Why you can safely ignore most advice for speakers; Issue #373 September 27, 2016

I regularly see articles with advice for speakers. It could be five things to do, nine things to avoid doing, or some variation on those themes. You probably see these articles too. You can safely ignore almost all of this advice. Let me explain why.

The problem with these articles is that they don’t apply to the vast majority of presenters. These articles are written for professional speakers who give inspirational keynote presentations to audiences in ballrooms. If you see words such as: stage, AV crew, lighting, crowd, microphone, or sponsors in an article, the advice doesn’t apply to you.

I would guess that 95+% of all presentations given each day are by business professionals whose primary job is not speaking, but providing service to their organization and clients. They are not presenting on a stage in front of a large crowd. They are presenting to a few people in a meeting room trying to convince them to take a specific action. The context is totally different to a professional speaker.

Here are three specific differences that make most of the advice for professional speakers invalid for business professionals who deliver presentations.

Goal: A professional speaker is there to inspire the crowd, make them feel good, and have an enjoyable time. There is not a specific action that the entire crowd needs to agree to move forward with. A business professional needs to communicate a clear message that results in action by the small group they are speaking to. When these articles talk about using inspirational stories and full screen images, ignore that advice.

Setting: The professional speaker is on a large stage in a huge room with lights and professional AV. A business presenter is in a typical meeting room that has a projector or flat screen TV. Advice about microphones, staging, and AV crew don’t apply. As a business professional, be prepared to deal with any technical issue on your own and keep things as simple as you can to reduce the risk that something goes wrong.

Audience: The large crowd listening to a professional speaker is very diverse, from those who are interested in the topic and speaker to those who are there because someone made them come. The professional speaker focuses on generalities because of this. A business professional has only a few key people in the room. They are there because they are a decision maker or key stakeholder. They won’t waste their time in a meeting if they are not required. They are there to debate, give input, and make decisions. A business presenter needs to be focused on the topic at hand and be specific to give this audience what they need.

As a business professional who presents, you need to read articles for speakers with a critical eye. Much of it doesn’t apply to you. Focus on the advice that will apply to your situation, and discard the rest.

By Dave Paradi

Dave Paradi has over twenty-two years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written ten books and over 600 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don't overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of fewer than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams communities. His articles and videos on virtual presenting have been viewed over 1.1 million times and liked over 10,000 times on YouTube.