Friday, March 30, 2012

Five tips for a long speaking career

A colleague of mine asked recently for some tips to prolong a speaking career. I've been on stage for quite a few years now, so I suggested a few things that I've found helpful. I thought I'd share them with you, right here.

1) Treat every audience as you would treat your most important client. When you speak, that's what they are. It''s really important to do your best speech, every time. It doesn't matter how many people are there, or how much you are being paid (if at all). That may be the only time those people hear you speak. You owe it to them to deliver the best possible value for their time sitting listening to you.

2) Throw away a third of your material every year, especially any references to things that happened more than five years ago. If you have a cracking personal story that stands the test of time, then keep it, but be ruthless otherwise. This one is tough. It's tempting to keep everything you've put in a speech, and simply to refine it. If you don't change, your speech will go stale, you'll get bored delivering it, and your audience will notice.

3) Outsource anything you're no good at. You're a speaker, not an accountant, diary manager, web designer, etc. Many speakers are one-person bands, and get bogged down doing stuff that will be done faster and better by someone else. If you're a speaker, concentrate on speaking.

4) Keep doing what you talk about, and be a shining example of it. Current experience trumps long-gone successes (see point 2). If your speech is about something that happened twenty years ago, no-one under thirty-five will remember it. That could be most of your audience.

5) (bonus tip) If speaking is no longer fun, give it up and do something else.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

How to be a social media magnet

There's a lot of advice about how to use social media to attract business. Some say you need a gazillion followers. Some say you need to automate all your posts. Some say you need to post to every network. I say it's rather simple, so allow me to offer three strategies. 

1) Deliver consistent, high-quality content There are two aspects to this (obviously) - consistency and quality. It's no use posting a large volume of material once every few weeks. Little and often is much better. It needs to stand out, so quality is vital. "How-to" lists work well (yes, I know....) 

2) Engage in conversation It's social media, not broadcast media. I've seen many streams of tweets and Facebook posts that are simply links to articles, videos and webpages, with no attempt at dialogue. That's no way to build rapport. People want not only advice, but a chance to interact with you. 

3) Promote others It's not all about you. If you see a good article, talk about it and link to it, even if it looks like a competitor. If people see you as a curator of valuable information, they will notice and remember you.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A tweet is a headline

Some of the most talented (and well-paid) journalists are the sub-editors. They are the ones who prepare a story for final publication, and often create the headlines. In the world of marketing, headlines are also critically important. As the great David Ogilvy put it "On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar." Here's one of his gems; "At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock."
I believe the same principles that drive great headlines also apply to effective tweets. They need to be brief (obviously), eye-catching, enticing and ideally humorous too. Often, you will be using a tweet to encourage people to click on a link to an article or blog post. I suspect that the click-through rate is rather less than David Ogilvy's one in five, so you need to think carefully about what you say. 

Obviously, not all tweets need to be carefully crafted. Some are just "of the moment". But for those that include a call to action, take a while to pause and think how they would work as a headline, and whether they appeal to the audience you are trying to reach.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Speaking Tip; The Eyes Have It

Eye contact with members of your audience is a vital element in ensuring that your message is being received and understood. Alas, many speakers focus either on their notes (or worse, their script, which they read head-down) or on their slides. You should aim to make eye contact for more than half of the time you are speaking. I advise aiming for at least ninety per cent if you want to make a real impression. 

Eye contact is not just about paying respect to your audience. It's also a very good way of seeing whether they understand what you are saying. If you are looking directly at them, you will easily be able to detect either nods and smiles of understanding, or frowns and head-shaking showing disagreement or confusion. In the latter case, you need to change what you say, or the way you're saying it.

If you are working from a prepared script, and there is little time to rehearse, there is a technique you can use which still allows you to have eye contact while you are speaking. Known as the "Bowman Technique", it was used very successfully by the great speech coach Lee Bowman to improve the delivery style of many public figures and politicians, including many US Presidents.
It works like this:

  1. Look down at your script and read a couple of sentences
  2. Look up at the audience and deliver those sentences. You don't need to be word-for-word. It's the meaning that matters
  3. Repeat until the end of the speech
The important feature is never to speak when looking down. It's easy to master the technique after just a little practice, and when you use it, you will be surprised to find that most of your audience won't even realise you are working from a script.