Zen and the Art of Speaking at Seminars

by David Cross

Seminars and trade shows rain PowerPoint presentations over us like a plague of locusts in the desert.

“Click … and we’ve improved the features of Wango Widgets in this key area and … jargon, jargon … click … in this next slide we can see how Wango Widgets will capture full market share this year … click …”

Can our brains take another two hours of this? We came here to learn some juicy marketing tips, and it looks like at least half of the presentations on the schedule will be full of this kind of [bleep].

But it isn’t the presenter’s fault. He was sent to that conference to get sales leads … and he truly believes that people want to hear his pitch. (Hint: They probably don’t.)

I’ve spoken at seminars in more than 15 countries over the last 20 years … and I’ve learned the hard way that successful presenters understand that their reason for being there differs from their audience’s reason for being there. Successful presenters (like successful copywriters, entrepreneurs, salespeople, managers, chefs, marketers, interviewers) fulfill their own needs more effortlessly by fulfilling other people’s needs first.

Successful presenters work hard to give their audience real-life, tangible, usable tips, ideas, information, and advice – peppered with anecdotes. They involve, engage, and reward their listeners. Give people something they can take away from your presentation and use or think about to help improve their business, and you will always be in a “win-win” situation.

If you have ever heard Bob Bly speak, you know exactly what I am talking about. Bob is a wonderful presenter. Hugely engaging, entertaining, funny, self-effacing, and with more real-life experiences and practical knowledge than most of us muster in a lifetime. But nobody in Bob’s audience ever feels “sold to” by him. And afterward, he always has people milling around him.

Bob’s relaxed, “freely giving” style is a cornerstone of his impressive business-building and referral network. (He also gets invited back to speak at more conferences than any other speaker I know.)

This style of presenting is especially helpful for anyone who’s not experienced with public speaking. By talking about your real-life experiences and giving away useful knowledge, ideas, and information, you will automatically speak in a more natural way than you would when trying to deliver a “formal” presentation.

Where’s the Catch?

The catch is the “Zen” part of this approach – best-summarized by this maxim from the ancient Vedic text Bhagavad Gita: “Action is thy duty, reward not thy concern.”

In other words, your job is to make your presentation with your audience’s best interests in mind – without being concerned about any benefit it may have for you.

What to Do Now

Take a look at that presentation you’re about to give. Wherever you see a reference to a product or service feature, highlight it. For example, “Wango Widgets enables more effective conversion tracking and demographics from diverse vertical sources.”
Think of an actual, real-life example where Wango Widgets did what that Now, instead of telling your audience only about the feature, tell them the story … and you’re well on your way to a better presentation.
The next step is to separate your product or service from the rest of your presentation. Share helpful information and tips that people can use even if they do not buy your product or use your service. Give these out freely and expect nothing back in return.
When you see other presenters, notice what they say that turns you on or off. Adapt what you learn to your own presentations and style.
Take baby steps. Small changes in your presentations can often greatly improve your results. You don’t have to change your entire approach all at once.
Keep in mind that it’s not only okay to mention your product or service, it’s also okay to mention your competitors and praise things they do well.
Practice your public speaking skills. Not being “salesy” is no excuse for a sloppy presentation
Have fun!

“The audience only pays attention as long as you know where you are going.”– Philip Crosby

(Ed. Note: David Cross is Senior Internet Consultant to Agora Publishing in Baltimore.)