Being There

Speakers need to be present for their audiences. David Bader has a wonderful quote that public speakers should take to heart:

“Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?”

In a previous post, I wrote that as speakers, we enter into a social contract with our audiences every time we take the stage. We provide information or entertainment or inspiration. In return, the people in our audiences provide us with their time (and in many cases their money).

As speakers, we must provide value. We must be totally present. Yes, we have problems and worries and pressures in our lives, but we must do everything we can to leave them at the door for the duration of our presentation.

Just be present with your audience

Think of it this way: If you speak to an audience of 40 people for one hour, you are taking up 40 hours of people’s time – the equivalent of an entire work week for a single person. If you make a two-hour presentation to 100 people, that’s 200 hours of people’s time – the equivalent of more than one month of work for a single person. That time is valuable and we need to respect it.

We show our respect by “being there” for our audiences. How can we “be there”? Seven tips are below.

1. Prepare

I have written about the importance of preparing before, but it cannot be stressed enough. Preparing thoroughly is the single most important thing that a speaker can do for his audience. Preparation will help ensure that you know your material, how it is relevant for your audience, and how to make an impact when you deliver it.

2. Rest

Remember all those exams in school? Did you stay up all night and cram or did you try to get a good night’s sleep? I confess that on occasion I did stay up and cram; however, most of the time I opted for getting solid rest the night before. I almost always did better when I had some sleep. You should do the same when giving a speech.

If you are speaking in the morning, get enough sleep the night before. If you are speaking in the afternoon, try to find some time to relax before you speak. Take a walk, listen to some music or even find a quiet place to cat nap for 20 minutes if possible. You will be fresh (or at least fresher) and thus should have more energy on stage.

3. Arrive Early

You should always arrive at the venue with plenty of time before your talk so that you can make sure everything is set up and working the way it should. But arriving early also gets you into the right frame of mind for your presentation by placing you “in the arena”, as it were.

Arriving early will also give you an opportunity to meet your hosts and perhaps some of the people in your audience. Even if such meetings are brief, they help you start building connections with the audience before your talk. They also help you to focus on the event as opposed to other matters.

4. Disconnect

Unless you are waiting for an important message that cannot wait – think “my-wife-is-due-to-deliver-our-baby-any-day-now important” – turn off your phone, Blackberry, iPad, etc. once you arrive at your destination. Reading and writing emails before you go on stage will not help you focus on your audience.

The only thing that you should be reading before your presentation is material that is directly related to that presentation: your notes; documents for distribution; the attendance list; etc. Everything else can and should wait until after you speak. It will still be there.

5. Fuel Up

Make sure that you have eaten sufficiently and are well hydrated when you speak. I have written about the benefits of bananas for public speakers, but the important thing is to eat something that suits you and that will give you energy. It is also important to be well hydrated so that you avoid having “cotton mouthon stage.

6. Make Eye Contact

Making eye contact will help you be present with your audience. Be sure to cover everyone over the course of your presentation. If the audience is large, look at sections of the room. Don’t forget the people in the back and along the sides.

Never speak when you are not looking at the audience. If you must refer to your notes or turn to look at the presentation slide, stop talking, get your bearings, look back at the audience and continue speaking.

7. Enjoy

Yes, enjoy yourself! Get into it!

You are being given the privilege of conveying your ideas to others. It is the moment that all speakers should relish – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. When you get into it, your audience will get into it. They will sense your energy  and reflect it back.

Then, not only will you be present, your audience will be present too.

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3 Replies to “Being There”

  1. Great post, as always John! I never thought of multiplying the length of the speech by the number of folks in the audience. It’s kind of like calculating “the time value of money,” but for public speaking!! This really makes the value of even a brief, 5-7 minute Toastmasters speech come to light. In fact, I’m going to try to work this into one of my future Toastmasters speeches. Another thing this simple math does is emphasize the importance of every quote, analogy and anecdote we use in our speeches — every minute, every word has a bigger time value than I realized before reading this post. Thanks so much for sharing!!

    1. Thanks, Brian. Appreciate the comment. Yes, when one starts to think of the cost in terms of total working hours, it puts presentations and meeting in a whole new light! John

  2. Totally with you on these – in fact our ’emergency’ pack for speaking contains all the usual stuff such as spare fuses, lamps, copies of slides in a zillion different formats etc., and it also contains two Mars Bars (one for the speaker and one for the technical person! 🙂 )

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

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Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

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HR Specialist, World Health Organization

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CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

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Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

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Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

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