Holding your fort

Have you ever paid attention to the mental process you follow while selecting which webinar/speaker to listen to in a conference? Are you aware of how subconsciously you are either ticking off or checking right a particular topic or speaker?

Why are some sessions most attended and a few have sparse participation? I am not talking of sessions taken by celebrities. They by default have maximum participation because of the status that the speaker carries.

For today, let us focus on the speakers and webinars related to our profession – PR and Communications. Do you recall which was the last webinar you attended? Who was the speaker who enthralled you the most? What was your biggest takeaway? Recall and bring those thoughts to your consciousness. Park it aside. We will circle back to it later.

Today you may be a participant but tomorrow, who knows, you would be a speaker at a forthcoming convention/conference. Would you then not desire to have maximum audience attendance as well as participation?

How would you then hold your fort? What would be your USP? Why would anyone sign up for listening to you? You will find your answers in the responses you have arrived at when you ask yourself what makes you sign up for a particular speaker’s program.

There are however some common threads – designations and organisation brand have their own specific pull, though I would not pay much attention to the former. Great speakers are those who have their own stories to tell and are in touch with reality.

So, where and how does one begin?

First things first – collect all your stories. Stay authentic and honest. Remember the times you navigated tough situations and recall the lessons you learnt. Real stories strike a chord with the audience. Everyone goes through tribulations and we all seek out inspirational stories.

Second – work on your presentation style. How are you going to present your thoughts and your story? Great oration, diction and pronunciation certainly play a part. You may also think of beginning with a gripping photo that has no words but just displays a powerful picture. Of course, the photograph will need to be appropriate and in line with the topic. Other alternatives include beginning with a provocative quote, a video clip, or the usage of a prop as a visual aid.

Third – try making your session interactive. Can you throw in a quiz? Or if online, put up a menti-meter poll? This works most in sessions that are scheduled immediately post lunch as they have the ability to keep the audience involved and engrossed.

Fourth – play with numbers. Statistics. Data. Evidence. Nothing catches the eyeballs than numbers that tell their own story. Be sure to know the source of the data that you share. In today’s interconnected social media world, the audience is often as well researched as the speaker!

Fifth – know the pulse of the audience. By default, we tend to work on our speeches/presentations by jotting down what we want to talk about. Has it ever occurred to you that the audience may want to listen to something else? Ask! Ask them what their expectations are from the session. What insights do they hope to gain? Put those out on a white board if possible and then try to cover all those points in your session. As a subject matter expert in your field, you should not have a problem here! Such extempore talks can generate extreme high levels of participation and enthuse your audience.

Besides paying attention to the above, also keep in mind some gaffes that speakers generally make.

  • Avoid speaking loudly into the microphone – the microphone is designed to amplify your voice!
  • Ensure you pronounce the panelists’ names right
  • Do not overstep your time
  • Weaving unnecessary apologies either in the beginning or end of your session is a big no!
  • Limit your reference to what earlier speakers said/mentioned. The audience wants to hear what you think.

As your turn comes to be a speaker, I hope to see you up there on the podium/across the zoom meeting holding your fort and doing yourself proud!

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

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