How to be an Engaging Business Speaker in the Present Day!

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… and why Ghosts from the Past Still Haunt Corporate Conferences of Today

A Victorian time traveller attending most present day conferences might be surprised to discover how little had changed. Although computer projectors and PowerPoint have replaced magic lanterns and a good PA systems means speakers’ need no longer project their voices, our 19th century visitor would find much that was reassuringly familiar. Especially in the manner by which their message is communicated to an audience, something a cynic once described as “a process by which information passes from one sheet of paper to another without passing through anyone’s brain.”
For while there are some brilliant and compelling business speakers, from both within and outside companies, capable of simultaneously informing and entertaining their audiences, they are in my three decades of conference experience very much in a minority. The majority, sadly, stay rooted and almost immobile behind a lectern, reading in a monotone from their lengthy notes, and making only fleeting eye-contact with those seated in serried rows before them.
The fact is that the structure of most modern conference presentations seems to owe more to tradition and convenience than an appreciation either of the psychology of learning or rapidly changing audience attitudes and expectations.

A large body of research has shown, for example, that the human span of attention can only be maintained for around 20 minutes and that even this relatively brief time frame is in now in decline. As a generation raised on pop videos and computer games starts to forms an increasing proportion of conference audiences the task of communicating corporate messages is becoming ever more challenging and problematic. For while most employees, if only out of concern for their prospects, will dutifully sit through mind numbing presentations by senior executives with the ability to bore for Britain, their minds are will be far away. They will rapidly transform themselves from highly motivated delegates to what are, , in the memorable phrase of Professor Charles Handy, no more than “empty suits” – physically present but mentally absent. Which means that not ever the most carefully crafted corporate messages, the most earnestly delivered exhortations and the most painstakingly crafted PowerPoint presentations will make any impact on either the audience’s mind set or the corporate bottom line.  In this televisual world before you can grab an audience’s mind you first have to capture their hearts!

A large body of research has shown, for example, that the human span of attention can only be maintained for around 20 minutes and that even this relatively brief time frame is in now in decline. As a generation raised on pop videos and computer games starts to forms an increasing proportion of conference audiences the task of communicating corporate messages is becoming ever more challenging and problematic. For while most employees, if only out of concern for their prospects, will dutifully sit through mind numbing presentations by senior executives with the ability to bore for Britain, their minds are will be far away. They will rapidly transform themselves from highly motivated delegates to what are, , in the memorable phrase of Professor Charles Handy, no more than “empty suits” – physically present but mentally absent. Which means that not ever the most carefully crafted corporate messages, the most earnestly delivered exhortations and the most painstakingly crafted PowerPoint presentations will make any impact on either the audience’s mind set or the corporate bottom line.  In this televisual world before you can grab an audience’s mind you first have to capture their hearts!

Gone are the days when conference organisers could assume that venue in an exotic location were sufficient to get their message across. Today such luxurious trappings are no more than an essential starting point for a successful conference. How you say what you want to say is no less important than what you want to say! Only by paying close attention to the creative context in which messages are delivered will the company’s see a return on their often substantial investment of time and money.

Recent research conducted by myself and my colleague Keelan Leyser has shown that for a conference fully to achieve its purpose, the following six basic requirements must be satisfied.

Creative –

Memorable conferences break new ground by presenting information in original and spell-binding new ways. Just like any successful television programme they must have high production values.

Innovative –

The practical implementation of the creative concept is essential. For everything to work as planned a great deal of prior planning and preparation is essential.

Rapport building –

audiences must be encouraged to feel at one not only with the speakers but with the theme and mood of the conference. Rapport is hard to create and easy to break. It depends on every aspect of the conference from travel arrangements to location choice, and catering services to after conference entertainment.

Communicate the key messages effectively –

this includes not just the presentations themselves but the whole ambience of the conference. Organisers should step back and ask themselves what messages their choice of venue and speakers convey to those attending.

Unique events –

memorable conferences are those which offer agreeable surprises by being in some ways unique and original.

Showmanship –

The term “infotainment” is the somewhat inelegant way of describing that special blend of serious facts and light hearted fun. With time now one of the developed world’s scarcest commodities audiences increasingly demand a significant pay-back for their investment of this precious commodity.

Implement these six strategies efficiently and you’ll have little difficulty in exorcising the ghosts of conferences past!

About Lewis & Leyser

Dr David Lewis, a business psychologist, researcher and Sony award winning broadcaster has been a professional speaker for more than twenty years with clients including IBM, BT, British Airways, Coca-Cola, Glaxo, Merck, SAP, Prudential and AMP. He has also worked in television where he has presented a wide range of documentaries. Dr Keelan Leyser is an award winning economist and marketing professional who is also an accomplished video and IT specialists and illusionists. At the age of 14 he was named as the best young magician in Britain by the Magic Circle. Three years ago they formed Lewis & Leyser to create a unique partnership whose avowed intention is to change the face of conferences for ever. Check out their eye-opening website at www.lewisandleyser.com