Own the Room

by Guest Blogger Michael Harrison

A big part of my work is public speaking. Sometimes I speak in front of thousands of industry insiders all attending a convention. Other times I speak to a small group of managers wondering why the company isn’t growing more quickly.

It can be unnerving to stand up there on the stage, or at the head of the table, all eyes on you, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, when the curtain goes up my excitement level goes up with it.

When you speak, regardless of the size of your audience, you want all eyes on you, you want the attention of listeners, and in short, you want to own the room.

Speaking engagements are usually scheduled months in advance so I have time to prepare, to undertake research, and to learn all I can about the audience’s needs. Why are they there? Why are they listening to me?

Before you start speaking, introduce yourself by name, of course, and provide a one or two sentence synopsis of the purpose of the meeting. When the information you provide is given context it increases in value. And both you and attendees know why this meeting is being held.

If you’re speaking before an in-house group, skip the introduction and assume each audience member was invited for a reason. There’s no need to establish your credentials when speaking to insiders. They know who you are, how you manage, industry jargon, business issues, and common problems. In this case, to own the room, provide handouts, expand on key points, and get back to work.

On the other hand, if you’re fortunate enough to be the keynote speaker at a large industry trade show, focus on industry-wide issues, problems, and solutions to those issues.

Now, if you’re new to standing up there while holding the attention of experts and your managers, don’t be afraid to use notes. Write down your numbers, your opinions, your resources, your solutions. Better yet, turn those notes into a PowerPoint presentation with some visuals in your PowerPoint deck to help audience members “see” your point, not simply hear your point.

Know what you’re going to say. It should be fresh, not a re-hash of what every audience member already knows. The Internet makes researching new business trends and practices simple. You can add daily updates to your RSS feed to create a personalised daily paper with the latest news about trends and industry practices.

One tip that I guarantee will engage your audience is a syllabus – an ordered list of your topics and what information you provide in speaking. This prepares the audience.  Attendees know why they’re sitting there listening to you.

And because they have a take-away syllabus, the members of the audience can listen more closely without scribbling key points on the back of a napkin.

Stay in touch with the CEO or other point person within the company or association to keep your presentation relevant, current, and most importantly, helpful. There’s a reason that company has called in a strategist. Sales are down. Revenues are down. Competition moved in across the street.

Why are you talking to this audience? It’s impossible to be relevant OR helpful if you can’t answer that question in a single sentence.

“I’m speaking to this industry group to explain the value of social media and the ROI small business can expect using social media to market products or services.

One sentence. I know why I’m there. I have time to research online. I also ask for resources from the company or industry association itself. These insiders have the data needed to own the room when you speak. Why?

You’re speaking the language attendees speak. You’re providing useful information and tips.

This may sound obvious but make sure your venue, whether a large hall or a small conference room, has the equipment you’ll need, i.e. a sound system, a data projector, a video camera – if you need hardware and you aren’t bringing it, you do have a problem, one that you may not be able to fix in time for your presentation.

Integrate your spoken points with visuals. If you’re talking about quarterly sales, a simple trend graph delivers information more efficiently than you can in words. Talking about cost per employee acquisition? A colourful pie chart breaks out company costs to fill an open position. The visual element syncs with the point you’re making now.

The visuals and the spoken word reinforce key points. They focus the attention of attendees on you, your expertise, and critical information – the “take-aways” from your speaking engagement.

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