Monday, February 09, 2009

Can you cut your speech in half?

Those words that strike chill into the heart of a speaker "Sorry, we're running a bit late - can you cut your speech in half?" - should cause you no concern (OK, maybe a little). In a well-run event, you should never have to face this challenge, but believe me, it will happen at some point, so you need to know how to handle it. The first thing is not to panic. Everything will be fine, and your audience will still love you at the end of your speech. Hopefully, you will get the warning in sufficient time to make adjustments.

Here's what you shouldn't do - finish your speech early. There is no point in getting halfway through your prepared presentation and then saying "That's all I have time for. That really would be short-changing your audience. Instead, you need to take a good look at your speech and focus on the essential points. Keep the opening and closing statements, and at least one good story. Everything else is optional.

If you have audience exercises, dump them, unless they are a just a quick vote. Give even more emphasis to your core message. You don't need to apologise for rushing through your speech, since you will go at your planned speed through less material. If you have slides, consider not using them. You can easily talk for ten to fifteen minutes without them. Shorten or drop any Q&A session, and make yourself available during the next break.

Treat the "emergency" as an opportunity. If you do it well, the organiser will be extremely grateful to you, and so will your audience. It's a chance to demonstrate that you're a real professional.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Are you one of them, or one of us?

Many clients that I work with have high-paid positions in large organisations. That's why they are asked to appear on TV and radio. An issue they sometimes struggle with is how to relate to the day-to-day problems faced by their customers. If you have people to drive you around, organise your day, and follow your orders, you may be perceived as "one of them". Phrases such as "fat cat" may be used by your opponents to further this perception. If you find yourself categorised as "one of them, not one of us", how can you change people's views?

Some bosses seem to be able to do this effortlessly. Richard Branson represents the Virgin brand often. It's not natural, it's something he's learnt. In fact, he very nervous before any media interviews, but knows that he has to appear. He has nurtured his "common touch", by visiting his businesses regularly, and talking to staff and customers alike. A number of CEOs behave in a similar way, but not nearly enough.

It is essential that you understand, and can relate to, the issues that face your audience. If you don't understand how they feel, you will come across as aloof and distant. Make the point that you are a user of your own services (you are, aren't you?), or that you regularly visit the front line.

Don't pretend to be what you're not. William Hague, great speaker that he is, took a long time to live down the image of wearing a baseball cap to the Notting Hill Carnival, like a "regular guy". What you must do is understand and empathise with your audience. They will love you for it.