People quickly sense when a speaker unfairly uses the opportunity to ‘sell’ their product or service. Audience members don’t like to be ambushed by someone who they recognize is mainly there to deliver a sales pitch. This problem especially tends to happen with consultants. The speaker will talk about a successful case study, but they may leave out some of the key aspects of their strategy to preserve a commercial advantage and they may try to hype up their role. The speaker may feel they are entitled to do this because they are investing valuable hours of preparation and delivery time in their speech, and they may not want competitors to learn too many trade secrets.
One time I attended the annual national conference of the public relations institute in my country. About 35 speakers were featured over two days. Overall it was an excellent event. But one aspect struck me from comments afterwards by audience members. Attendees recognize when the speaker is holding back information and is plugging their services to potential clients in the audience. And it turns the audience off. They don’t want to hear that a firm is the leader in its field. They do want to hear good practical information they can put into effect for themselves when they return to work.
Provide useful, actionable information in conference presentations
The audience wants genuine, actionable information, and if the speaker won’t provide this, they will prefer to listen to another speaker who will.
Since they can already obtain vast amounts of information in seconds via search engines, they become impatient with speakers who don’t offer new information of value.
Such speakers may think they only have limited opportunities to do a pitch, so they may as well go for it when the opportunity arises. But they forget an audience will give them a low score when they fill in their evaluation forms at the end of the program. The event organizers will note the poor result and will rarely invite the speaker back.
Quite often the speaker’s actions will also tarnish the image of their organization in the eyes of the organizers and the audience. Thus the speaker’s attitude will have a lasting negative impact. If you speak at public forums or write scripts for executive speakers, this is something you should always remember.
Take a strategic approach
A more strategic approach is to review your products or service areas in which your firm stands out. Also review the background and experience of your key executives. Some may have expertise in surprising and useful areas. If you (or they) are concerned about airing sensitive information, then don’t accept a speaking opportunity covering those areas!
Document all the relevant strengths and consider topics relating to them that could be aired in the public arena. These topics could already relate to existing strengths or to developing areas in which the speaker or firm is at the leading edge.
By sharing some of this information, the speaker is adding value to the audience’s knowledge and is adding to his or her good reputation and the reputation of their employer.
Spend time with your executive speakers to build up their speaking skills and the content of their presentations. Public speaking is labor-intensive and needs preparation.
There are no silver bullets for being a good public speaker, but the skills can be learned. Any executive who is serious about their career advancement will find the investment of time in effective public speaking will pay great dividends.