November 21, 2011

6 lessons for speakers from social media



In my blog post, "Tweet like you mean it," I equated Twitter with public speaking. Last week, at Montecito Bank & Trust's B2B social media event, several speakers reinforced my belief that many of the same principles of effective use of social media apply to public speaking.

On Twitter, your audience is called "followers;" on Facebook they're called "friends," "fans," or "likes;" and on LinkedIn they're called "connections." But whichever social media platforms you use, you have an audience. And how you interact with your audience is critical if you want to grow relationships and build your business.

First up was keynoter Peter Shankman, PR and social media expert, author, entrepreneur and founder of HARO (Help a Reporter Out). Here are some of his choice tidbits about social media that sound a lot like public speaking advice.

1. Having an audience is a privilege, not a right.

As I've said before, you need your audience as much as they need you. In your social media role, don't abuse the privilege of having a group of ready listeners and readers by bombarding them with spam, commercials, or other kinds of one-way communication that doesn't encourage interaction. In your public speaking role, this equates to lots of selling, self-promotion, or just talking too much about your own credentials and brilliance and not enough about what your audience needs, wants and cares about.

2. Own it when you screw up.

Here he was talking about transparency, and being honest and forthright about your mistakes. He contrasted two politicians caught up in sex scandals and how one came forth and acknowledged that he blew it, resigned and went away with perhaps a shred of dignity still intact. The other denied his participation until the point where there was too much evidence to deny, and went out in disgrace as not only a pervert and a cheater, but also a liar.

Shankman also referred to the poor handling of Ashton Kutcher's recent uninformed tweet about the Penn State scandal and subsequent turning over of all tweeting responsibilities to his management.

In a public speaking situation, can you admit when you're wrong? Can you suck it up and apologize if you mess up? If you say something offensive or insensitive, can you read your audience, understand and acknowledge their displeasure or disappointment, and move on? You will earn the respect of your audience if you do, their disdain if you don't.

3. Bad writing sucks.

How you express yourself in social media is all about expressing yourself in writing. You don't have the luxury of facial expressions and body language to enhance your tweets and status updates, so writing skills are important if you want to come across as a professional, articulate expert in your field.

As a speaker, you have more tools at your disposal, but the skeleton and structure of your presentation are still a result of writing, and bad writing can kill a presentation as much as poor delivery. Shankman's point here was partly that social media users need to learn how to write, but also that "Good writing is brevity... brevity is social media." You will hear the same request from audience after audience (they won't say it out loud, but they're thinking it): Don't waste my time.

After Peter Shankman spoke, there was a panel of social media experts: Lynda Weinman from Lynda.com, Shawn Mulchay from Socialmash Media, and Nicki Gauthier from Web Marketing Therapy and UCSB Extension. The panel also made some excellent points that translate to public speaking.

4. Get out of your comfort zone.

I don't remember which panelist said this, but it's safe to say there was agreement across the board.

As Ronny Cammareri says in "Moonstruck:" "Playing it safe is just about the most dangerous thing a woman like you could do." So maybe playing it safe isn't exactly dangerous, but it's not going to get you anywhere. If you want to stand out from the crowd, get noticed, get followers, fans and clients, you need to take risks.

What kind of risks?

Try something new that you've never done before. Do something that scares you. Incorporate some mild self-deprecating humor into your presentation. Sing a song, bring a silly prop, tell a startling personal story. Give something away for free and don't expect anything in return. Be courageous. Speak from the heart. Push boundaries. Let go of inhibitions. Have fun!

5. Control your voice and your brand.

This comment came from Nicki, and stood out to me as a critical requirement of both social media and public speaking presence. Who are you? Do you know? What differentiates you from the rest of the speakers out there? You can't always control how your followers, fans and audiences perceive you, but you can do a lot to take control of the situation.

Always be very clear about your intentions for using social media and be clear about your intentions as a speaker. Do you have a strong message, personality, style, look, and point of view? And I don't just mean you, in person, in front of an audience; I mean your website, your blog, your Facebook page, your business cards, your voice mail message, your media interviews, your status updates and tweets, and any other representation of you on the Web or in the world. Your public persona should match your web persona should match your personal persona should match your paper persona.

6. Be fun... be human.

This comment came from Shawn, but was echoed by all the presenters in one way or another. Bottom line: Fakers will be revealed. When you're faking it, pretending to be something you're not, lying about who you are and what you represent, you will eventually be found out and you will lose any trust you've built up with your audience.

Don't do or say things to be popular or to get brownie points; do and say them because they are meaningful to you and your audience. Be honest, be authentic, and don't be afraid to show your followers, fans and audiences who you are on the inside. Reach out to build connection, build relationships, and get to know people for real. You will be rewarded not just in numbers of followers, but in a more enriched experience with social media and public speaking, and in true, real-world friendships.

Thanks to Montecito Bank & Trust for putting together a well-spoken and informative panel and a fun evening of networking and learning.

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