Want to know what you shouldn’t do when you’re asked to speak at a conference? I will tell you.
I recently attended the BlogWorld & New Media Expo a few weeks ago (newly named, New Media Expo). And while there were plenty of astute and savvy new media experts, there were perhaps just as many who seemed to have been yanked from their desks and thrown on stage, with little idea of how to command a crowd or deliver compelling, useful information. It was not unlike a bad internet date–you get all psyched up for it, based on what you read, and when you show up, eh, a little bit of a letdown. Seems someone was big on the hype and forgot to mention he’d gained 30 pounds.
In their defense…This industry is so new that even the people who ARE successful aren’t always quite sure how they got that way–let alone how to transfer or teach that information. And while there’s no doubt that an event like this, and others like it, serve a purpose (and no doubt, at several hundred bucks per ticket, make money doing it), I think they’ve got a ways to go to make this unmissable event they want it to be. I’m sure the New Media Expo folks are also trying to make a buck, but it’s worth shelling out more for top-notch speakers. After all, you get what you pay for–and if we as attendees don’t, we won’t be back.
As a result, I encountered (and walked out of) several lackluster performances by people who have big twitter followings, which in our infancy still seems to equate “worth listening to”–and it may very well not. At least, it didn’t at 3 o’clock in a windowless room. Overall, I found the expo largely predictable and inexpertly led–punctuated with a few moments of fleeting genius, which were well worth the price of admission.
That said, you pay for your ticket, and you still want a good show. The unfortunate thing is that what made a lot of these sessions memorable is how much they reinforced what you SHOULD NEVER DO when delivering a talk to a group of people. Oy. I share these with you now.
The Worst Public Speaking Lessons Ever That Cost Me $379
Don’t bother introducing the speaker. It’s 9:00a, opening keynote, first session of the expo. A man walks to the podium and says, “This man needs no introduction.” And then he doesn’t give us one. Now, the speaker was Scott Stratten of Unmarketing, a rock star in the world of social media with a fresh, authentic approach to marketing. I’m a big fan now. But I didn’t have a foggy clue as to who he was at the start. And the guy who was supposed to intro him didn’t help. You can say, “This man needs no introduction” — but you still have to give one. Not only is it rude not to fluff up your speaker (and who doesn’t like to hear their own accolades and achievements), but it also assumed we all knew who he was. And for an expo that’s growing so fast it’s already changed its name to keep up, you have to assume that there are some new folks and that the community is expanding, and that means we don’t all know the rock stars yet. Way to be inclusive, guys.
Put yourself down. Repeatedly. If you’re not sure why you’re up there, by all means, shout it from the rooftops. I saw several speakers take this “aw shucks” approach a bit too far and all but screamed “I don’t know why I’m here!” from the dais. This may work at a cocktail party or when you’re picking up chicks, but it does not work when I shelled out a few hundred bucks because I thought you knew something I didn’t. (Again, seasoned speakers do not do this. NMX may want to consider hiring some.)
Make a sexist comment. When all else fails, sure, go ahead and offend half the audience. One gentleman, who for his own sake I will keep anonymous, was telling us how we should find mentors, like the guy he met who invented the onion goggles. “Ladies, you know what I’m talking about, when you’re cutting up onions and your eyes water–”. Wooooow.
Give the same old advice. No question–following your passion and finding mentors is key to goals, careers, a fulfilling life. But big, bland advice doesn’t go over well at a new media expo where we want specific takeaway–and to be fair, there were plenty of speakers at the event who did offer great stuff (in particular, the guys who did the podcast panel who were terrific). But for the inexperienced speakers (of which there were also plenty), it’s got to go beyond the broad strokes. If it sounds like you’ve heard it before, you probably have, and so has everyone else. Find a fresh take, offer a different angle on it, or some specific strategy that worked. But pontificating about things that I could also hear at a Divine Feminine Energy workshop somewhere in Boulder doesn’t fly at a new media expo.
…I’m begging the New Media Expo folks: Consider raising the bar to entry for speakers–and maybe vet their talks in advance (make them actually pitch the strategies they’ll teach, so they don’t just rattle on about themselves and leave us emptyhanded). Consider bringing in folks from traditional media, or at least seasoned media pros, and not just the “guy who handles social media at X company”–I get the sense that the new media folks are reinventing the wheel, and heard often incorrect or ill-advised info on how to pitch traditional media and thought, hmm. That won’t work.
If you do want to attend the New Media Expo (and if you’re new to new media, it is a good place to start), I believe they’re in Vegas next? Their website still has the ad up for the expo that ended weeks ago. Boo.