Episode 7

full
Published on:

15th Jul 2021

Give engaging talks, online and off

So you're going to speak at a conference. How do you make the most impact with your presentation, especially in this world where it could be virtual, it could be in-person, it could be hybrid, it could be something entirely different that we haven't even discovered yet. How do you do this? This week, what it really takes to give a talk the audience actually wants to listen to.

Timestamps to relevant points within the episode:

  • [01:22] - How to give a standout talk in an intra-pandemic or post-pandemic world
  • [05:10] - An attendee's surrender to the speaker
  • [10:48] - Conference organizers should be caring more deeply and investing more heavily in the quality of the presentations being given at their conferences.
  • [13:45] - The new set of skills speakers need to develop
  • [18:07] - Start with good content
  • [19:59] - TL;DL summary of the episode

Key takeaways:

  • Care deeply about your topic
  • Know who you're speaking to
  • Know your outcomes. Start with the end.
  • With online events, there is no social contract keeping the audience in their seats. It's more important than ever to work to keep them engaged.
  • Start with good content and then develop the performance skills unique to the particular presentation format.
  • Look to other types of performers who've figured out how to pivot to virtual; YouTubers, stand up comedians etc.
  • Conference organizers should be caring more deeply and investing more heavily in the quality of the presentations being given at their conferences.
  • Zoom fatigue is not an excuse for boring content.

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Visit our website at kickassconf.com

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Next episode: Event accessibility, it's more than ramps.



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Transcript
Nessa:

Welcome to Make it Kickass. I'm Nessa Jiménez.

Isaac (:

And I'm Isaac Watson.

Nessa (:

And this is the podcast for creating conferences people actually want to attend by the people who create them. And if you want to learn more about us, the podcast, or find the full show notes and transcripts, find us on our website, kickassconf.com.

Nessa (:

Obviously, as conference producers, we need speakers. Without speakers, we don't really have anything, right? I want to get into what it takes in 2021 and beyond to have a talk that actually stands out, that makes a difference, a talk that matters.

Nessa (:

So how do we do that? Let's start with that.

Isaac (:

So I think the key here is we're in this state of flux with the event world. A lot of it's been turned on its head. We're starting to come back to the old in-person gatherings that we know and love. Some things are changing. There's this new world of virtual. What does it all mean?

Isaac (:

So let's... I think it's really worthwhile to dig into how can you actually give a standout talk in this day and age in an intra-pandemic or post-pandemic world because a lot of stuff has changing. And I think that at the core, the starting from the very beginning, you have to care deeply about your topic.

Nessa (:

Giving a shit, caring. That's it.

Isaac (:

You have to have passion. You have to care deeply about the topic.

Isaac (:

The other thing, no matter what the format of the event, you have to know who you're speaking to. Who is this audience? When you are in person, you get audience feedback. You get to read the room, right?

Nessa (:

Immediately, instant.

Isaac (:

When you are pre-recording a talk or if you're giving it live through video conferencing, you don't get that audience's feedback and so you... it makes it all that more important to know who the people are that you're talking to as you're preparing your content.

Isaac (:

Another thing that I think is important is knowing what your outcomes are for your talk. Start with the end when you're developing your topic. What is the key message? What do you want them to do when they're done listening to you? This is not just about education. It's about action. So if you want your talk to really stand out, you have to know what you want the audience to actually do once they leave that room, whether that's in a physical space or a virtual one, and what they're going to do with what you've just told them. Start with the end and then fill in everything that leads up to that and build toward it.

Isaac (:

I think when you're thinking about your content, those are the keys to make sure that it stands out, to make sure that the presentation has impact and that you're really connecting with people, whether or not they're literally in the room with you.

Nessa (:

Starting with the end also makes it easier to cut stuff that doesn't serve that purpose.

Isaac (:

Precisely.

Nessa (:

Especially with the time limit because just this week, we had conversations with people that were concerned about the time that they had to give the talk because they were like, "That's not enough." I think we were doing 10-minute, 15-minute increments, and they felt, "Can't I get half an hour?" It's like, "No, you got 15 minutes. You got 15 minutes, so what are you going to do with those 15 minutes?" Really focus on what you need to get out there to people.

