How to Shine at the next Conference

It’s the conference planning meeting. The MD’s secretary, Charlotte, is handling all the arrangements. “What about a professional speaker?” says the Marketing Director, “I saw a terrific bloke give the after dinner at a do on Park Lane!”
Everyone gets enthusiastic, diverting attention away from the real problem: What to do about Geoffrey, the FD, who everyone acknowledged was the low point of last year’s conference. He’s the elephant in the room, so to speak.
So the meeting breaks up optimistically. One week later, the professional speaker has been tracked down. Not only is he available, his agent quotes a fee which is not too ridiculous, and – joy – he has written a book on public speaking. He signs a copy for the MD, and another for Geoffrey, and Charlotte gives it to Geoffrey in the manner of a clandestine deal. “The MD thought you might like this to read before the event.”
And so the business of running the business rolls along and the conference gets forgotten, except at the fortnightly meetings, and everything seems to be going well, because the Elephant has been sent away and everyone believes the issue is over. Geoffrey actually does read the book; when his wife is not looking. He tries to put all those tips and tricks into action.
Come the day of the event, Geoffrey meets the professional speaker in the coffee break. He compliments him on the book, and they make small talk. Geoffrey feels he is about to throw up. The speaker assures him this is just “the rush” and he’ll be all right. Geoffrey drinks more coffee; with difficulty because his hands are shaking. The conference is fine, the speaker lifts the end, and we all go home happy. Poor Geoffrey’s presentation is better than last year – which means it wasn’t quite the disaster it could have been. He is an emotional wreck afterwards and tenders his resignation the following week.
Although I’m sure every reader of simply-communicate would have a better handle on the targeting of their communication, it’s awfully easy in a corporate environment to allow the important stuff to slip away in the protocols of the topography. So how to fix this scenario next time around, and encourage introverts to speak well?
I was running a creative agency in marketing communications when I had a bit of a personal epiphany: It didn’t matter how carefully the communication was segmented, targeted, or creatively designed; when the speaker gets up at the lectern, or appears on the webcast, if the message is not communicated then all the rest is a waste of time.
Far too much internal communication happens by chance
At the same time, I was making a lot of presentations myself, and I recognise that I’m an introvert. I also recognised that most professional speakers are extroverts, so all the advice they had for me was helpful but didn’t address the core problem I had, and that every other introvert has: We don’t want to be there in the first place.
So I set out to fix that.
Most introverts who are forced (we never volunteer) to speak have three main problems to overcome.
1. Procrastination
2. Shyness
3. Lack of learned tools
Fix these three and you are well on the way.
1. Procrastination
In coaching introverts to present I’ve noticed a great amount of behavioural congruence. More than in any other area of work I have encountered there are loads of last minute changes, cancellations and postponements. As a fellow introvert I completely understand; those important but unfamiliar things get put to the bottom of the pile simply because the unfamiliar takes longer to engage with. Introverts procrastinate about anything which can’t be sorted by internal dialogue.
The solution I use is to break presentation coaching down into trivially small steps; that way the training is not so daunting and often gets done.
2. Shyness
As my wife will attest, even though I tell all my clients that they need to rehearse in front of others, out loud, we introverts don’t like to do that, and all too often don’t do it. We think that we can do it all in our heads. This is fatal. Speak to any extrovert about an upcoming presentation and they are likely to perform it for you right there and then. Ask introverts and the reply is usually on the lines of “it’s coming along fine thanks”, which is code for “unfinished”. Introverts need to overcome this inherent and totally natural shyness and repeat, repeat, repeat, the presentation. This is vital.
The solution I use is the same thing personal trainers do - “I’ll turn up and you’ll do it for me” - then I make them do it again, and again. It’s hard to ignore someone who’s costing you money.
3. Lack of learned tools and techniques
Extroverts have been standing and speaking all their lives, as they do so they learn what works and what does not. Introverts on the other hand have deliberately avoided placing themselves in a position where they might have to speak. This places serious limitations on their careers. This is the simplest and most rewarding part of what I do. It’s called providing feedback and everyone needs it, from the novice to the seasoned television personality. Although you’d expect me to tell you the value of involving an expert, all feedback that does not damage provides valuable ways to improve an introvert’s performance.
The solution I recommend is to test your presentation on as many of people as possible so that you can aggregate their comments, and use them as a guide. Remember, your audience is made up of people just like you who want to hear what you have to say.
The good news is that this is a cumulative experience; I have coached many introverts who end up having no further need of my services. Practise does indeed make perfect. One strategy which is sensible – but hard to implement – if you have an introvert on your management team, is to get them to do a number of less important speaking engagements. That way, when the occasion where they really need to shine arises, it will not be the first trial run.
Get up and speak! You know it makes sense.

This article first appeared on Simply Communicate


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