Being a successful keynote speaker requires having a collection of skills that anyone can develop, and that can be put to use in many situations that have nothing to do with public speaking. This is one reason why so many professionals are advised to take public speaking courses, even if they will rarely function as business speakers.
If you’re offered the opportunity, you should strongly consider taking a public speaking class.
Here are six tips that are regularly used by keynote speakers that can benefit any professional, whether they’re training a new team, presenting a contract to a client, or simply trying to do their very best in a given work situation. Give them a try!
1. Regularly Remind Yourself of Your Purpose
Holding the attention of someone else (or an auditorium full of people) requires that you understand your purpose for being there. Every day – or several times throughout the day if necessary – remind yourself of why you do what you do.
2. Regarding Your Audience: Respect and Connect
You may be “the expert” on running the press mold, pulling data from a database, or getting the cake frosting to the perfect consistency. However, the people with whom you interact are there for a reason too. Understand what they need to take away from the interaction, so you can establish a connection with them. If you don’t connect with your “audience,” you waste everyone’s time.
3. Don’t Try to Be What You Fundamentally Are Not
The phrase “fake it till you make it” works in some situations, but by no means in all of them. You can “fake” self-confidence to an extent, and it can end up boosting your real self-confidence, but you can’t fake being a boisterous extrovert when you’re fundamentally and emphatically not one. As Oscar Wilde may or may not have said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
4. Know Your Subject Matter
This is another key area where “fake it till you make it” doesn’t apply. Know your subject matter thoroughly, so that you’re prepared for questions and so you don’t have to waste mental energy working through scenarios in your head. You’re not expected to know everything, but it’s fair for your “audience” to expect that you know what you’re talking about. Don’t let them down.
5. Be Prepared to Go Off Script if Necessary
If all your slides or supplemental documents disappeared, could you continue with your speaking / training / negotiations?
Things happen. Equipment breaks, people get stuck in traffic, roofs spring leaks, or a stray cat somehow gets into the office. Sticking to your script no matter what is like Nero fiddling while Rome burned (which probably didn’t actually happen, since viol instruments hadn’t been invented yet). The point is, effective leadership never ignores reality.
6. Focus on Contributing, Not on Winning Approval
When you are put in the position of training someone new, talking with a prospective client, or presenting a technical paper, you are being asked to contribute to something bigger than yourself. That’s what you should focus on, rather than on winning approval. Nobody denies that having the approval of others is a wonderful thing, but the way you earn it is by adding something to the situation. Focus on your contribution and the accolades will follow.
Business speakers must develop an entire suite of skills they can use to ensure their communication is effective and engaging. And as it happens, many of these same tools benefit professionals in any number of situations they may encounter when they’re not on a stage behind a podium. If you don’t know your subject matter, you’ll probably be fired eventually, and if you always try to come across as someone you’re not, your inauthenticity will hurt your ability to contribute to your team.
Everyone you interact with in a professional capacity deserves your civility, and most people you interact with are more than worthy of your respect. Remember this, and remember why you have been put in the position you’re in and you will connect with others in ways that bring out the best in them and in you.
I have many years of experience as a keynote speaker, and while there are some skills that are particular to actually getting up on stage and engaging with an audience, there are many skills business speakers use that translate to other professional situations. Because ultimately, it’s about making connections and sharing expertise in service of making the workplace better.