What’s it like being a (professional) presenter in a business-to-business environment? I’ve given many B2B presentations during my career as a high-tech marketer, strategist and communicator (that’s what I put on top of my LinkedIn profile.) Speakersbase, who were so kind to promote one of my older posts, asked me to share some experience and best practices at their event last night.
First, I must point out that not all speaking engagements are shaped equally, and that one should make a clear difference between a private and public talk:
- Private presentations are usually hosted (and paid) by the company you work for or by a partner you work with. The audience consists of existing customers or business prospects, and they (must) understand they’re entering in a commercial conversation with you – as a representative of your employer or sponsor.
- Public talks are coordinated by a third-party seminar, congress, or event organizer. Most often the audience is putting (quite a lot of) money on the table to attend, and listen to you and your fellow speakers. As such, expectations are quite different from the private case, and organizers and attendees want you to deliver the 3 E’s: education, entertainment, and engagement.
This being said, the 5 recommendations below mainly apply to public speaking opportunities:
1. No soliciting.
The audience is not travelling lots of kilometers, and paying lots of euros of dollars to get a hard sales talk, a product pitch, or a promotional speech for your company. Just imagine yourself spending a night at an expensive hotel, when a sales rep, a Jehovah’s witness, or a Mormon missionary knocks on your door to bring you his gospel…
Talk about your audience’s daily problems, and the questions about the – your! – solutions will follow. And if they don’t, make sure to end your talk with a clear call to action.
2. Mind your audience.
Satisfying your audience should be any speaker’s primary goal. Align your content upfront with the event organizers and/or the session chairperson. Avoid overlap with other presentations at the same conference. Tailor your talk to the audience’s specific knowledge, needs and expectations. Never stop intriguing, surprising, or provoking them.
Also avoid mentioning customers or business relations by their name (or by their logo), unless you’ve got their prior (implicit or explicit) approval. Remember what happened to a presenter who cited facts and figures about one of his clients, who turned out to be the next speaker on the agenda…
3. Storytelling always works.
Though not all content is equally suitable for storification, I experienced many times that storytelling techniques have a real value. Even (or should I say particularly?) for management, business, and technology presentations.
If you’re looking for some extreme cases, read my “Tell them fairy tales” post in which I explain how I narrated “the ugly duckling” and “the emperor’s new clothes” to business audiences of over 200 persons.
4. Don’t feed the chameleons.
There’s nothing as easy as creating a presentation by cutting and pasting slides from existing PowerPoints into yours. But, then you should also not be surprised that your slideshow looks like a chameleon.
If you want to be considered a professional speaker, then make sure that you deliver professional visuals. Look ‘n’ feel really matters! Which also counts for your dress code: your attire can change your image or enforce your message too. Read more about this in my “Dress to impress” post.
5. Break away from picks and shovels.
In the fast-moving hi-tech industry that I’m active in, public events are considered “picks and shovels for the gold rush,” and conference facilitators often generate more revenue than participating (start-up) companies.
IMHO this is one of the reasons for so many poor speakers, violating points 1-4 above, appearing at events. Money makes the world go round. But, dear event organizers, try thinking of speaking and sponsoring as two mutually exclusive topics. There are many great speakers who aren’t able to sponsor a show. And, reciprocally, many of them may be eager to deliver a top-notch presentation without getting paid for their gig.
Bonus. Think visual.
Finally, a picture says more than a thousand words. For the people who were in the room last night, here are the new traffic signs that may help you not to forget the 5 tips I presented…