Think You’re a Good Speaker?
(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)
If you desire to be a truly professional public speaker, don’t make the same mistake that Steve from Florida made. I’m calling him “Steve from Florida” because I’m a Howard Stern fan. Steve is a real person and this is a real story. Steve’s name is Steve, but he’s not from Florida. Steve from Florida doesn’t really know me and I doubt he remembers me. That’s the problem. He should. I certainly know him.
Steve was the speaker before me at a conference of regional bankers recently. He wasn’t a bad speaker. He seemed to know his topic. Of course, he should. Steve from Florida’s company provides financial management consulting services, products and training for CEOs and managers.
Yeah, Steve from Florida knows his stuff. He’s been doing it for decades and his company has some pretty big clients. Good for him. What’s surprising is that on his website he also represents himself as a professional speaker with lots of experience giving keynotes and workshops. You wouldn’t know it from the presentation I saw him give. It’s not that his content or delivery was bad. It’s because Steve from Florida made the mistake that every amateur speaker makes: he spoke too long.
At the bankers’ conference, Steve was scheduled to speak from 9:00 AM until 10:15 AM, followed by a fifteen-minute break, after which I was scheduled to speak for an hour beginning at 10:30 AM to close out the conference. Things didn’t go that way. Steve talked, and talked, and talked some more. When 10:10 rolled around, and he should’ve been wrapping things up, he kept talking. Steve was still talking at 10:20 despite the meeting organizer’s polite-yet-frantic waves from the back of the room. Sensing the mood of the room but feeling compelled to squeeze everything in, Steve rushed through his 10 remaining slide. Eventually, Steve- the-experienced speaker wrapped things up at 10:27… a full 12 minutes over his allotted time.
As a result, the 150 attendees were grudgingly asked to take a shorter break (which they didn’t because when nature calls, nature calls). When I was ultimately brought on to do my presentation, I had less than 45 minutes remaining to do my 60-minute presentation. The meeting organizer apologized on Steve’s behalf and graciously said I could also go over my allotted time. But, c’mon…that would mean keeping these poor people beyond the stated end of the conference. Who likes to do that? Instead, I hurriedly adjusted my presentation materials so I could finish at the right time. Steve didn’t care. He didn’t apologize to me or the attendees for going over. Hey…it’s Steve’s world and we just happen to live in it.
Do you speak? Then speak professionally.
Professional speakers are disciplined. They are respectful of the time they are allotted to speak. Speakers like me (and definitely Steve) have big egos. We love to hear ourselves talk. But the best ones know that there’s a limit. They understand that it’s not just their time, it’s everyone’s time. Taking 15 extra minutes to hear the glory of your own voice means you’re causing disruption, inconvenience and great annoyance to the meeting organizer, her attendees and the next speaker who now must decide whether to further upset the audience or cut back on the content that he was paid to deliver in order to keep things on track.
When you’re a professional speaker it’s not about you. It’s about your audience. It’s about delivering valuable information in an entertaining way during the time allotted. It’s about respect for others. Good speakers know this. Amateur speakers who incorrectly think of themselves as professionals like Steve from Florida need to learn this. I don’t really care if he does. But I hope you do.