How to survive as a speaker at a PR industry conference

MicrophoneMarketing and communications consultant Arik Hanson caught my attention a few days ago following his reflections upon a PR conference he spoke at in Florida, USA.

Several factors make speaking at any PR or marketing industry event “pretty darn challenging,” he blogs. I’ve paraphrased his comments below and offered a few of my own thoughts.

80% of the audience is monkeying with their phone during your presentation

On the whole, he says, conference attendees are not tweeting about the conference. They are simply surfing and not paying attention to the speaker. My view is that the speaker needs to win the attention of the audience early on, from the first thing the speaker says or does.

Also, people are wired differently and if some people don’t have phones to play with, they will find some other way to distract themselves instead. This is where an audience participation exercise can sometimes come in helpful.

Alternatively, consider directing people to a specific twitter hashtag so their in-conference online activities are captured and directed back into the conference. The last two points are sometimes combined with attendees being given a device to use as part of an exercise, so that their online comments can become part of a wider conference conversation.

Varying levels of knowledge among the audience

Arik hits upon an old problem: how do you make sure you are neither speaking over the heads of your audience, nor over-simplifying and leaving your audience feeling unfulfilled?

My view is that you have to know your audience and their levels of knowledge and understanding in advance. Admittedly, this is sometimes going to be very hard to do. But even a show of hands towards the beginning of your talk can provide at least a basic understanding of what knowledge exists within the room. Using that approach supposes that you can or are willing to adapt your presentation at very short notice.

It’s good practice to make sure you have explained the basics so that everyone can at least understand what’s going on. You can then work up from there. It’s possible, for example, to go into your ‘advanced’ material during a Q&A, assuming there is one.

Everyone’s a critic

Arik says that people have high expectations of speakers and tend to be fairly critical of them. “Standing in front of a roomful of critics – that’s not an easy thing to do,” he says.

I agree, it is never easy. Everyone has a different set of preferences, needs and expectations, and you cannot please all of the people all the time. Though I would argue that it is just as hard to stand up and speak in front of any professional audience, and not just public relations and marketing practitioners.

And finally…

Arik said that it “made his day” when people said “thanks” after the presentation. I can understand that. I would go further and offer some helpful feedback, if it was appropriate to do so in the context.

This reminds me of a vicar who once told me, “As the congregation leaves the church they congratulate me on a ‘good sermon’, but what I really want to know is what made it a good sermon, so that I can give them a better one next time.”

See Arik Hanson’s blog which provided the inspiration for this post.

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