Melissa Sterry & Making A Compelling Speech

Jason Smith 1 July 2015

These past several years has seen an exponential rise in the number of speakers worldwide and you are one of a number of expert speakers that are more in demand than ever. Why do you think that is?

We have entered a golden age of discovery when myriad scientific and technological disciplines are bringing forth new insights, innovations and inventions that present us with radical new ways of thinking and doing. Together with this, we are now more connected than ever, and as such we’re more aware of who’s saying and doing what about the world. However, there’s so very much happening that it can be hard to decipher between that which will make a lasting impact, and that which will merely be a flash in the historical pan. Which is where someone like me comes in.

When I’m not delivering keynotes I’m engaged in scientific research, development, education, communications and consulting to some of the world’s most pioneering public and private sector organisations. Hence, it takes more than a well-written press release for me to buy into an idea or invention. When a new innovation shoots across my bows its potential is assessed from several angles, including whether or not it holds up to the fundamental laws of science, whether or not it’s ecologically and socially viable in the now, near and far future, whether or not it has a business case, and if so, when how and why its market will develop. In a nutshell, I join the dots, which in my experience is what most in-demand speakers do.

You’re known for delivering compelling keynotes on complex and often challenging subjects. Tell us about some of the ways in which you bring lofty subjects down to Earth for wide-ranging audiences about the globe.

Wherever and whenever possible I use layman’s terms. However, as and when the use of a scientific or technical term is apt I always give a brief explanation by means of ensuring everyone is able to keep abreast of the topic to hand. I also use a fair few metaphors and often relate what I’m saying back to commonly known events and phenomena.

Additionally, I employ a range of visual media, much of it original artwork, including photographs, sketches, collages, montages, infographics and diagrams, most often created specifically for the purpose of communicating the particular ideas and innovations under discussion.

What can clients do to help ensure a speaker’s keynote is delivered to the best of its potential?

In my experience, the foremost factor that helps to ensure a keynote meets or exceeds client expectations is the delivery of a clear and concise brief. This is one reason why it pays to work with a world-class agency like Speakers Corner, because without fail its agents ensure that both client and speaker have a really clear idea of what the event is about, who its audience are, and what’s really needed from the keynote.

It also helps if the client is clear about the audio-visual set-up at the venue, such that the speaker knows how to best format their presentation, i.e. software compatibility, slide sizing and whether or not the venue has wi-fi, as facilitates the likes of live audience feedback and media streaming.

Other handy measures that can help things to run smoothly include a timer, be it on a laptop or tablet, which helps the speaker to keep to time, a bottle or two of fresh water – particularly at heavily air-conditioned venues, and an audience reminder to keep mobiles on silent and flash photography to a minimum, as both can be distracting.

What advice would you give to that apprehensive soul about to deliver their first public speech?

Firstly, remember that when it really comes down to it, substance will always win over style. Your audience will forgive you for trembling, for tripping as you walk up the steps to the stage, for a nervous laugh and for forgetting the odd word. However, all the polish and confidence in the world will not make a speech without authenticity and sincerity resonate with people. Don’t feel that you have to bring the house down, you’re not Michael McIntyre Live at the Apollo, nor are you Hilary Clinton delivering her pitch for the presidential election to the nation. Be true to yourself, to your convictions, and to your subject. In terms of your delivery, don’t fixate on what works for others, as what works for them, might not work for you.

Some speakers prefer to stand rooted to the spot. Others feel more comfortable on the move. Some events call for the latter, others the former. Be expressive, but expressive using the gestures that are natural to you. If you find yourself getting nervous take a moment, breath, compose yourself and remember what it is that you are there to say. If you find the size of the audience overwhelming – a vast sea of faces staring back at you - focus on just one person that is somewhere near the centre. Connect with that individual, and then with another, and so on. Before you know it you’ll have delivered your speech and likely feel a wave of relief!

How do you foresee public speaking events evolving in the years ahead?

There’s a general consensus growing around the need for events that enable both doing and talking. For example, the likes of live experiments, interactive installations, hands-on workshops, live audience polls and other forms of ideas generation and data acquisition. It’s also becoming more commonplace for live events to generate interest and engagement in advance via online activity and in particular audience and speaker participation in social media chats and Q&As. This can be really useful to both parties and not least as it helps event organisers and speakers to finely tune their content to audiences needs. Likewise, we’re seeing more post-event activity, and in particular audience / speaker engagement via platforms like Twitter, which can be really useful for following-up on aspects of a  talk, i.e. sharing URL links to relevant content, and where appropriate for introductions to other parties that might be of interest, i.e. professional peers. All in all, new technology is presenting ever more diverse ways and means to format an event, and to share the outputs thereof, be it within a closed community, such as a company intranet, or the public at large. Put succinctly, a client can get bang for their buck!

Join the conversation with  @speakers_corner  and @melissasterry

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