Public Speaking Success Secret: Stay in Your Lane

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There's a secret that professional speakers know but we rarely hear about it. The secret trickles out in overheard statements: "The speaker bombed." "She was so good the first time I saw her. What happened?" "He's usually so good. Maybe he had an off day?"

As a long time member of National Speakers Association and a past president of the New York City chapter, I've had the opportunity to watch a lot of professional and aspiring speakers. Some of those speakers have presented more than once. Most of the time they were great but there were disappointments along the way.  I asked myself why would a dynamic, seasoned speaker rock the conference and not a chapter meeting. And why would someone who got rave reviews from every chapter meeting be a disappointment on the national stage?

It 's the secret nobody talks about. I discovered that the best speakers stay in their lane. What does that mean? Let's start at the helicopter view. At the simplest level, we can group speakers into two categories: Entertainers and Experts. The entertainers are comedians, humorists, emcees, jugglers and singers with a message. These speakers are storytellers and performers.

The experts are content speakers. They have solid information, trends, and skills-building tips to impart to an audience who is eager to learn and capture their knowledge.

Now, let's drill down. How do you show up? There are different modes of speaking:

Keynote/General Session: At most conferences there is an opening, lunch, and closing keynote speaker. The keynote speaker captures the themes and issues of the meeting and speaks broadly. The purpose is to motivate, provoke, and create awareness in an entertaining way. A General Session may follow a keynote. The speaker talks to the entire audience but is not necessarily the main attraction.

Emcee or Moderator: This is an important role and takes coordination, making connections between the speakers and audience, drawing conclusions or inferences between the different messages, using humor and creating a sense of fun. 

Seminar/Breakout:(also called Breakout Sessions), are often offered concurrently to smaller groups where the audience chooses which program to attend. The focus is on information and tools you can use. The audience expects practical tips they can remember and apply. This requires the speaker to be a content expert with the ability to interact with the audience.

Lecture: A lecture is often given by  professors or scientists who may talk about their research. Or it could be authors talking about the content of their book.

Training: The difference between a seminar and training is that a seminar provides information and skills, while training is transformational. Let's say the topic is public speaking. The seminar leader would introduce the skills, provide some do's and don'ts and you would leave better informed and feeling good. 

The trainer would require you to stand up and apply the skills, see yourself on video, and coach you to do it better. The participants would leave more confident with improved skills and presentations. This speaking role requires a higher level of skill such as speaking, storytelling, timing and coordination, directing, coaching, technology skills, giving feedback, facilitating discussions.

Facilitation: If the keynote speaker is a performer, then the facilitator is the conductor. The facilitator does not have to be an expert. The focus is on the audience. The facilitator's role is to lead discussions and engage the audience to allow the information to emerge. The experts are in the group. An example would be a strategic planning retreat where leaders build their 5 year business plan

Webinar: Some speakers are internet marketers. They earn their living by providing valuable information over the internet. This requires facility with technology, high energy, and the ability to engage the audience and keep them from multitasking.

So  the secret that gets in the way of speaking greatness is simply this. Most speakers are not great at all of these forms of speaking. Discover your talent and stay in your lane. That doesn't mean you shouldn't expand and stretch beyond your current skill level. You can be a keynoter who also offers to do a breakout session as an add-on. You can be a content speaker who does the occasional keynote. But if you study champion athletes, they're focused and single minded. They know what they do well. Michael Jordan was a legendary basketball player; however, his athletic prowess didn't make him a champion golfer. 

To become a knockout public speaker, know your talent. Work it. Stay in your lane and it will take you on the highway to speaking success.