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March 2004

Rich Tehrani The 23 Rules
To Becoming An Excellent Public Speaker

By Rich Tehrani
Group Editor-In-Chief, Technology Marketing Corporation


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 industry practice.

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.

  1. 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?

  2. 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 your slides.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 producer.

  7. Dress professionally. This shows the audience respect. The audience really does deserve it.

  8. 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 well.

  9. 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. 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 objective.

  11. 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.

  12. 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 advantage.

  13. Be honest. The audience usually knows when you lie or spin. They understand reality and that no product is perfect.

  14. 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.

  15. Ask the audience questions. They like to be engaged. Tailor your presentation in response to the answers.

  16. 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.

  17. 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. 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.

  19. 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 exception.

  20. Be an evangelist. Evangelize something. If you can’t, you’ll serve your company better by staying in the office.

  21. 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).

  22. 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.

  23. 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.


Rich Tehrani
Group Publisher,
Group Editor-in-Chief
[email protected]

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