Category Archives: professional speaker

How to Engage an Audience – Lessons from Professional Speakers

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The annual Professional Speaking Association (PSA) Mega Conference is the event of the year for professional speakers in the UK and this year it was held in Nottingham from 7-9 October. It’s where members come together for three days to listen, learn, share and network with fellow speakers and trainers.

The PSA aims to help members to ‘speak more, speak better’ so the sessions were a mixture of tips on how to grow a speaking business and how to further develop speaking skills.

Whilst I have a notepad filled with brilliant takeaway messages from all of the speakers, the purpose of this post is to highlight some of the lessons we can learn from them about engaging an audience. Some are tips directly from their mouths, some are from my observations about the way the delivered their message.

1. Dress Like the Speaker

Jennifer De St Georges was one of the judges of the prestigious Speaker Factor competition and after the semi-final she mentioned that the contestants needed to consider how they were dressed. In her opinion, if they are aiming to become professional speakers they will need to dress appropriately for their audience and in a way that everyone knows they are the speaker. The following day at the finals it was clear who was dressed to win; some speakers really stood out and made the others look under dressed. Jennifer suggested that to gain respect from your audience and be seen as the expert, you need to dress accordingly (and as she says “If you’re not the expert, why are you the speaker?”)

2. Use Props

Props can really enhance your audience’s understanding of your message and over the weekend I picked out three great examples of how to incorporate props for maximum impact.

The first one was a sight gag that appealed to my sense of humour during the Comedy Night. Jason Butler had a couple of boxes wrapped up like presents; it went with line “I was told that as a speaker I need to have stage presents!” A great gag for an audience of professional speakers for whom good stage presence is vital.

Whilst sharing a story about Celebrity Service, Geoff Ramm talked about how he handed over his money to purchase something for his daughter’s birthday. The way he reluctantly reached into his pocket and pulled out a £20 note demonstrated exactly how he was feeling about parting with his cash; this would not have been as effective without the cash in his hand and demonstrated the benefit of showing over telling.

My favourite use of a prop was in Steve Judge’s Speaker Factor competition speech. Steve talked about an accident he had been in which caused him to lose a chunk of his tibia bone. He had a replica bone which he held up and snapped in two places to demonstrate where the bone had broken and then he dropped the broken piece into a metal bin. This prop not only worked visually but the sound of the snapping bone and the clunk as it landed in the metal bin really brought home the seriousness of the situation.

3. Memorable Phrases and Tweetable quotes

Whatever your topic, it’s always a good idea to include simple messages that are easy to remember and easy to share, especially if your audience is encouraged to post on social media such as Twitter. Here is a selection of my favourites from the weekend:

– If you can’t close enough sales, you’ll have to close your speaking business – Simon Hazeldine
– You are your own CEO, Chief Energy Officer – Celynn Erasmus
– If you want to increase the commas in your bank account, decrease the commas in your expertise – Dawnna St Louis
– You don’t own your brand, it lives in the minds of other people – David Avrin
– You have to deactivate to reactivate – Celynn Erasmus
– Don’t do it better, don’t do it cheaper, do it different. Stand out – Katie Bulmer-Cooke

Katie also stood out by using her own very appropriate made up word; she said she was going to share her “Kate-aways” to help make our businesses much fitter and stronger. A catchy phrase like this is a simple way to be noticed and remembered. Another person who does this very well is previous a PSA Mega Conference speaker from the USA, Patricia Fripp, who delights audiences with her “Frippisms”.

4. Storytelling

It has long been known that storytelling is one of the best ways to convey a message and ensure it sticks. Throughout the conference there were numerous examples of great storytelling including talks from Peter Roper, Alan Stevens, Tiffany Kemp, Katie Bulmer-Cooke, Andy Lopata and many more.

But my favourite example of storytelling, and in fact the highlight of the entire conference for me was in Geoff Ramm’s talk on Celebrity Service. Entertaining and engaging, his attention to detail, vocal variety and brilliant stagecraft brought his crystal clear message to life. He not only used the entire stage well to ensure he connected with everyone, but his expressive face and body language drew the audience in so we couldn’t help but be captivated. For a masterclass in storytelling, I highly recommend you spend 30 minutes watching this talk (after you’ve finished reading this post of course!)

