How To Be A Better Tech Speaker

At the Picnic Festival in Amsterdam, we listened to some great speakers on AI and IoT (Internet of Things) give some interesting presentations. While the talks provided some fascinating information to consider, some people in the audience were a bit taken back by the fact that many of the public speakers were not very well prepared and seemed to lack the level of professionalism one would expect from such an esteemed expert. If you are considering speaking at any conferences, here are some things you should keep in mind:

1. Be Prepared

Preparation is the most important aspect of a successful speech or presentation. The KNOW approach can help ensure credibility, focus, and relevance.

It doesn’t matter if the audience is an auditorium packed with people or small group of decision-makers. If people sense that a speaker is unprepared, the speaker loses credibility immediately. Chances of gaining credibility back after a poorly prepared presentation are slim. That’s why preparation is the single-most important factor in the success of a speech or presentation.

Effective speakers and presenters follow four key rules when preparing a speech or presentation. To remember these rules, they simply follow the KNOW principal: Know the Audience, Narrow the Topic, Organize via WIIFM.

2. Know the Audience

Knowing the audience helps determine what approach to take, what stories to tell (or not tell), and what examples will most effectively reinforce the message or messages being delivered. Skilled presenters always take the time needed to research and get answers to the following questions:

  • Who are they? High-level business executives? Blue-collar workers? What do they know about the subject? Are they the right people for this particular presentation? If you’re proposing something, can these people act on it?
  • Why are they there? Are they there to learn something? Honor someone? Be entertained? Make a decision?
  • What makes them different? Skilled presenters keep asking this question until they find at least one salient fact that makes them different from any other audience in the world. The key word is “salient.” The fact that everyone works for the same company, for example, is not unique enough. The fact that they won the company’s Peak Efficiency Award, on the other hand, will prove useful when you look for ways to connect with the audience.

3. Narrow the Topic

Top-performing presenters avoid the mistake of tackling too many different issues or topics for a single presentation. Instead, they narrow the topic as much as possible, selecting one aspect of the subject that is most relevant to the audience. Examples:

  • Broad: The federal deficit. Better: What the deficit means to our children.
  • Broad: Motivating employees. Better: Keeping employees motivated during organizational change.
  • Broad: Strategic opportunities. Better: Marketing’s role in capitalizing on key strategic opportunities.

4. Organize via WIIFM

“The success of any speech or presentation rests squarely on the presenter’s ability to inspire the audience and get gettin them to take some form of action” says Dean Jones of Motivation Ping. The only one sure way to do that: Understand that every audience member is thinking strictly in terms of WIIFM—What’s In It For Me?

Will the presentation help the audience members grow richer… smarter… sexier… happier? Will the presentation help them solve a problem, answer an important question, or provide information that the audience cares about deeply? Audience members will “tune out” as soon as they get the feeling that there’s nothing in the speech or presentation for them. And they won’t give the presenter much time before making that important decision.

That’s why the most engaging and effective presenters clearly identify the objectives of their presentations in terms of the audience’s interest. Examples:

  • By approving this budget, you will help the company get the exposure it needs to bring in additional revenue and profit.
  • Follow these work procedures and you’ll soon find yourselves coming to a nicer, more productive place in which to work.
  • If we don’t cut expenses while increasing sales, all of our jobs are at risk.

Notice that in each of these examples, the theme clearly indicates what the speaker wants (budget approval, procedural compliance, lower costs and higher sales) but are put in the context of the listener’s interests (profit, quality of work life, employment). These objectives can make for good opening lines, too.

Following the KNOW principles when preparing a speech or presentation makes the process of deciding what to include in the presentation and, importantly, what to leave out. If it doesn’t support the theme and can’t be stated in WIIFM terms, the smart presenter will simply leave it out.