By now many of you may have seen the disaster that was Michael Bay’s presentation at CES a couple of days ago. He was there on behalf of Samsung to help promote the company’s newest and greatest TV. His portion of the presentation only lasted a grand total of about a minute. Bay had teleprompter problems and briefly tried to just “wing it” before simply walking off the stage and leaving the Samsung executive he was supposed to be talking with to fend for himself.
To his credit, the Samsung executive did a great job covering for the mix up and was flawless in his execution of the presentation. It was obvious the Samsung executive had studied and prepared himself for the presentation while Bay was unprepared and as a result flustered by the teleprompter malfunction.
In public relations, I regularly pitch clients on speaking at industry events. Speaking opportunities like these are a great way to gain additional exposure and to brand yourself as an expert in your industry, at least when things go well. When you perform like Bay did, you accomplish none of these things. Instead, you look like a fool and do more harm to your reputation than good.
With Bay’s epic failure in mind, here are some tips to follow to ensure success when speaking at an event.
- Be prepared: You would think that this would go without saying, but there are a lot of times where it isn’t. Plan and prepare your presentation in advance. Practice it so that it sounds natural. We live in an electronic age and quite often a teleprompter is available, but don’t rely on the teleprompter. Bring a hard copy or save a copy on an iPad or other similar device so you can have a back up in case the teleprompter goes out or doesn’t work to begin with.
- You’re always on the record: If you don’t want somebody to know something then don’t tell them. Often people get nervous giving a speech or presentation and in these situations are more prone to give sensitive or confidential information than they would under normal circumstances. Practicing will help get you comfortable with your presentation, and preparing in advance will help avoid the nerves and avoid disclosing confidential information. Remember, you’re always on the record. If you say something from a podium, you can’t erase it, take it back or quickly say that the comment was off the record and hope that everybody in attendance will let it slide.
- Be aware of open/live microphones: It’s becoming more and more common to have a small lavaliere microphone attached to a tie or lapel or to have a head set with a lightweight microphone attached to it. These devices are wonderful and allow you to interact on a greater, more personal level with your audience. They also create pitfalls that didn’t necessarily exist before their creation. If you’re at a podium with a microphone, when you step away you are typically out of range to amplify anything you may say. With a lavaliere mic, if it doesn’t get turned off when you finish your presentation, you have to be careful what you say. A colleague shared a story about a client that spoke at an industry event. The speech went great and everybody thought the presenter had a done a marvelous job. As the presenter sat down next to his co-worker he said, “We just beat the hell out of XX”, and proceeded to name their largest competitor who just happened to be in the audience. Needless to say, the goodwill he gained from his presentation was quickly lost due to a careless remark. This goes back to the point above, but you have to remember that you’re always on the record.
- Don’t stray from the topic: Years ago my wife worked for a company specializing in leadership training. The CEO had written a number of books on how to be a better, more effective leader. At a presentation in Hawaii, a reporter wanted to talk to him after his speech. The CEO happily agreed to the interview. The reporter asked about the company and what he said in his presentation, and then began asking questions about issues not related to his business or his expertise. These were political policy-type questions that if responded to would reflect his own opinions. The CEO responded and as a result offended a number of people and businesses. As the reporter’s story hit the Internet, many of these individuals and businesses called the CEO’s company to cancel their partnership and terminate their relationship. If questions don’t relate to your business or your expertise, don’t answer them. You can and should simply say something along the lines of, “that doesn’t pertain to our business so I’m not going to answer,” or, “that doesn’t pertain to our business and I’d prefer to stick to questions related directly to our business.”
- It’s ok not to know the answer: If a question is asked and you don’t know the answer, it’s ok. Don’t feel pressured to answer the question and then provide inaccurate information or commit to something you can’t possibly do simply because you didn’t want to admit to not knowing the answer. Instead, tell the person answering the question that you don’t know for sure and that you want to be sure to provide accurate information. Tell them you’ll check and get back to them with the right information. Once you do that though, it’s important to follow up as promised.
Speaking opportunities are difficult to come by, but can be incredibly rewarding. By preparing and practicing these tips, you’ll ensure that the opportunity is not lost and that you transform yourself into a thought leader and expert, and capitalize on the benefits a successful speaking engagement can yield.