Isaac (:

Precisely. And that's why it is important to know where you're ending because you can come up with as much content as you want to meet that goal, and then you can kind of whittle away and identify, "Well, what's really the most important here? What's going to lead toward that end goal more effectively?" It really does get down to quality over quantity.

Nessa (:

Especially online because with virtual conferences, I think pretty much every conference, one of the first things they figured out was, "We can't have somebody talking for an hour. That just can't... no one's going to sit there for that, even if it's the greatest person ever. No, I don't have the attention span. Nobody does."

Nessa (:

So the first thing they had to do is cut things down, cut segments. So basically, get to the point. Get to the point.

Isaac (:

I had this moment last year where I realized as we were navigating virtual pivots and all of the questions and whatnot that come around, I had this moment where I realized there's something unique about being... there's a surrender from an attendee standpoint when they go into a venue and you go into the auditorium or the conference center or whatever it is, and you are physically surrendering yourself to a session, right? The door's closed. You're not locked in, but you're basically locked in. You lock yourself, right?

Nessa (:

It's the social contract.

Isaac (:

And you're like, "I'm committed."

Isaac (:

It's the social contract. Exactly. And that's something that doesn't really exist in a virtual format because you are physically in the same place, most likely. You are fighting attention spans. I mean, I've talked about this a million times. It's the browser tabs and the social media feeds and all that kind of stuff, live chats mean that you can just banter with all the other attendees in a way you wouldn't dare give anything more than whisper to your neighbor in an actual venue, right? It completely changes the experience.

Isaac (:

And so from a speaker's perspective, if we turn that around, you don't have that captive audience in the same way which means that your content needs to be more focused on captivating them. So rather than the physical space doing the captivating to some extent, your content plays that role. And so that's why it's so important to start looking at your content from that perspective and saying, "How can I grab that attention? How can I share my passion and what I care about with this audience in a way that will keep them engaged in and honestly, get them to ignore all of the other distractions out there?"

Nessa (:

Because there's a lot of distractions and even someone who's well-meaning, like, "I mean to pay attention, but I am really bad at that. I'm always grabbing the phone or there's stuff on my desk that I start messing around with." It's not great.

Isaac (:

I mean, I'm the same way. I produce conferences professionally. And when we started attending virtual conferences last year to learn how to do all this, I was number one culprit of losing attention during a session and walking away and focusing on something else. And it wasn't until I realized that I needed to change my set up and cast the live stream to my TV and treat it like I was watching a show, rather than just having another tab open that things really changed, but not everybody's doing that. And not everybody can do that. So it changes the relationship between the presenter and the audience, because the venue isn't doing that. So I think that's an important frame of reference, especially when it comes to virtual presentations.

Nessa (:

And it's the presenter's job to make me want to stay. You can't put the heavy lifting on the audience. It is your job as the presenter to make them go, "This is interesting," or, "I like this person," or, "I like how they're presenting," right?

Nessa (:

And authenticity is such a big part of that. I've noticed that just instantly, man, the first couple of seconds that a speaker's on, I know whether I'm going to pay attention or not. It's something about the energy that they're projecting, the way that they're expressing themselves, the confidence level and authenticity in that I can tell if you care or not, immediately. I can tell if you're here to be present and give this presentation and you're actually excited.

Nessa (:

Oh my God, pet peeve, now that we're talking about this.

Isaac (:

Do it.

Nessa (:

Don't say that I'm so happy to be here when it's clearly obvious that you're not happy to be here. Don't. Just don't. Just get on with it. Don't do this awkward thing.

Isaac (:

And don't pretend it's live if it's not.

Nessa (:

That's another one. Once I can see that you're lying to me, I don't care.

Isaac (:

That social contract in a venue, it does a lot to prevent people from walking out which is part of the surrender and the captive audience. But even as a presenter reads the room in a physical space, you can start to tell if people are disengaging or if they're bored, right? You see more screens popping up and glowing. There are ways to do that.

Isaac (:

But it's so easy in a virtual conference to just close that tab, just walk away and nobody knows.

