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Question: What advice do you have for first-time panel or keynote speakers?

Play It Safe But Be Yourself

“For your first keynote, it is tempting to try something different and unique to stand out. If you have not done much speaking before, it is much better to put together a polished presentation that reflects your knowledge and expertise. Talking about something you don’t know much about is a recipe for disaster. Another tip: to avoid PC/Mac compatibility issues, convert your presentation to a PDF.”

Go Off Script

“Common thought practice is to prepare your words or speech ahead of time. I find this to sound inauthentic and too rehearsed when I choose speakers for conferences or am a speaker myself. Having bullets to work off of but keeping your talk natural and off-the-cuff, while still staying on message, is the best way to capture an audience.”

Use the Power of Visualization

“Use the power of visualization to prepare for your first panel or keynote. Visualize the whole process. Start with taking a seat or hitting the podium. Then look at the audience. Then see yourself speaking slowly and hear your voice leaving the speakers. Pay attention to how you feel. If your heart beats faster, practice taking deep breaths. You’ll mirror that habit when you do it live.”

Get Speaker Training

“Take a seminar, a course or meet with a speaking coach who can identify the areas where you may need the most improvement. This is also a great way to get outside feedback and specific solutions to fix those areas of weakness. It can be scary getting up in front of so many people, so this training can help you get over those nerves.”

Know Your Material

“I advise first-time speakers to rehearse exhaustively. They should know the material forwards and backwards. The goal is not to mechanically reproduce the presentation, but for the topic and data to be second nature. That way they can focus on relaxing, speaking well, and forming a connection with their audience — not racking their brains or burying their head in the notes.”

Prepare for Questions

“A good speaker should always allow time for questions from their audience, as a good speech always leaves listeners wanting more or wanting involvement. However, it is good practice to prepare for any questions that might be thrown your way ahead of time. Practice your speech in front of friends and colleagues and see what questions they come up with, so that you leave your listeners fulfilled.”

Don’t Try to Be the Kind of Speaker You Aren’t

“Nothing is scarier than public speaking to a lot of people. “Be yourself” may sound like lame advice, but (for example) if you’re not a naturally funny person, you should not try to adopt that as a speaking persona. Choose a style that matches how you’re already comfortable communicating, and then master the delivery by researching and watching other people who share that kind of identity.”

Know Your Capabilities

“Keynotes are all about making an impression. Make sure you accentuate your strengths, especially for your first run at the big stage. If you’re more comfortable and can be more natural with a more scripted approach, then take that and learn from the experience. When it comes to panels, stay focused on the questions and your fellow panelist. It helps you to be more natural drawing the audience in.”

Focus on Storytelling

“Standing in front of a crowd as a keynote speaker can be hugely intimidating, but the anxiety level melts away as soon as you gain a rapport with the audience. To do this, focus on relatable stories that you know by heart, and make sure to get the audience comfortable early with something humorous that ties well into the story. If they smile, they will remember you.”

Don’t Read Ahead

“Whatever you do, don’t read a speech and don’t read your slides. You were likely asked to be a speaker because you have deep passion and insights into a subject that people want to hear. Try to let that natural enthusiasm shine through. Nobody will notice if you missed a point you were trying to make or stumbled for a moment.”

Teach in a Logical, Progressive Way

“A great speech lets your audience members leave with actionable tools they can immediately implement in their businesses or lives. This means taking a logical approach to teaching, such as, “Today, I’ll cover 10 tips for…” Use research and statistics to support your slides and don’t put too much content on each slide (or the audience will read instead of listen.)”

Make Them Remember You

“Do whatever it takes to make sure the audience remembers you. I noticed that the successful keynotes were the ones that were comfortable in their presentation. Make funny jokes that the audience could relate to, engage the audience, walk around the room, speak loudly and clearly. I know I had a successful panel or keynote when I didn’t see anyone looking at their cell phone while I was speaking.”