Picture the scene – you’ve accepted an invitation to speak at a conference and whilst on the one hand you’re thrilled and honoured to have been asked, on the other hand you’re regretting ever saying yes because even though it’s weeks away, you’re already feeling nervous.
It’s an exciting, but often daunting prospect to stand up in front of a large group of people and speak engagingly and confidently. And whilst the audience are more than likely to be a friendly and encouraging bunch, in the run up to the event our imagination can often turn them into a pack of snarling wolves ready to pounce on the slightest slip up.
Preparation, practice and developing a positive mindset that helps manage our nerves are all crucial to delivering a good speech. We often spend a lot of time focussing on our final few slides – we know what we want to achieve from our presentation whether it’s a certain number of leads, communication of a specific message or perhaps selling a product – so our call to action is crafted accordingly. But it’s equally, if not more, important to spend some time considering the beginning of your speech because if we get things right from the start, we pave the way to success. Creating a ‘positivity bias’ towards you as a speaker – and the company that you may be representing – ensures that rather than that imagined pack of wolves, the audience will be on your side.
A ‘positivity bias’ really just means people judging the situation that they are in favourably rather than neutrally, or at worst, negatively. In the context of a conference speech, it’s about ensuring the audience feel favourable towards both you as a speaker, and the speech you are making, and should be a feeling that is created at the start of your talk which will hopefully then last right up until the applause at the end. To create a positivity bias we need to give the audience something that they can feel positive about. Whilst some of this will be down to us as a presenter, we can take some of the pressure off ourselves by giving the audience some ‘good news facts’ about us, or the company we are representing, at the beginning of our speech. This will not only reassure them that they’re in the right place, but will also build rapport and engagement that should last throughout the talk.
As a nation, we are not very good at selling ourselves, and it can often feel a bit embarrassing to stand up and tell people how good we are. And if we’re presenting as an employee of a company, it can sometimes feel distasteful to shout out about creds and awards. But, if done correctly, these are all the things that will gain positive sentiment from your audience. Here are some tips for getting it right:
1. Keep it relevant
Before you start crafting your speech, get into the mindset of your audience – what are they coming to listen to and what are they hoping to get out of the speech? Understanding this will help you pitch your credentials accordingly. If they are coming to ‘buy-into’ you as a presenter, sharing your experience and showcasing some of your career highlights can create a personal connection and build engagement with the listener. If you are presenting as the face of an organisation a tailored selection of testimonials, a brief client list or the mention of a couple of awards demonstrates relevance and cements in the mind of the audience why they should listen.
2. Keep it brief
Rather than listing every achievement or award, focus on the top 3 that will be most interesting to your audience. An award for having the best sales team might not be overly motivating to an audience wanting to find out about your eco-credentials. If you’re there to launch a product, highlighting the success of previous products builds trust and demonstrates expertise.
3. Keep it honest
Be humble, and share the glory. No one wants to listen to arrogant hard sell – being proud to have won an award that is relevant to the audience, or sharing the credit with the team around you demonstrates humility and self-awareness.
4. Keep it real
Authenticity is key. Practice and rehearse your opener and your introduction so that it is a reflection of you, and it is something you feel comfortable saying – and something that you can say with a confident smile. How will you introduce yourself? What’s the hook that’s going to get them to listen? How will you talk about your awards/testimonials/credentials? If it really is something that you feel awkward about, is there an alternative way of doing it – sharing a short video that brings it to life or having some quotes on a slide for the audience to read?
Here’s an example of how to squeeze a few key credentials into a brief personal introduction….
“My name is Helen and I am Creative Director at (X) where we have offices in 16 cities across Europe. We were lucky enough to be awarded the number 1 advertising agency by (X) last year and I have had the pleasure of leading our projects with some of the biggest brands in sport including Nike, Adidas and Puma. In this presentation, I’d like to share with you how we helped these brands deliver media campaigns that delivered an average ROI of X% and I hope you’ll be able to take away some ideas to try….”
Straight away, you’ve demonstrated why you deserve to be on that stage and why people should sit up and listen. So, the next time you’re asked to speak at an event or conference, say yes, safe in the knowledge that by creating a positivity bias early in your speech, you can definitely keep the wolves at bay!
If you’d like to find out more about honing your skills as a Conference speaker, take a look at courses:
This article was written by Natalie Forkin, Fearless Coach