If You Don’t Have Anything Good to Say…

jargonOne of the “perks” of my job is being able to attend conferences. Since inspiration can come from anywhere and I work on clients ranging from banking services to booze, it’s important that I step out of the office and soak up knowledge from a seat in a slightly cramped auditorium every once in a while.

At first it was exhilarating – flashing a name badge at the surly hipster guarding the seminar hall, trying to distinguish the difference between three simultaneous presentations on the rise of mobile technology, fighting feelings of inadequacy as a 15 year-old entrepreneur took the stage to discuss his company’s recent IPO.

But as I matured from conference newbie to jaded veteran, I began to notice a very disturbing trend: nobody on stage is actually saying anything.

Sure, presenters are talking in the most literal sense – mouths moving, sentences strung along, chuckles forced. But if you, like me, have had the “pleasure” of attending a recent conference, or summit, or confab, you’ve probably seen it too – the people on stage may be talking, but they aren’t actually saying anything.

Some would argue that it’s a well-known stereotype that advertising and PR professionals are good at talking in circles. But this epidemic is not just confined to industry conferences. In fact, the event that prompted me to write this blog post was one that tackled very serious issues like the crisis in Syria and global climate change. Apparently, a serious topic does not a good speaker make.

On behalf of conference attendees around the world, here is my plea to presenters – before you take the stage at your next gig, read these five tips for making your speech matter:

  1. Have a thesis. If you don’t know what you want to achieve from your presentation then your audience never will. Decide what you want listeners to understand and make it clear from the beginning. And no, “I’m the world’s most bad-ass Creative Director” is not an appropriate thesis.
  2. Have a plan. Slides with interesting images are fun. Slides with interesting images that are strung together in an incoherent manner make me want to throw my complimentary conference pen at you.
  3. Make it tangible.Just because you’ve said twelve times that your digital agency is the next big thing doesn’t mean I want to kiss your ring. Show me a campaign with a strategy and results that blow me away. Seeing is believing in today’s world, and I ain’t a believer yet.
  4. Make it actionable. You’ve got me fired up and shouting “Now is the time!” about a humanitarian crisis halfway across the world. But wait, that was it? What am I supposed to do now – continue chanting outside a subway station and hope someone throws me a dollar? Tell me how I can help after the chanting gets old.
  5. Have some conviction. I know you’re hungover from the presenter party you went to last night on the Microsoft yacht. But my company is paying for me to sit here and listen to you talk about content creation at 9 am on a Friday. At least pretend like you care.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.” So next time you strut onstage and look out onto the hopeful masses who have traveled from far and wide to hear you speak, ask yourself – If I were sitting on the other side, how might I be persuaded? Converted? Compelled? Then get to work.

This post first appeared on The Holmes Report.

Photo credit: Forbes.com