3 Lessons Learned from a Painful Public Speaker

Dear Public Speakers: Know what you're saying and who you're saying it to.

Good speaker + bad fit = minor problem. Bad speaker + bad fit = major problem. At a recent corporate function, I felt pain as I watched fellow audience members wincing, feigning interest, or snoozing. I won’t name names because the evening was presented in good faith. The best I can say is that Mr. X provided a wake-up call for my next presentation and, I hope, for yours.

Lesson 1. Match the speaker to the occasion. A rat-a-tat military man may not be the right choice for a roomful of benign trustees.

Lesson 2. If the bad match can’t be avoided, coach the speaker on how to connect to your audience. The bad speaker made no effort to localize, customize, or otherwise bridge his (supposedly) motivational presentation. He moved through his canned presentation like a wind-up toy. No corporate storytelling. No mention of the organization’s 100+ years of company history and community support. I suspect this fellow didn’t make even the most basic inquiries. The person who hired him owns some of this responsibility; the speaker should have been briefed and guided on the organization’s brand and role in its community.

Lesson 3. Never, ever phone it in. Public speakers are actors, performers, professionals. When we step to the podium, it’s show time, every time. A loud voice and speed do not equal energy. The bad speaker simply sounded frantic. If you can’t project true energy and interest, tailored to your audience, you should pass on the gig (in plenty of time for them to find another speaker, of course). Barreling through a PowerPoint doesn’t cut it.