You can generate boatloads of content for LinkedIn and Facebook. Blog and vlog and hire a Millennial to run your Instagram. However, there's nothing--nothing--as powerful for your brand and business as getting up in front of a group of people and saying something.
Why? It's easy to get caught up in all the branding lingo--and forget this simple fact: You are not a profile or a platform. You are a person. While you may own, work for, or represent a business, you are, also, not a business. People don't listen to platforms or businesses; they listen to other people. They listen to stories.
"Even with our anemic attention spans and twitchy thumbs, a live person standing in front of us will command more of our attention than almost anything else," notes Terri Trespicio, a brand and speaking consultant who teaches people how to land their message onstage and everywhere else. Trespicio knows. She has given two TEDx talks herself (one of which has close to three million views).
"As the speaker, you are given a golden opportunity," she continues. "Those rare and precious moments in front of a live, attentive crowd can raise your speaker profile, generate interest in your brand, and lead to more speaking and business opportunities. But the mark of a truly successful talk is its ability to start a conversation that others want to continue with you. Even after you leave the room."
And yet, far too many speakers miss the mark. They get up, say a thing, step down, and are instantly forgotten, getting zero traction or results, and are left with little more than a blip in their bio ("I spoke here"). "This, I believe, is not simply due to a lack of natural talent," Trespicio notes. "They miss it because they never consider the most important part of the speaking equation: the audience."
She continues, "Most executives are so wholly focused on their business, their message, that they become dangerously myopic and shamelessly self-promoting, turning what could be a powerful conversation changer into an infomercial for your business. And that's a letdown for your audience."
Far too many speakers also mistakenly believe that their job up there is to "inform" or "educate." Wrong again. "We love great speakers--but we actually don't want to be lectured. We want to be changed. Moved. Inspired. And you don't do that just by sharing industry stats, but by taking a stance," Trespicio says.
She believes the TED model gives a powerful approach to public speaking that we would all do well to emulate, whether or not you aspire to the TED stage.
The reason why TED has become the gold standard of public speaking is that it demands one thing from the speaker and one thing only: an idea worth spreading. TED curator Chris Anderson says in his book, TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, that "your number one task as a speaker is to transfer into your listener's mind an extraordinary gift, a strange and beautiful object we call ... an idea."
"An idea. Not: your corporate mission, your case studies, or your promotional message, but an idea that changes how the audience thinks about a thing. Your thing," Trespicio emphasizes. "That's the job of every public speaker, even if most fall short of that."
So how do you land your big idea? Trespicio has created a tool called the Idea Funnel to help people "find the beating heart of their talk, the thing that will make what you say matter to attendees long after you've left the room."
Here are some of the questions to ask yourself so you can nail the idea for your next big talk:
What's the topic? "And by that I don't mean 'health care' or 'innovation' or 'customer satisfaction.' Those are broad subjects. Rather, what specific topic are you going to speak on, and the more specific the better. Most speakers will go in with the idea that they're going to be talking about 'a number of topics.' Nope. Every talk has one central idea. Just one," Trespicio says.
What are the assumptions? "This requires that you meet the audience where they are and break the curse of knowledge, which you don't realize you're operating under (but trust me, we all are)," Trespicio says. "Forget what you know and think about what they know. It's only when you can identify an assumption that you can skewer it and deliver something new and compelling in its place."
She continues, "So, ask yourself: What do most people (in your industry, or in general) assume about this specific topic, and why are these assumptions shortsighted or misguided? How are they well-intentioned but incomplete--or perhaps flat-out wrong? Unless you're challenging something they already think they know, there's nothing new to hear." Assumptions give you something to push against, and give power and focus to your talk.
What's at stake? If what you're saying has no stakes, it's going to be hard to get anyone to care. "It doesn't mean you should be alarmist or manipulative or that your talk has to be about a life-or-death situation, but you do have to trigger curiosity and concern. It must ping on some emotion or fear--whether that's fear of worsening air quality or missing your sales goals," Trespicio notes.
"Don't think your topic has anything at stake?" she asks. "Think again. I've yet to work with anyone whose topic doesn't have stakes, some key issue at its center. Your job is to dig down deep enough to find it."
What is the audience most invested in or worried about? How does what you have to say matter to or affect them, now or in the future? How does what you're telling them enable them to take action or raise awareness around something that will challenge their mission, goals, or bottom line?
She concludes, "There is no such thing as a boring topic. There's also no such thing as an inherently interesting topic. If you believe either of these things, you're screwed. Because you believe the topic is either limiting out of the gate or that it will do the work for you (it won't). Your take on a topic, your ability to make it relevant, meaningful, and inherently human is the heart of a powerful, memorable talk--the kind that people will line up, sign up, and opt-in to continue with you long after the event."
By following Trespicio's sage advice you can make your next presentation your most compelling yet -- no matter where you are giving it.