Nessa (:

But even in an in-person presentation, if the only thing that's keeping you in the seat is the fact that I'm too embarrassed to stand up and get out, that's not good. That's not a good sign either. You're holding me prisoner, and I'm here because I have to be here because it's... for me, it's too awkward to leave, right? That's also a fairly...

Isaac (:

Conference organizers should be caring more deeply and investing more heavily in the quality of the presentations that are being given at their conferences. You alluded to this earlier, Nessa, that in a lot of ways, the status quo of the in-person conference world meant that you pick your presenters, and they do their thing. They bring their slides. They're doing the topic on the plane. It's just kind of a thing. Set it and forget it and it happens. There are probably some outliers to that, but that was, by and large, the way it worked.

Isaac (:

These days, what we've been seeing with those people who really care about pivoting successfully to a virtual conference, as well as those who are really keen on making the return to in-person more successful, is that these organizers care and want to invest in the speakers' messages.

Isaac (:

And that takes shape through speaker coaching, in topic development, in production quality, whether you're hiring videographers to do pre-recorded shoots with people for a virtual conference or whether you are doing rehearsals, virtual rehearsals for an in-person thing. This could take all different forms.

Isaac (:

But the big thing that I think needs to happen is that more organizers need to continue to care about this stuff and to put more effort and to not let the status quo return or the status prequel. I don't know how the Latin works, but however it was before, I don't think we can continue doing that.

Nessa (:

No, no. And the pandemic has revealed the people that should care, but actually don't because they suffered a lot in the pivot, and a lot of people are blaming it on Zoom fatigue. It's not Zoom fatigue. It's bad presentations, right? And you've seen the way some of these conferences pivoted, and they did the exact same thing that they're used to doing in person. They tried to do an online where it's like, "You're the speaker. You take care of it, and we'll do it live. I know you've spoken before. It'll be fine."

Nessa (:

And then the conference happens, and it's not engaging. It's not fun. It's awkward. Lot of technical issues during the talks. We're 15 months in, and there's still a bunch of conferences that are having technical issues during talks. That's [inaudible 00:13:33] not acceptable. And that's, to me, shows me that the organizers don't actually... they either don't care, or they just don't get it, or they're not paying attention.

Isaac (:

And I think that that segues really nicely into these new sets of skills that we all need to be developing to be more successful at this. We've attended breakout sessions and talks where somebody who would normally have a great stage presence and who has their shit together falls flat because they don't know how to facilitate in a group activity, or they didn't come prepared, or they don't know how to share their screen, or it could be any variety of things, but we have to hone these new skills to be technically adept, to be more focused on delivering energy instead of feeding off of energy, right? That's the big thing that we hear from presenters is, "Well, I can't read the room. I can't feel the audience reactions."

Nessa (:

And [inaudible 00:14:46] they're super dependent on that. And now that they don't have it, they're struggling.

Isaac (:

And yet, you have YouTube creators who get no audience feedback and who are delivering incredible content without that. And so, it's this new framework for how do you deliver a message based on the format and the venue and the platform that you're using that's most effective?

Nessa (:

And I know you say that this is new, but it's not new. It might be new to some people in a certain world, but this is not new. YouTubers, they've figured it out. They've been doing it for the past decade now. The YouTubers have got it. Twitch streamers, Twitch streamers... I think Twitch has been around for maybe four years now? They have it figured out.

Nessa (:

This is not new. These skills are not new. It might be new to speakers who've never had to do it before. But at this point, there are so many examples of how to do online well, how to make online engaging, how to keep people entertained. It's just speakers now in the "professional setting."

Isaac (:

And we've seen this with standup comedians, for example, right? Similar things. So stand-up comedians rely heavily on the audience reactions to determine if their jokes are funny, what's resonating, where do they want to steer their content, things like that. And then suddenly, they don't have audiences anymore, and they completely flounder.

Isaac (:

I mean, you take someone like Bill Maher who's had decades of history on TV. And I know you hate the guy, but on the best of days, his stand-up on TV is okay. But then when you take the audience away from it, it falls completely flat because someone who's had decades of experience with people in the room doesn't know how to deliver jokes without the laughter to the punchline, right.

Nessa (:

Exactly. Exactly.

