Imagine your name in lights, the roar of the applause, the autograph line of adoring fans... At some point, almost every small business owner considers public speaking as a way to promote their business. It helps position you as an expert in your field, gives you exposure to a wider or different audience than normal, and pumps up your resume. And frankly, it's just a lot of fun!
The connections I've made from speaking at events have enriched my business and my life in quite a few ways. Unfortunately, a speaking gig gone bad can do serious damage to your reputation. And it's not just about what you do when you're on stage.
The second you agree to speak at an event, you receive an elevated status in the minds of both the organizers and the attendees. Everything you do in connection with that event has increased impact. You're THE SPEAKER. Your speaking role doesn't start and end when you set your foot on the stage. It begins the second you accept the gig. Forgetting that can be very costly.
Over the years I've seen just about everything you can imagine on the speaking circuit. Here are some of the biggest faux pas I've seen and why you should avoid them.
Failing to Realize You've Been Elevated to Celebrity Status - Even if it's Just for That Day.
People gave up their time and money to hear what you have to say, and maybe even get to speak with you for a precious minute. Any interaction they have with you will stick in their memory for the long-term. If you walk in the door with an "I'm the star" attitude, it will immediately translate in their heads as "jerk". You're already the star, you don't need to put on airs. If I have time before a session, I walk through the crowd and introduce myself to the attendees. I ask them what they hope to learn in my session. Not only does it help me deliver exactly what they need, but it earns me lifetime fans. Two big name who have done this - Guy Kawasaki and Sheryl Sandberg. And look - I'm still talking about how awesome they are for it!
Dressing Only for Your Stage Time
I once saw a keynote speaker bouncing around a conference in sweats and a ponytail. She did a quick change into a polished professional look for her stage appearance, and then back into the sweats afterward. It gave the impression that she was putting on a show and that what she said on stage was as much a part of the act as was her polished appearance. The lesson: Your public persona should be genuine and something you can sustain all day long. Don't give conflicting messages to your followers.
Dismissing the "Little People"
You may be busy and rushed after your presentation, but make an effort to greet everyone who speaks to you with a smile and a friendly hello. One moment of rudeness will be remembered and talked about for years. If someone is taking too much of your time while others are waiting, hand them your card and ask them to follow up by email.
An audience who spends 10 minutes watching you struggle with technology is an audience that is disengaged before you start. A good presenter doesn't let those piddley technology snafus stop them. Always bring a printed copy of your presentation so you can talk from the notes if the presentation can't be displayed. Be prepared to walk closer to the audience so they can hear you speak. And realize that they're here to hear you - not for your PowerPoint.
Running Long on Time
Speakers run over. Some of them do this chronically. In most cases, it's disrespectful of the audience, the organizers, and the other speakers. If the speaker before you runs long, recognize immediately that you won't be able to get through every single slide in your presentation. Chose the most impactful points and stick to them. End on time, or as close as you can to on time. The audience and the organizers will remember and think highly of you for it.
Not Providing Follow Up Information
The best way to turn audience members into fans or customers is to give them incentive to connect with you after the presentation. Post your notes on your website or SlideShare. You can even offer a giveaway to collect email addresses. Then follow up.
Holding Complete Social Media Silence on the Event
Especially when you're just beginning your speaking career, your ability to fill seats is one of your biggest assets. It's where you can outshine other beginning level speakers to win gigs. When you hold complete social media silence around an even you're speaking at, it decreases your value to the organizers.
Keep these common speaking faux pas in mind when you accept your next speaking gig. Do it right and you're on your way to being the next big sought-after keynote speaking star.
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