5. Authenticity

The most appealing and engaging speakers are those that are true to themselves, who are comfortable in their skin and speak from the heart. Whilst they may learn from others, they don’t try to mimic or copy other speakers.

When looking to improve our public speaking we can often get hung up on the ‘rules’ for crafting the perfect phrases, focusing on where to stand, choreographing when to move and choosing which gesture will have maximum impact.

But more important is the ability to connect with an audience just the way you are. When on stage you need to bring an energy that is slightly bigger and better version of yourself in order to connect with your audience, but you still need to be yourself.

We were fortunate to witness a number of different speaking styles throughout the conference; the American speakers tended to have a larger and louder way of communicating their message whilst the British speakers were just as capable of engaging an audience even though their style was often very different. The importance of being true to your own style was is was highlighted by Andy Rogers, last year’s Speaker Factor winner, whose quiet demeanour and natural storytelling had us spellbound and the refreshing approach of Katie Bulmer Cooke who chatted away in her strong Northern accent just like we were having a conversation over a coffee.

Peter Brandl, a speaker from Germany challenged us in his keynote by asking “Are you willing to remove the mask on stage?” He urged us to stop trying to be the person we want to be seen as; it might protect us but it also protects our emotions from coming out and therefore stops us revealing our true self.

Authenticity is so important in speaking that Lee Jackson, the new President of The Professional Speaking Association announced that it is his theme for his PSA presidential year.

So when you are preparing for your next speech or presentation, remember to consider these 5 tips around image, props, memorable phrases, storytelling and authenticity to ensure you engage your audience like the professionals.

For more information about the Professional Speaking Association go to www.thepsa.co.uk. If you’re based in Scotland, why not come along to our next event in Edinburgh on Thursday 10 November – click here for details.

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction. She is a multi-award winning speaker, trainer and coach and the founder of Grow Your Potential, which specialises in supporting individuals and organisations to design and deliver winning pitches and presentations.

Mel’s background includes over 20 years’ experience in public, private and not-for-profit organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom and she has also worked as an actor, presenter and singer. To find out more about Mel’s talks and programmes go to www.grow-your-potential.com or for public speaking and pitching tips follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_

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How to Book the Best Speaker for Your Event

Speaker in front of audience

Have you attended a conference or seminar where the speakers were boring, uninspiring, unprepared or delivered completely irrelevant content? Yep, I thought so. Me too!

Having the right speakers and break out session facilitators is crucial to the success of an event. Therefore, if you’re in charge of planning, it’s important to put time, effort (and money) into finding the right speakers who will engage and inspire your audience and ensure your event is talked about for years to come. And I mean talked about for all the right reasons!

Here are my top tips to help you book the ideal speaker:

Details Details Details

Before you approach a speaker or a booking agent, ensure you have all the details to hand such as: When and where is the event? What is the theme? How many people will be in attendance? What time will the speaker be speaking? How long is the slot? What kind of equipment will be available? What is your budget for speakers? What is the outcome you require i.e. what do you want your audience to know, think, feel or do after hearing the speaker?

You’ll also need to be clear about the demographics of the audience, why they will be attending, what they are expecting to hear and how the speaker can provide the best value for the audience.

And be sure to book your speaker well in advance to get the best person for your event and ensure you have ample time to promote it.

Do Your Research

You might start with a Google search, but how do you know which speaker will be a good fit for your event and who will deliver what you require? Just because someone is well-known or an expert in their field doesn’t mean that they are a good speaker. I once attended an event with a keynote speaker who had been an extremely high achiever in the sporting arena. Whilst their sporting accomplishments were to be admired, unfortunately they not only stood and read word for word from their notes but they didn’t engage with the audience on any level and had not tailored the message to be relevant to them. At the end there was polite applause but it was pretty forgettable and finished the event on a bit of a low rather than the high that the organisers had intended.

