Our company has been running trade shows for almost twenty years. There
are too many shows to count, but the number stands well over 50. Most of
these events have been in communications, and I think it’s time to share
what I have learned over the years, because there are so many speakers
that just need the help. Let me start by saying that I do not consider myself to be an expert
speaker. I am always striving to improve, so please don’t view this as an
article from an expert patronizing amateur speakers…it’s not. Understand
that my personal opinions, where expressed within these pages, are
bolstered with real conferee feedback from dozens of events.
At our most recent Internet Telephony Conference & Expo in Miami, most of
the speakers were loved by the audience. We received a slew of
testimonials from conferees; but still, I am not satisfied until our show
is 100 percent perfect, and it isn’t there yet. It won’t be perfect until
we can change the ways many companies perceive speaking opportunities at
trade shows. TMC shows routinely have the most objective speakers by far, because we
tell them that if they commercialize, they will not be invited back.
Conferees rate speakers, and if they don’t score near-perfect marks, they
are disqualified from future events. This, by the way, is not a common
You see, there are certain companies that haven’t a clue about what to
discuss, and more importantly, what not to discuss in front of an
audience. As a result, I decided to prepare a guide, as follows.
Don’t say your company name or refer to your company more than once in
a presentation. If you plan to, please don’t speak at any TMC shows. No
one wants to hear a commercial. I don’t. I am sure conferees who spend
thousands of dollars to be at a show don’t, either. By the way, we all
expect you to be using your own products in your company. This is not a
new concept; and not only is it not novel, it’s not interesting. Do you
think there is a vendor somewhere that will admit they don’t use their own
equipment in their own offices?
Don’t use your own company template for a PowerPoint slide. Nobody
wants to see your logo more than once. They really don’t. Believe it or
not, anyone can log onto the Internet and look at your logo at any time
they want. If they have an urge to stare at your logo while you speak, our
attendees are very savvy. They will log onto the Web via a PDA and call up
your site. If you have your logo on your Web site, you don’t need it on
Don’t read your presentation, ever. If you read anything, you are a bad
speaker. Please know this in advance. Again, 400 people paid an average of
$1,700 each to hear you speak. Memorize your presentation or send someone
else who can do this for you.
Be funny. Look for jokes and comic approaches, and think of interesting
and compelling stories. Download some great graphics or get someone to
help you do this. If you don’t try to make the audience laugh at least
once, you shouldn’t be on a stage; you should be in the lab and not let
out in public with your company’s Polo shirt on.
Don’t wait until the last minute to hand in your presentation to the
trade show producer. Ninety-five percent of the people who hand in their
presentations late are lousy speakers. We need to see your presentation in
advance to make sure you don’t embarrass yourself or us on stage.
You aren’t doing anyone a favor by speaking. If you think you are, you
are likely a horrendous speaker. I speak at many non-TMC events myself.
This is a privilege, and I always treat it as such. There is always a
speaker with your title or better from a larger company who will gladly
speak in your place. Show respect for the audience and the trade show
Dress professionally. This shows the audience respect. The audience
really does deserve it.
Ask questions of the audience before you begin the presentation. It is
impossible to know who is in the room and what level they are at in terms
of understanding the topic at hand. If you can tailor your presentation
for the audience on-the-fly, it shows you must know your topic intimately
Understand why you have been invited to speak. Speaking is not a
marketing opportunity, so don’t treat it like one. If you do, you will get
lousy feedback from the audience and you will alienate them, as well. Do
you understand that these are prospective customers? You have been invited
to speak (at least at our events) to educate the audience on a certain
topic. You are there to educate objectively. If you can’t do this or you
don’t understand what this means, please don’t ever speak at a TMC
conference. We hope you speak at a competitive event. The speakers who get
the most out of our events, including the best leads, are those who
educate most objectively.
