May 9, 2007

Throw away your speech

Today I saw a great example of speaking from the heart and serving your audience. I attended and presented at the Professional Women's Association conference at UCSB. The opening address was given by the Chancellor, Henry T. Yang.

He proceeded to speak about recent challenges he's faced at work, and some of his daily activities, and how much he would have enjoyed joining us for our day of seminars and inspirational speakers (he's in between fund raising trips - working on a $500,000,000 endowment, I think he said!). He seemed a little disorganized at first and I was having some trouble following his train of thought. . .

Then he revealed that he had written a speech (which he showed, rolled up in his hand), but decided not to give it! He said that, when he walked in and saw so many familiar faces, he felt that he knew everyone in the room and wanted to speak from the heart and share some things about his day rather than read his speech (I'm paraphrasing). It was a very touching admission and one that I believe endeared him to the audience.

He then went on to invite every one of us to e-mail him - he said if he gets 100 e-mails a day, what's ten more? He reads and responds to all his e-mail before he goes to bed - so he can sleep well. If the audience didn't already adore him, that part certainly sealed the deal.

Now, in a topical presentation where your audience is there to learn something specific, this may not be the best route to take! You want to give your audience the information they're expecting and hoping for, to a certain degree.

But it's always a possibility that your direction and your audience's wishes will not mesh. In that case, be prepared to throw out all or some of what you had planned. If your audience wants 50 minutes of Q&A, well, why not give it to them? If the information you are presenting is not relevant to them, ask them what IS relevant.

And always speak from a place of passion, enthusiasm and intuition. It sounds corny to say "speak from the heart" and, for that matter, it's an extremely overused expression. But there's nothing wrong with being honest, open and approachable to your audience. In fact, that's exactly what you do if you want to connect with them as a human being. Do I sound like a broken record yet?

I know that, after hearing Chancellor Yang speak today, I felt that I really could send him an e-mail and he would respond (and I might just do it). Or, for that matter, I could sit down next to him and have an engaging conversation.

CEOs and other high-level executives often cultivate an atmosphere of (what's the opposite of approachability, Scott Ginsberg?) inaccessible aloofness, both in the workplace and as speakers. But if you really want to sell your ideas and persuade your audience to "do" something after your presentation, aloofness will be your downfall. It might feel risky to open yourself up - speakers feel vulnerable as it is. But it's a risk worth taking!

And since I'm writing about the PWA conference, I want to plug the documentary film "The Shape of Water" by today's keynote speaker and UCSB professor Dr. Kum-Kum Bhavnani. I haven't seen it, but the trailer combined with Dr. Bhavnani's description of her passions that led to the film and her experiences shooting it convinced me that it's a must-see!

On The Everything Page you'll find everything you need to build visibility, credibility and influence through engaging presentations that move your participants into action: freebies, low-cost products and courses, and 1:1 coaching!

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