When you’re listening to a speaker at a conference, and you start to frown…not thoughtfully, but distastefully, that’s bad religion. When you reach for your phone because the speaker is trotting out platitudes and boring you, that’s bad religion. When you get up from your seat and walk out the hall because the speaker is a pompous, self important jerk, that’s bad religion. When you’re the speaker, and this is happening to you, that’s bad religion. Here’s 4 tips on avoiding bad religion when acting as the evangelist.
As your career develops, it becomes a natural step to start speaking at conferences. The temptation to do so is clear. It is a prime opportunity to showcase your ideas and capabilities as well as those of your organization in front of your peers and prospects. Done well, it is a tremendous platform to win and retain clients, to build your personal and professional brand, and to gain some serious exposure. But that’s the problem; these things only happen if it is done well. Remember that conference audiences have paid to hear you speak, have taken time out of their days to attend, and are expecting this to be a worthwhile experience. They are expecting to be educated. They are expecting to be inspired. And here’s the thing that people so often forget; they are expecting to be entertained.
Presenting at a conference is a performance. Your responsibility is to deliver a performance that will delight your audience. Here’s 4 tips on what to avoid in order to do that.
First, understand what you’re talking about. Too often, the person presenting or speaking on the panel is there due to seniority or perceived ability to ‘present well’. What also happens regularly is that a spot opens up on a conference panel or stage and the agency jumps at the opportunity to gain exposure. Here’s the problem; if you aren’t deeply familiar with the subject matter, your contribution will struggle to rise above the level of empty platitudes. If you’ve ever seen a panel of senior executives discussing the nuances of digital marketing, you’ll know what I’m talking about. There’s nothing like a forum like this to expose how little you actually know.
The other aspect of not understanding what you’re talking about is the fact that you end up so focused on what you’re saying that you forget how you’re saying it. You become rigid, controlled and robotic. Which brings us to the next tip, be yourself. I believe that most people are inherently likeable, so allow people to see that side of you. Audiences like people that show their genuine selves. They warm up to those people that show themselves to be warm. Knowing what you are talking about means that you barely have to spend any time thinking about that. This allows you to relax and let the real you come out. Always showing your genuine, likeable side is a winner on stage, simply because so few people do that. Of course, if you’re not a likeable person, then you have a bigger problem, and that approach is something you should avoid. Or if you can be Batman instead. In which case don’t be yourself, be Batman.
The idea of being Batman brings us to the next point, which is to be memorable. A conference can last a couple of days, incorporating dozens of sessions and possibly hundreds of speakers. It can be pretty taxing on the attendees to listen to data point after data point and presentation after presentation. So find a way to cut through the noise and make it memorable. But in doing so, don’t force it. I recall one conference I attended where a presenter would periodically pull out and play a trombone to keep an audience engaged. While I remember the fact he did this many years later, it is only because it was so awful.
Being memorable in the context of a conference presentation means to be genuinely engaging on a human level while delivering your message in a pithy and direct way. Tell them what they are going to get out of your session. Highlight the key actionable insights. Articulate them in as few words as possible, maybe with a mnemonic to help people remember them.
And to round this out, remember above all else the final point, be entertaining. Remember, this is a performance. So perform. I have seen too many conference presentations where the presenter is scowling and seriously intoning their content. You’re not talking about curing cancer or humanitarian relief efforts in war zones. We work in advertising. Act like it. What we do is supposed to be exciting, visionary, and dare I say it, fun.
So be yourself. Talk about what you know. Make sure they remember you. And put on a good show. That’s how you inspire, engage and motivate. And most of all, that’s how you avoid bad religion while being the evangelist.