Speak Up! | Daylily Blog on Improving for 2012

“Advice is seldom welcome.  Those who need it most like it the least.” 
– Samuel Johnson

Becoming a great public speaker does not come naturally - for anyone.  Speak up.  Don’t fidget.  Say this.  Do that.  Make eye contact.  Stand up straight.  Smile.  Its a lot to remember on top of the content you are presenting. As “daylily symposium season” approaches, I am thinking of the many presentations I will hear over the next three months and part of me celebrates while some of me shudders.  I will hear awesome presentations that enlighten and entertain, and I will hear others that make me want to flee the room.  Why?  Because the speaker is terrible.   
I said it.  
The road show is more prevalent than ever, and, yes, I agree (and support the thought) that everyone has a right to take the podium to present their wares.  However, the podium can be a weapon of mass destruction on your audience if you simply walk up there and "wing it." 

I write this post because following a presentation, rarely does a presenter hear:

“Wow, Bob, that speech was painful to listen to.  Too busy to practice, huh?”
“Thank you for boring us to tears, Sue.  Sorry I fell asleep, but you really sucked.”

No one says that, because we are supportive and encouraging and kind.  These are our friends.  Our proteges.  Our mentors.  I am not suggesting that everyone sucks and I have all the answers - in fact, most presentations are very successful - wildly successful!   But there are many who are up there to “get through” their daylily presentations, rather than looking forward to them.  And those folks aren’t hard to spot.  These are the ones who have flashy Powerpoints that they don’t fully know how to use (because someone else created it for them) and they are the ones gripping the podium, screaming from the inside for someone to save them from this pit-of-vipers public speaking experience.  Here is the good news if you suspect this might be you...You can get past that fear.  You can be an amazing public speaker, and this post is for those who wish to improve.

Many presenters never improve because they do not commit to improving.  They just slap a Powerpoint full of pictures together and shuffle to the podium expecting their narration of said Powerpoint to do the job.  They use each (PAID) speaking engagement as another shot to get it right, and the audience is left to suffer through another practice run.  

Every presentation counts.  There has never been a more important time to possess exceptional public speaking and writing skills.  The economy is competitive.  The market is saturated with daylily buying opportunities.   You need an edge.  And if you have been lucky enough to be invited to present your “life’s work” to a group of paying and interested folks, you’d better respect them enough to give it 100%.  If you don’t, let me assure you we know the difference.

What can you do?  How can you get better?  And if you are already great, how can you become amazing?

1.  Be prepared.   The sage advice of: Tell me what you are going to tell me – tell me – then tell me what you told me and what I should do with this new information never fails.  This is the skeleton of every presentation.  Write a loose outline to the tell-tell-tell approach.  Practice the first two minutes of your presentation over and over and over.  The average adult attention span is 12-30 seconds, so you shouldn't be that petrified.   It's not new news that most folks would rather remove their own liver with a rusty spoon than stand up in front of an audience to speak, but in reality, every time you have a conversation with someone other than yourself, you are presenting.  You're doing it every day!  The podium isn't that different.  Just imagine you are having a conversation with your audience.  What would you say to them if you were speaking one-on-one?  You got invited to speak, so you already know these people want to hear what you have to say and show.  Prepare what you are going to say and present with intention.  You owe the audience that much.

2.  Do not let the PowerPoint speak for you.  A flashy PowerPoint presentation is no replacement for poor speaking skills.  And if you plan on standing up there and reading the entire presentation, just stay at home.  We don’t want to spend another 45 minutes of our life that we wont get back listening to you click through photos and tell us how the projector is skewing your otherwise perfect images.  

OK.  I hear you screaming loud and clear.  “I'm not a public speaker.  I'm a gardener!  I'm a hybridizer, you jerk, Im not an orator.”  That couldn't be further from the truth.  The moment you take that stage, or stand behind that podium, you ARE a public speaker and the audience expects you to take that seriously.  We can smell a “PowerPoint Crutch” a mile away and it reeks.

3.  Take every point you are making in your presentation and ask “So What?”  If you cant answer that question than your audience wont care much either, and your credibility shrinks with every word that fumbles out of your sweat-filled face.  Make the presentation relevant to your audience – not to YOU.  Don’t tell us a joke that doesn't directly relate to the topic at hand.  Don’t tell a story laden with inappropriate humor just to “break the ice.”  If what you are saying doesn't have a good answer to “So What?” then we don’t really need to hear it.  Speak to the interests of your audience, not your own ego.   Your presentation has to have a message.  A theme.  A point.  (I explored that point in a previous post HERE.)

4.  Don’t let technology ruin an otherwise pleasant experience.    The 20 minutes before your presentation should not be spent pounding the keyboard, shuffling papers, realizing you have brought the wrong presentation, fumbling with an incompatible storage device or trying to connect the projector to a laptop that doesn't know what HDMI means.  Even 30 seconds of down time due to technology can derail the mood.  KNOW THE TECHNOLOGY, OR KNOW SOMEONE WHO DOES.  Do not spend the 20 minutes before your presentation fumbling with technology.  Plan ahead.  And plan ahead for mishaps- they occur (a lot.)  A wise person once told me to be in the room 60 minutes before I am scheduled to speak.  Spend the first 20 minutes setting up and then spend the next 40 minutes getting to know your audience.  

In summary, if you are not working on continuously improving your delivery and style between engagements, your effectiveness will not change and your sales will not improve.  Further, if you do not think that working on your presentation skills is critical, keep your fingers crossed that your fellow hybridizers (and competitors for our shrinking discretionary income) share the same lax attitude.

Giving your audience a spectacular experience means you will hold YOURSELF accountable for the success or failure of your presentation.  Not the audience, not the time limit, not the technology- YOU.  

With preparation, practice and a plan for pleasing the audience- success will come easier than you think.

Daylilies shown in this post - top photo is H. 'Water Dragon', second is a scene from Fran Houghtlen's Ohio garden and last photo is H. 'Reagan Kate.'



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