Isaac (:

So-

Nessa (:

Versus John Oliver who did his show live. He transitioned to online straight to the camera, and he was fine. It was just as funny as when there was an audience there.

Isaac (:

... precisely. And so... and he's someone... that's a perfect example because he's somebody who him and his writers have completely changed the way that they present. They've embraced the white void, right?

Nessa (:

They definitely have.

Isaac (:

And they just run with it, and they've acknowledged, "Hey, this sucks, but we're going to do what we can to still make it funny and still deliver the impact that you're used to in a live format."

Nessa (:

And that's confidence. He just presents. And he knows that you're laughing at home. He doesn't need to hear it. He's delivering it in a way as if he knows it's super funny, right?

Nessa (:

And I think the way that we apply this to speakers at a conference, it's the same way. They have to project confidence. They don't hear the clapping. They don't hear the laughs at the jokes, but they have to act as if they can.

Isaac (:

I think all of that underscores the importance of starting with good content and making sure that that, in and of itself, stands strong and then developing the performance skills that are unique to that particular format. If you're pre-recording video content or you're joining via video conferencing for a virtual event, you have to amp up the emotion, you have to use facial expressions, you have to use body language in a way that that is less important in an in-person environment. You also have to deliver with that confidence because if you're hanging too much on getting a reaction from what you're saying and there's no reaction, then you end up with these lilting moments where you're like, "Where am I going next," right?

Isaac (:

I think the same goes for in the opposite direction too. So you've seen YouTubers who have become very popular, who then try to go and do live shows, and they're just not prepared for what can happen in a live format, right?

Isaac (:

So it's all about adapting to the format. It's all about having the flexibility and developing the skill set to deliver whatever content you have most effectively for that particular format and that particular audience.

Nessa (:

And still with that core of the effort that you're putting into the content.

Nessa (:

So now, we have reached the end of the show. But before we go, we have our new segment which is too long. It didn't listen.

Isaac (:

All right. So you're going to speak at a conference. How do you make the most impact with your presentation, especially in this world where it could be virtual, it could be in-person, it could be hybrid, it could be something entirely different that we haven't even discovered yet. How do you do this?

Isaac (:

One, start with the end. What are you trying to say? What do you want people to do when they're done digesting whatever content you have to present? Work backward from that, understanding who the audience is and what you're trying to convert them into doing or being or saying and then craft everything around that to support the end goal.

Isaac (:

It doesn't matter how long the talk is or the video or whatever you want to call this content that you're creating. Start with the end goal, fill out whatever you need to support it, and then whittle it back down to find out what's going to be most effective.

Nessa (:

Great. Perfect. Thank you so much, Isaac.

Nessa (:

So thank you for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, please feel free to share it with others. Leave a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. And to find more information about Kickass Conferences and how to host your own kickass conference, you can find us at kickassconf.com.

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About the Podcast

Make It Kickass
Community Event Mastery
Make It Kickass explores how leaders of growing communities can make conferences with impact, gatherings with purpose, and an attendee experience that knocks their socks off. We uncover the strategies, tactics, and tools we use every day to bring our clients’ conferences to life. If you've ever wanted to host a life-changing conference, this podcast is for you.

Find us at kickassconf.com or geteventlab.com

About your hosts

Isaac Watson

Profile picture for Isaac Watson
Isaac Watson is the founder and Executive Producer at Kickass Conferences, an event strategy and production studio based in the Pacific Northwest. Isaac helps community leaders develop and deliver transformative events for their audiences and inspire them to build a better world.

A maker and introvert at heart, when he’s not working his magic behind the scenes in event strategy and production, he’s usually at home in Vancouver, Washington working on remodeling projects, gardening, cooking, learning to sew, and building LEGO.

Nessa Jimenez

Profile picture for Nessa Jimenez
Nessa Jimenez is the Operations Manager at Kickass Conferences, an event strategy and production studio based in the Pacific Northwest. She coordinates the day to day work with our clients and vendors, keeps all of our projects rolling on time and now edits and produces the podcast.

Nessa lives in and works from Puerto Rico. When she's not working, you can find her reading a book or trying to figure out how to keep her plants alive.