10. If you have a video in your PowerPoint presentation, you are usually a
bad speaker. Why? We all know your corporate colors, theme music and look
and feel of your television ads. Your videos always look like your TV ads.
This is implied commercialism even if your video is otherwise 100 percent
The audience seldom wishes to know how much money anyone has saved or
made using your products, at least not while you are on stage. If you are
in a “case study” session, however, this rule may not apply. We especially
don’t want to hear video testimonials from your customers. I emphasize
once again, no one wants to hear this stuff…not at a major speaking event,
in any case.
Don’t pretend you have no competitors, especially since these
supposedly non-existent companies are likely speaking just before or after
you. Don’t be afraid to mention your competition in your presentation. The
audience, believe it or not, understands they have choices. This is the
reason for attending a “trade show.” Remember, many times you will make a
sale because you interoperate with a competitor. Use this to your
Be honest. The audience usually knows when you lie or spin. They
understand reality and that no product is perfect.
Be passionate and enthusiastic. We have had speakers deviate from the
precise topic about which they were supposed to speak, yet score an
average of 10 out of 10 points from the audience. Enthusiasm and charisma
are more important than content because the audience puts tremendous value
on delivery. This doesn’t mean you can have bad content. Have great
content. Deliver it even better.
Ask the audience questions. They like to be engaged. Tailor your
presentation in response to the answers.
Ask the show producer for feedback from your session. Always strive to
improve. I can never comprehend why companies don’t demand evaluation data
from trade show companies at every opportunity and for every trade show.
By sending a bad speaker to an event, companies that spend millions of
dollars on TV ads ensure that hundreds of people about to make purchasing
decisions will avoid their company like the plague. Cut $50,000 from your
TV campaign and hire someone to see how audiences perceive your speakers
at shows. Don’t let the bad speakers out of the office.
Have a backup speaker as good as the first one. If you can’t do this,
you shouldn’t be accepting a major speaking opportunity. No one cares that
your primary speaker couldn’t make it…they do care when your presentation
stinks because the back-up speaker is atrocious.
18. Don’t dictate to the audience the same information that is on the
slide. If you must, make it sound different, and elaborate extensively.
Most of the conferees can, in fact, read.
Teach us something useful. No one is there to see you for the sake of
seeing you, regardless of how big your company is or how important you
think you are. Attendees are there, and have paid, to learn something of
value. If you are a professional athlete, a comedian, CEO of a
multibillion dollar company or a prominent politician, you may be an
Be an evangelist. Evangelize something. If you can’t, you’ll serve
your company better by staying in the office.
Don’t ask to speak at shows at which you don’t exhibit. It seems that
speakers without booths always use the opportunity to sell their products
and services. Nobody wants to pay to hear your sales pitch. There is an
exhibit hall at many conferences. This, believe it or not, is the
designated marketplace for your products. Respect your potential customers
and the trade show producers. Ignore this point, and you will alienate the
majority of attendees and the trade show company (at least, this is how we
work at TMC).
Don’t “over-practice.” If you need to practice too much, you are
probably not a good speaker. You need to hone your skills as a speaker,
and then look at your material a few times until you are comfortable. This
will yield the best response from the audience as it ensures maximal
spontaneity. Dont go to industry shows to practice your speaking, practice
in front of coworkers or via Toastmasters.
Don’t get offended by constructive criticism. Public speaking is a
skill. There are natural born speakers, but even they can improve.
That said, I’m happy to report that the VoIP market is back. This was the
busiest Internet Telephony Conference & Expo in six years and nine shows.
CLECS, enterprise users, developers, resellers and government agencies
were there in staggering numbers. The IP contact center market too is
enjoying continued growth fueled by international outsourcing as well as
the other benefits VoIP brings to effective CRM. Exhibitors across the
board told us that this was the best show they have ever done in the VoIP
space, or in some cases, ever.
Thanks for making it a success.
For information and subscriptions, visit www.TMCnet.com or call
on this article in our forums!
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