From her 20-plus years as an agent and business coach for speakers (including celebrities, athletes, and authors), Jane Atkinson has a pretty solid idea of what makes a speech compelling — and it encompasses everything from room design to content and delivery.
When I interviewed Atkinson for our November cover story on speaker trends, her insights ranged from how TED Talks have influenced the speaking world (“I think that we’re all craving less of speakers, and if you can’t make your point in 15 minutes, then you might have some work to do”) to why some speakers charge $20,000 and up for a keynote (“It’s supply and demand. [Speakers] have to have the content to support that fee, but by raising their fees, they maybe curb the enthusiasm around them so they can have a more balanced schedule”).
Not surprisingly, Atkinson had some ideas about how meeting organizers can get the most from speakers:
1. Look for speakers who don’t necessarily make it all about themselves.
“This is something that [former client] Joe Calloway is so good at — making your audience the heroes of your stories. By doing your homework, and doing your research, and having the people from the audience participate in your stories with you, that’s really cool. Not a lot of people do it, but the ones that do it, do it well.”
2. Involve speakers early and often.
“Have [speakers] involved from the get-go, so they can see the vision of the meeting and understand their role in it better. Some [planners] just bring them in at the 11th hour. If they’re really clear on what the goal is, and if they know what problem they want to solve, that speaker may be able to help them solve that problem or fill that role for them during their conference. Getting the speakers involved early on, and having them involved in the process, will really be helpful for everybody.”
3. Don’t hide your speakers behind pillars.
“Always be thinking about [a speech] from an energetic perspective. How is the energy going to flow in the room from the speaker to the audience? I’ve seen the most horrendous situations where there’s a long panel of tables up on the stage, or [planners] paid $25,000 for a speaker and then they put them in a room full of pillars. That’s no good for anybody. The audience actually gets angry about that type of situation. Really, speakers are there to have a conversation. Try to have [speakers] involved in the process to help make sure that the room is perfect so they’ll do the best job possible.”
4, Encourage dialogues — they can make the most memorable presentations.
“The idea that a speech doesn’t need to be a speech anymore has merits — there’s now a lot of interaction between the audience and the speaker, and [the audience] is able to respond immediately. Engagement has become the thing, and has been the thing for a long time, and I think it will continue. We’re going to see more and more ways to engage using technology. And the idea of one person interviewing another person on stage, to me, can be incredibly enlightening. I’ve seen it done very, very well.”