Almost always, I have done my research. I am usually well briefed by conveners. I listen carefully, patterning what I hear. I understand the context for the audience, what they worry about, hope for, why they are here, what they want to take away to ensure their time is worthwhile.
I arrive early, ideally at a break time. I get a drink, mingle, say hello, find out who’s here and why. I try to avoid saying I am an upcoming speaker. I want to hear from the audience in private: why did you come, what do you hope to get from this, what’s your role, what’s the mood in your sector?
Sometimes, I sit in the audience and wait. I like to be to the side, towards the back of the room. I prefer to see the audience before they see me, watch how they interact with each other. Are they listening to the speakers before me, are they writing, laughing, nodding in agreement? Or do they have that wonderfully disconcerting ‘dead’ face? – my body is here but I am far away.
There is a moment when I am introduced, and my background is read out. This is like white noise for me, it mostly makes me tense. Who is this person with my name? The introduction was likely written by one of my team, so, I should be comfortable. I know this should be neat, short and to the point. However, I often think it feels like bragging. Too long by far.
I wear a lapel microphone. I check the green light is on. I move onto the stage or stand at the front of the room. There is a moment of perfect stillness.
I look again at the audience, I scan them, and smile.
Typically, I will let the audience know there are three things I am going to share… and I repeat (based on the briefing), what the outcome will be.
At this point, a wonderful, strangely potent force takes over and the boundaries between the audience and me begin to blur. I look at people intensely, looking for the cues, the wonderful tells that show me a person is thinking, hesitating but thinking and wanting to share. I unconsciously affirm them, sending warmth and a sense of inclusion out into the room.
I am comfortable with the space in between words.
I soon turn the attention on the audience, and I ask questions, getting them engaged with me and then with each other. Hands go up, people lean forward, they look across at each other, aisles apart, nodding or challenging. I conduct this starting point, weaving ideas and observations together into what becomes a unique summary of insight from the audience. It is a form of verbal choreography. It only works because I am deeply interested in their perspectives and ultimately, I want them to know there is more that holds us together than pulls us apart.
Then comes the segue, when the audience lean back in their seats, somewhat surprised – pleased – that a conversation has flowed across a room, 20, 50, 100, 500 people, and themes have emerged that make sense, that belong to the audience.
They look expectantly at me, smiling.
I roll into the second act, sharing stories, metaphors, case studies that connect the audience’s needs to a bigger world.
I am confident in what I know (after 37 years of helping people in small and large ways I should be). I can read people easily, sensing quickly what sits behind their expressions, affirming nods, or small confusions and doubts. I pick constantly from a big bank of data in my head, doing my best to work with the needs of the room.
Then, when we are full of facts and figures, together we shift into a dialogue about lessons, insights, relevancies. I ask the audience to talk to those close by, what is standing out, what’s relevant, and where are the gaps. I walk amongst them, watching and listening, or I pace on stage, drinking water, always watching.
Then come the questions and observations and again, like a conductor, I thread the pieces together, bringing the whole into a recipe that can be repeated.
So, there are three things we all conclude, two, or ten. They are relevant now, next week, for me, for us. People write things down, nodding.
Then the coup degras, the final flourish in the moment, serious and demanding, refreshing and fun, a sense of future possible. I wrap up the audience’s insights into a promise of what they as individuals, in teams, in organisations or communities could be doing a week or a month or a year from now if they follow through.
And then I stop. I send the audience my love and thanks for sharing the hour or two, and I leave.
Sometimes there is a big applause, and sometimes an almost stunned quiet. We all realise that what I did was simply to create space for the audience to speak and in speaking, we all heard the truth – this makes sense, I agree, I recognise how to move forward for myself, with others and in simple and complex contexts.
This is my greatest satisfaction. We all walk away with a sense of belonging and knowing.
Oh, alright, a bit of splash and theatre here and there, but this is my speaker’s story, it’s about a conversation with the audience, structured to include their perspectives, add inspiration and content, and invite action going forward.
I love people, and I hold hope in one hand and fury in the other (a wonderful framework the irreplaceable Christiana Figueres shared with me); fury that we are divided, critical, worried, overworked, stressed and anxious, never knowing enough, and hope that the best solutions are at our fingertips. We are enough, we have enough.
The Speaker’s job is done.
Founder, Speaker, Senior Consultant & Coach
To find out how we can help you, please contact us at Dattner Group.