The benefit of being early
Some of the tips I have to offer about public speaking may take some time to teach well and even more time and practice to learn capably. But some hints can be summed up in a few words and executed easily by any speaker at any skill level.
One of my favorites is only two words long: Arrive early.
Be different. Surprise your audience. Introduce yourself to them one at a time.At most of the events where you will give a speech or presentation, there will be an informal meet-and-greet session. It’s tempting to want to skip this so you can spend a few last minutes going over your speech, but you’ll be much better served to show up in time to mix and mingle informally.
Whenever possible, arrive at least 30 minutes in advance and introduce yourself one-on-one to as many audience members as possible. Ask them why they are there and what they are hoping to learn from the program.
What does this do for you? First, it gives you more information about your audience, so that you can tweak your presentation at the last minute (as needed) to better meet their needs.
Second, it helps break the ice with your audience. It will remove the speaker/audience barrier and make you seem more human and approachable. Why does this matter? Because the more familiar you are to them, the more responsive your audience is going to be to you. They will like you and respect you far more than if you come into the room with an air of superiority or distance. If they think you’re talking down to them or that you, God forbid, think you’re better than them, they will reject your message before they even hear it.
Stand out … even in a panel discussion
Last point on this subject: These tips are useful whether you are speaking alone or on a panel. In fact, when you are on a panel, it is even more important that you spend time connecting with your audience before the program. If, instead, you sit up at the table and chit chat only with your fellow speakers, you are strengthening a perception of “us” versus “them” – speakers versus audience. It may not overtly put them off because that’s what most people do, but it certainly won’t help you connect with them.
So be different. Surprise your audience. Introduce yourself to them one at a time; shake their hands; and remember to get some piece of information that will help you fine-tune your speech on the fly to even better meet their needs.
And if you can mention one or two of the audience members during your presentation to show that you remembered them, they will never forget you.