Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Gearing up for that really big talk: 6 smart speaker considerations

Congratulations! You've been asked to give a big, high-profile talk, that career-changing speaking opportunity you've been waiting for.

Now what? Big talks--whether the "big" part is the impact of your words, the size of the audience or the prestige of the venue--deserve a higher level of planning on the part of the smart speaker. Here are a half-dozen considerations I'd recommend if you're going to be featured in one of those finer gigs:
  1. Is it the hall that's big? If you're not used to facing a crowd of hundreds or thousands, it makes sense to get some practice time or at least a few minutes to stand on the actual stage where you'll be presenting, in advance. Can't do that? Try to find a similar hall in which to practice before you get there. For a big space, you may need to move more or in a larger area on stage, use grander gestures or figure out a new way to connect with the audience, and all that takes practice and preparation. The more time you can physically get used to a big speaking space, the less it will throw you off when you're actually speaking. Don't just practice on the stage, either. Sit in the audience in different locations and stand at the back of the room, so you can see what your audience will see.
  2. Is it the audience that's big? That might mean the audience in the room, in which case it's important to understand from the organizers whether you'll be projected on video monitors, how your sound will work, and any other factors that can help or hurt you in reaching a large group. Knowing where and how you will enter and exit the stage are important factors for you to anticipate, too--entering from the audience, for example, means you'll be seen in motion before you ever start to speak. Don't forget that other "big" audience if your talk is being recorded: The one on the Internet. Take the time to plan your gestures, vocalizing and facial expressions, as well as your wardrobe, so they work in the hall, on a big screen and on the small screen. Video practice is a must, in that case. If you need to adjust what you're wearing, for example, that's tough to do last-minute.
  3. Talk to the technicians: Knowing the likely color of the background against which you'll be speaking, understanding how your "confidence monitor" and remote will work, sharing what colors you're wearing: All those are smart topics to discuss with the tech team in advance. Depending on your answers, you may need to let them light you differently due to your wardrobe, or use a special cue to toggle between video and slides. Ask, listen and adjust--in advance.
  4. Listen to the organizers: I can't count the number of speakers I've coached before big talks who think that they are the Grand Exception to what the organizers told them. "I know they said 15 minutes, but I'm just going to keep talking" and "No one in the audience really needs to use that mic, so I'll just repeat the questions to the panel" can be recipes for disaster. Listen, instead, to what organizers want--certainly those who invited you, as well as what other organizers say. TED curator Chris Anderson has shared such insights,  and your conference organizers will have plenty to share, too. Remember, these are the people who can invite you back again. No need for you to shoulder their responsibilities and reinvent the wheel. Ask, and listen.
  5. Speak to the speakers:  Other speakers who've already taken the plunge at your big event are a great resource, and you know they'll be able to share the behind-the-scenes experience firsthand. The TED blog recently shared a roundup of blog posts from speakers at TEDx events detailing what it feels like to give a TEDx talk. Ask the organizers if they can connect you to previous speakers.
  6. Invest in coaching: If not now, when? Even experienced speakers can benefit from coaching that's specific to a really big talk, since speaking at a TED conference or mega-convention just isn't the same as lecturing or giving a high-stakes business presentation. You'll need a mix of eloquence, entertainment, poise and impact specific to this important gig. And if, as many top speaking opportunities do, yours comes with a strict time limit, a good speaker coach can show you how to make the most of every word. And before you invest, ask the organizers whether coaching is available to you through them. More conferences are making this available to speakers, but few can offer it to all speakers. Ask for help early, at the time you are invited, to help your organizers plan--and before some other speaker gets the help.
If you're looking for prep help or coaching before your next really big talk, email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz for more information.


Looking for famous speeches by women? Check out The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches, with a wide variety of women speakers, types of speeches and topics to inspire your next speech. Each one comes with lessons for speakers, plus video or audio and a transcript, where available.