Thursday, February 22, 2007

speaker pitfalls

At an art museum curator's talk this week, I had ample chance to ponder not the subject before us -- a preview of a major exhibit considered breathtaking in its scope -- but the pitfalls of the speaker. All of them, in my experience, represent major gaffes that could have been avoided, and skills you should practice and incorporate in your next speech:

- Make good on your promises to the audience: If you announce a promise -- I want to take up no more than an hour so we have time for questions, or I want this to be interactive so this feels more like a group discussion -- make sure you deliver. Audiences respond well to promises from speakers, particularly where time and participation are concerned. In this case, the speaker made both statements, then lectured the group and exceeded his time by nearly 25 minutes.

- Don't make the audience choose between you and the clock: By exceeding your time, as this speaker did, you push audiences to focus on something other than your words: The clock. You can guarantee that many of them will be watching it, and not you, if you push your time limits -- and you'll be making many more choose between moving on to their next commitment, or staying to ask the question they came to ask. Instead, plan to speak in less time than you are allotted, and use the question time to insert as answers key points you want to make. No audience will complain about a briefer-than-advertised speaker!

- When the lights go down, your voice needs to work harder to keep me awake: Rare is the art lecture without slides, but after-dinner speakers (and those at any time of day) need to remember to vary vocal pitch and inflection, and pay attention to volume, if the speaker can't be seen.

- No matter how brilliant the prose, don't read from the lectern: The speaker had co-authored a guide to the exhibition and nearly convinced me to buy it -- until he used part of his lecture to read long passages straight from the text. Tell the audience in your own words the same points in your written report or book -- there's no substitute for the energy and enthusiasm you can convey in your own words, no matter how well-written the ones on the page.

Check out our sister blog, The Eloquent Woman, for more on giving great speeches and presentations and become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook.

1 comment:

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