Speaking As an Outsider

This past weekend I attended a large sales convention. As with most sales conventions, the attendees were enthusiastic and looking for ways to increase their sales in a challenging economy. Almost all of the presenters were individuals who had shown high levels of success as part of the sales team. Because of their track record the audience received them with respect and attention. However, when the VP of Marketing got up to speak, I noticed that while she was initially met with excitement, it soon turned tepid. As she spoke I watched and listened for why the audience so quickly lost their sense of passion. Here is what I heard and some suggestions that will help you avoid getting the same reception when you speak to a large group.

Don’t Make These Mistakes

1. Giving Empty Compliments – As this speaker started she mentioned that she was happy to be there because “we were really great”. I knew by her pause that she expected us to respond with hearty applause but all she got were a few hesitant handclaps. You see, the audience doesn’t mind a compliment but they want it to be meaningful. It would have been more effective to list some of the group’s accomplishments and then say that she was excited to be speaking before professionals that had achieved so much.

2. Beg for a Response – Not only did we fail to cheer when she told us how “really great” we were but also at other times when our response was less than she hoped for. Unfortunately she persisted in repeating statements in such a way that it was clear that she was expecting us to clap. Sometimes she even asked outright for us to applaud. For example, “Isn’t that a great feature? C’mon let’s hear it!” Although she would get a response, it was forced and false. If your audience likes what you have to say, they will give you all of the applause you could ever want. Remember, you don’t always get the response you want, but you do get the one you deserve!

3. Preach at the Audience – As I listened to the speaker I noticed that she often told us what we should do in order to increase our sales. The tone eventually became one in which she felt that she was better and smarter than the rest of us. She got preachy with us. I don’t think she meant to do it, but her choice of words trapped her into that attitude. The words she chose, “you” and “I”. These words caused her to be perceived as separate from her audience. If she had instead used the words, “us” and “we” the audience would have seen her as part of the team, and all of us as part of the solution.

Do These Things

1. Provide a Unique Perspective – An audience wants to hear information from you that they can’t get from anyone else. As the VP of Marketing we were hoping that our speaker would give us information about new products or services that would add to our arsenal for the upcoming year. Instead, she gave a talk on selling more effectively and how much income could be developed. The problem was that she didn’t have the background and experience so her words rang hollow. But if she had focused on new programs and advertising that would have supported our efforts she would have kept our undivided attention. So when you speak, thoughtfully consider the unique information you can bring to the group and give it to them, thus you will relate to the audience.

2. Mention People’s Names – Another way to tie in more closely with the audience is to mention the names and accomplishments of members of the group. For example, “I was talking to Mike Jackson and he told me that his team shattered their sales quotas last quarter!” Using names of people in the group increases the speaker’s credibility as an “insider” and gives the audience “pride of ownership” as part of the accomplishment. Be careful not to overuse this tool and become a “name dropper”.

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