I arrived early for the first session of the conference. I didn’t want to miss a word of the fascinating and potentially provocative panel discussion they’d scheduled to kick things off. But before the panel began, the organizers introduced and thanked the conference sponsors. Fabulous! The sponsors’ contributions made the conference possible, so I was happy to give them my attention and my applause.
Until they started speaking. And they all gave the same speech.
Three of them—back to back to back.
Not fascinating. And certainly not provocative. Boring for the audience and—how could it not be?—embarrassing for the speakers.
How not to give the same speech as everyone else
When you’re asked to speak at an event, find out how you fit into the program. If you’re in a lineup of sponsors like that, recognize that you’re all there for the same basic reason—to support the organization and its goals. But you don’t have to give the same speech. In fact, please please please don’t. Please?
I mean, mention your company’s support if you feel you must. But we get it: they made a big donation. So did the other companies whose reps are speaking before and after you.
So how can you make your speech different?
Tell a story. A story about how your company supports the kinds of people in the audience. Show is always more powerful than tell.
Talk about how the conference’s goals intersect with your own life. You can bet the guy from Universal Widgets & Pizza won’t be saying the same thing right after you.
To be fair, the last of the three sponsors did tell a story. In fact, his story woke me from my torpor and reminded me that this was the first unique thing I’d heard all morning. I started taking notes.
While the previous two speakers had started by blathering on about how their companies love the conference organizers and issues, Guy #3 started out by talking to us—his audience. No, it’s not a mind-blowing revolution in speechifying, but the previous speakers didn’t manage to do it.
He focused on what we could get out of the experience of being at the conference. He told stories about his personal journey with some of the issues we address. He connected with us on a human level. And then he launched into the usual blather, which—except for his company’s name—was practically indistinguishable from what the other sponsors had said.
Moral of the story
Even when you’re speaking as a representative from your organization, be more than a body holding a larger-than-life-size check. Be a person. Share your story with the audience and we will remember you. Yes, and your company’s sponsorship, too.