By Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk
by Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk, president
As some of you know, I have been doing a good deal of speaking lately. While I still get nervous beforehand, it’s not paralyzing like it used to be. It’s truly an honor to be asked to share my knowledge with a group – one that I do not take lightly.
I’ve learned a lot over the past few years of speaking, and it has proven to be a great business development tool for bbr marketing too. All but one time I’ve presented, regardless of the size or composition of the group, I’ve turned a listener into a client. So it’s certainly a worthwhile investment of my time.
I’ve grown to realize as well that I’m a very collaborative person. While I certainly spend a good deal of my time telling people what to do, I much prefer a situation where we discuss the options and determine what is best. I encourage feedback and input from my clients and love to hear what has worked and failed for them in the past. This type of conversation and interaction works very well in one-on-one meetings, and I try to bring the same sort of collaborative atmosphere to my presentations. I often open a speech with something along the lines of, “I encourage you to ask questions along the way and share your views on the topic. I don’t know everything and I find that those in the room often have excellent firsthand insight into the topic as well. And even I get bored listening to me talk for an hour, so speak up, share your thoughts and let’s leave the room with actionable information that we didn’t have when we entered.” And I mean it!
So when I find myself speaking before a group that asks no questions, adds no comments and looks at me like they’d rather be having their teeth scraped, I start to panic. I realize that many of the presentations I give provide continuing education credit for the participants, and some attendees might be in the room because they are a few hours short of where they need to be for their licensing. Even if that’s why you’re there, I encourage you to participate and add your two cents to the conversation. It truly adds value and encourages the speaker to keep going. Put yourself in the place of the speaker and imagine how difficult it is to talk for that long with no response, sometimes even with no smiles or affirming nods. It’s painful to say the least. Some speakers may disagree, but for me, the best presentations are those where we all contribute.
The logical response, of course, is “Well, you must be a lousy speaker.” And I’ll admit it’s always something that I’m working to improve. But what amazes me is that almost invariably the most bored-looking people in the audience are the first who make the effort to come up to me afterwards to compliment the presentation, tell me they learned a lot and ask to meet with me later. So I know at least a few attendees are getting something from my monologues. Had they demonstrated that interest and appreciation during the speech, it might have been even better! Most presenters feed off comments and participation. It encourages us to go on, whereas bored faces make us want to run from the room.
So here is my simple request: Speak up! Share your experiences and ideas, even if they run counter to what is being presented. Speakers who know and love their topics usually welcome input from different perspectives. When you ask a question or make a point that seems to differ with the speaker’s opinion, it creates an opportunity for discussion that’s relevant to many of the listeners and leads to a better understanding for speaker and audience alike. Besides, someone else in the room is sure to be wondering about the same thing. Ultimately we are all in the room to learn something, and the most interesting presentations are those where we learn from each other.
What do you think? What do you suggest speakers do to better engage their audiences? What do you love and hate about the speeches you’ve heard? I’d love your thoughts!