A Tale of Two Speeches

Posted 11.13.2013

podiumsNot to get all Dickensian on you but it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. That was the case at a conference I attended recently. To accommodate the schedules of two high powered CEOs who agreed to speak during the lunch session, the meeting organizers scheduled two keynote addresses during the meal.

That’s a risky agenda move but one that could work if both speakers rock the house. Unfortunately that was not the case. The first speaker was awesome. The second speaker was just awesomely bad. So bad, in fact, that after 30 minutes I just couldn’t stand it anymore and slipped out the back door of the ballroom. It turned out I wasn’t alone. There were other terrible speech refugees hanging around waiting for the next session to start.

One of them was a guy I had met earlier in the day. We both exchanged knowing looks which indicated why we were both standing in the lobby. I asked him, “Why do you think the first speaker was so great and we’re standing out here to escape from the second one?”

Here’s what we came up with. Consider it a list of things to do and not to do when you’re asked to give a presentation.

Definitely Do

1. Bring the noise – What I mean by this is show up with some energy and passion for your topic. The first speaker immediately staked out what he was going to talk about and why it mattered to the audience. Then he proceeded, through his spoken and unspoken communication, to demonstrate how passionate he was about the topic. He raised his voice, he lowered his voice. He moved, he stood still. He was serious, he was funny. In short, he mixed it up and matched his energy with his message.

2. Make it about them – In her fabulous book, Resonate, presentation guru Nancy Duarte implores her reader to make the audience the heroes and heroines of the presentation. That’s exactly what this CEO did. He connected with the audience by telling stories and sharing data that demonstrated he knew all about the challenges they’re up against. He won everyone over in the process.

3. Tell stories that people can relate to – This CEO is a very well known exec with a huge compensation package and a fairly controversial history. He doesn’t necessarily have the profile that people are predisposed to like. He quickly had the audience in his hands, though, with a story about how technologically illiterate he was compared to his teenage daughter. He told the story well and had an audience full of parents of teenagers laughing in recognition. All of the sudden most everyone in the room had something in common with the multimillion dollar CEO.

Definitely Don’t Do

I’ll spare you the enumeration of what the second CEO did to bomb so badly. Let’s just leave it at he more or less did the exact opposite of what the first speaker did. He was flat in every sense of the word. He spent most of his time talking about his own career. His stories were mainly about battles he had had with his board members and other executives. Ugh, ugh and ugh. In short, he did not connect at all. (And, oh yeah, he touched every base on one of my all time most popular post, Three Signs Your Slide Deck Stinks.)

What about you? Based on recent experience, what’s on your list of things that presenters who kill it do? What do the presenters who bomb do?