The best way to find the right speaker is to ask people for recommendations. If you’ve run the event before, always ask your keynote speaker to give you recommendations – a good speaker will have a network of other speakers and will be best placed to identify someone else who is a good fit for the event. You can also consider using a booking agency who will provide helpful advice on who would be most suitable for your budget and the aims of the event. Most agents will also manage the entire process including booking any travel and accommodation for the speaker which gives you one less element to worry about in the lead up to your event.

Once you have your recommendations, make sure you have a look at some footage of them speaking, ideally with the same size audience as will be at your conference. And of course a conversation with them will help you get a feel for their style and approach.

You should also be looking for a speaker who:

  • will be easy to work with
  • arrives early to set up and mingle with delegates
  • helps promote your event through social media and their own direct marketing where appropriate
  • can supply you with a 30-60 second video promo that you can use in your promotional material
  • answers your call when you have questions
  • provides the information you need on time
  • and of course delivers an exceptional speech!

Consider choosing a speaker who is a member of the Professional Speaking Association or equivalent in your country; they are bound by a code of ethics which will give you further peace of mind that you can rely on their professionalism to provide the best possible service.

You Get What You Pay For (well… sometimes!*)

If you want a speaker who will engage, entertain, educate or motivate your audience as well as being deeply committed to ensuring your event is a success, you should consider paying a professional. Professional speakers have spent years developing their expertise and will spend countless hours researching your audience, tailoring their content to meet your needs and practicing their delivery to ensure it comes across smoothly, confidently and credibly on the day.

You may know of industry speakers who will speak at your event for free, but can you be sure they will deliver? They may be an expert in their field but if you’re not paying them they are more likely to be speaking for their own benefit, rather than that of the event and the audience. A paid professional speaker will not only be able to hold your audience’s attention with a well prepared speech but can offer a fresh perspective and will of course be completely focused on delivering a session that meets your expectations and the requirements of the audience.

It’s important to remember that a professional speaker speaks for a living and asking them to speak for free for the “opportunity of exposure” is not going to put food on their table! Having said that, if you don’t have the budget for a professional speaker, some speakers will consider waiving their fee if the audience is a good fit for them and if you offer something of value to them. Factors that may influence their decision to work with you may include the provision of professional recorded video of the talk, professional photographs of them in action, written and video testimonials from event organisers and delegates, contact details of attendees or promotion of their services and products. If they agree to this, please honour your end of the agreement.

*Be warned that sometimes higher fees don’t equate to a better speaker; for example some celebrity speakers will charge an enormous fee because they don’t actually enjoy speaking and they want to be compensated well for it!

Respect The Speaker!

A professional speaker will have honed their brand and refined their message over many years. Their slides will be carefully designed to ensure that their speech has maximum impact so, if you want the best from your speaker, don’t ask them to alter their slide presentation to fit with your event theme and branding.  They will also want to ensure their presentation is fresh and tailored for each audience, therefore, avoid asking for slides ahead of time and definitely don’t distribute them to delegates beforehand unless you have explicit permission from the speaker as this could ruin the impact of the session.

If you go to the trouble of selecting the perfect keynote speaker for your event, think carefully about when you schedule them into the programme; ensure there are no distractions such as eating a meal so that the audience can fully focus on their message.

A professional speaker will also provide a carefully crafted introduction to set up their talk and get the audience ready and eager to listen – ensure your compere has this in advance and communicates it word for word when doing the introduction.

If you take care of your speaker, your speaker will take care of you.

Respect Your Audience

Always remember that people’s time (and money) is precious. If you expect them to attend your event, it is up to you to ensure that you provide great value for them. Don’t scrimp on the speaker – think about what you are paying for the rest of the event and the combined value of even one hour of the audience’s time and allocate your speaker budget accordingly.

And finally, don’t be tempted to choose a speaker just because you like them; choose a speaker who is great to work with as well as being right for your audience and you will be well on the way to a successful event.

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction. She is a multi-award winning speaker, trainer and coach and the founder of Grow Your Potential, which specialises in supporting individuals and organisations to design and deliver winning pitches and presentations.

Mel’s background includes over 20 years’ experience in public, private and not-for-profit organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom and she has also worked as an actor, presenter and singer. To find out more about Mel’s talks and programmes go to www.grow-your-potential.com or for public speaking and pitching tips follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_