5 Ways to Blow a Business Speaking Opportunity

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Speaking at events is a major opportunity to market your business and establish your expertise, thought leadership and credibility. It’s also a potentially huge revenue stream for your business. I make a sizable portion of my income getting paid to speak. When I first started, though, I was speaking to grow my business.

I see companies spending money to secure stage time at conferences and sending employees to advocate on their behalf in breakout sessions. I see entrepreneurs and business owners presenting at events, trying to grow their clientele. And, in more cases than not, I see most of these opportunities either blown, or not nearly as impactful and effective as they could be.

Speakers who really know their sh*t and who are willing to get out there, be vulnerable and make a true connection with their audience by providing real value, have a major opportunity to draw leads and convert them into paying clients — leaving the others in the dust.

When it comes down to driving action based on a speech or presentation, here’s the straight-to-the-point fact. If you don’t excite me when you’re on stage, I seriously doubt your ability to entice me off stage. Moreover, if you don’t make some sort of a mental or emotional connection with me on stage, there’s no way I’m wasting my time connecting with you offstage.

That may sound harsh, but it’s the truth. And it’s not just me.

Want to make that connection? I’m going to tell you what not to do. Here are five surefire ways to blow a speaking opportunity, and ways avoid them.

1. Trying to be someone else.

Thinking there’s one way to be a “professional speaker” is ridiculous. So many people, given speaking opportunities, put themselves into a box. They think that they have to speak a certain way, act a certain way, make slide decks, use a podium, be serious. It’s all BS. You need to figure out who you are as a speaker. Stop trying to be something else, and start focusing on bringing your own unique energy and approach to the presentation. If you’re hoping to gain connections and clients by speaking, you have to be yourself, and you have to find a way to connect with your audience. If there’s a disconnect between who you are on stage and who you are offstage, you’re going to run into problems.

2. Thinking you’re important.

The first thing you need to get in your head when you’re giving a presentation is that it is not about you. What matters is the value that you share with your audience and the impact you make on their lives. A mistake I often see people make is oversharing examples from their business. Business owners think if they share stories from their business that they’ll look smart and credible. That not a bad thought at all, but it can go wrong.

The speaker goes into so much detail that is in no way relevant to the major takeaway of the story. Nobody cares about the details of your story unless they have a direct connection to either their understanding of a concept or teaching a major takeaway. Stories are important, but inundating your audience with mundane details that you think make you look bigger, badder, busier or more important will backfire.

The audience doesn’t care that you flew in last night, that you’re in the middle of a six-city tour or that you ran across town because traffic was so bad. They care about getting value from your presentation. People want you to answer “what’s in it for me” and walk away with something that will improve their condition.

3. Hiding behind a podium or script.

A podium places a nonverbal barrier between you and your audience. It is communicating, “I am here, protected, separated. And you are there, in the audience, not here.” Even if you need to use notes — and I understand that — leave them on the podium, and walk away to engage with your audience.

If you’re speaking to try to position yourself as an expert — who wants to drive increased business through speaking — you can’t sequester yourself away from your audience. People do business with those they know and like. If you don’t open yourself up to your audience, they never have a chance to make a connection with you.

Same goes for having a script. Don’t mistake scripting for planning. Planning is essential. Scripting is your death. When you’re trying to remember words or you’re reading off of a script, you lack the full ability to connect with your audience as you’re more worried about the right words other than making the right impact. When you are less scripted and more real, your expertise is going to shine.

4. Arbitrary statistics and quotes.

Thinking that if you share statistics and quotes you’ll be perceived as more credible is simply inaccurate. Anyone can look up statistics online. Simply regurgitating them makes you a parrot. The magic comes in sharing statistics or a quote that strengthens your position and then provides context to draw them together and make them unique to your point of view or perspective. Presenting statistics and adding your own perspective, a case study that confirms or denies the number or adding a new way of framing an understanding that demonstrates your expertise — now that is a winning shift.

5. Failing to plan your opening and closing.

Your first words set the stage for the entire presentation. The last words set the stage for the action that you want your audience to take. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to speakers and the first word out of their mouth is “ummmm” or “uhhhh” or “so.” That does not make an impression.

Choose your first words wisely. Starting with a filler word tells the audience that you are unprepared, unpolished and unprofessional. And if you’re ending with a sales pitch, think again. You want to end with something profound and valuable that leaves people wanting to know more and continue the conversation. If you do find yourself needing to make a pitch from the stage, be transparent about it, and do it at about 70 to 80 percent of the way through your presentation, so you still have time to end with a bang.