Most corporate beings spend days, weeks, months of our career sat in daylight-free, recycled-air, hotel boxes listening to our company leadership waffle on about nothing in particular that will score precisely nil points in our memory.
So what is it that makes 95% of conference speeches so terrible – and what can you do to stop yourself from falling into the same traps?
1. Conference Speech Strategic Denial
Let’s face it, a conference speech comes amidst a wave of a million and one other things to do. You’re struggling to meet your quarterly sales target, your star performer’s just been poached by the competition and the kids are complaining about their school teacher. How can you possible have time to think about giving a conference speech?
At the same time this is a rather convenient excuse for avoiding thinking about something that is terrifying to you. The prospect of standing up in front of hundreds of peers secretly fills you with dread, so if you don’t think about it, it might just go away.
Of course you’ve already fallen into the first trap that will make your conference speech suck. If you don’t give it headspace, how can your speech possibly engage the audience?
2. ‘Get-through-it’ mentality
At some point the time comes when the conference team are asking for your slide deck, or your speech outline. Now comes the moment where you set up your ambitions for the speech.
In most cases, speakers go for the lowest possible ambition of not embarrassing myself and design their talk with the minimum of risk in mind. Cue company PowerPoint deck, a boring case-study, too much jargon and someone else’s statistics.
Now you’re offering your audience exactly the same as everyone else who has ever stood up on a conference stage. That’s nice and safe, great, right?
Not great. What you’re doing is removing anything that might be compelling, exciting, or – god forbid – memorable about your talk. You might as well get the audience to watch an untuned TV screen for 30 minutes.
3. The ‘professional’ trap
Whilst you’re busy trying to look ‘professional’, you’re being far from professional in terms of what makes public speaking effective. Because you’re remove all the things that make a talk worth listening to: humour, emotion, danger, beauty, stories, passion, authenticity.
The rules of great public speaking are totally different from normal ‘professional’ corporate conduct. Where emotion is seen as awkward in the office, it’s compelling on stage. Where we see personality as ‘off-message’ in company branding, it lights up a speech. And where we want a standard corporate image in marketing communications, we want personal, human stories in our speakers.
If you want to be a memorable speaker, you simply have to do something different to all the other conference speakers.
The good news is that conference organisers are starting to see the light. Inspired by TED talks, I’m more and more frequently approached to help corporate speakers to give a ‘TED Style talk’ at conference.
And it works – TED style talks are short, passionate and often focus around storytelling. Audiences remember those talks far more than the usual PowerPoint blah blah.