the Dynamic Performance Institute, LLC is a professional speaker for associations and corporations on change, team building and leadership. She is also a Certified Speaking Professional and a Presentation Coach and offers to any PCMA member a free 15-minute coaching session. Connect at Janelle@DynamicPerformance.com or 773-262-8686.