It’s no secret that I don’t enjoy networking events. I think they’re a great way to meet prospective clients and, in the service industry, the quality of clients that you get from networking far outweighs any other form of marketing. However, as I’ve told many people over the years: being that person for that long is exhausting to me. On the other hand, public speaking is something that has always come easily to me. In college I took a public speaking course, as I’m sure many people did, but the course did not help me at all. The preparation methods — prepare an outline first, put your notes on cards, rehearse the speech — these were all things that only served to make my speeches seem boring and lackluster. The only thing we were required to turn after giving the speech was the outline so toward the end of the semester my method became “give the speech, and then write the outline.”
I got an A for the course and since then I’ve learned that writing an outline does help when you have a list of items you’re worried about forgetting in front of a crowd of hundreds. But what I’ve really learned over the years doing public speaking is: Know your subject matter.
That’s my secret. I never do a public speaking event, whether it’s in front of a team of five employees or a crowd of thousands, without being an expert on the topic I’m speaking about. Knowing what you’re talking about and that there’s no one in that room who’s going to know it better than you is a huge confidence booster. It also lets you get sidetracked and not worry that you’re going to forget your place.
I treat every public speaking opportunity as a conversation. Granted, it’s fairly one-sided, but during a conversation there’s something that each party wants to obtain. Information, comfort, friendship, the location of the restrooms; each party has something they want or something to give. In public speaking, I try never to tell anyone anything they already know. If I’m telling a room full of people what they already actively know, I’m just the narcissist up front who likes to hear the sound of my own voice. If I’m giving them new and helpful information, then I’m the narcissist up front who likes to hear the sound of my own voice AND they’re learning something.
The secret is that I know my subject matter. Bumps along the way, side tracks, diversions, all of these don’t interrupt the flow of the conversation because I already know what I’m talking about. If I feel the crowd is falling asleep on me, it’s not hard to switch to something more interesting. If I feel they’re interested in the topic I’m on, I can elaborate further. That flexibility only comes by knowing every facet of what I’m discussing.
That strategy works whether addressing teams, crowds, or running through exhausting networking events because I’m always in my depth and when I get out of my depth I let someone else do the talking. What’s your secret to public speaking?