Speaking at conference? Here’s how to stand out

I recently interviewed WATC’s conference organiser, Kayleigh Bateman about what goes on in the green room at women’s conferences. Whilst we know that there are many many inspiring female speakers out there (I happen to think women make the very best speakers when we’re in our power), there are still many things to learn.

Here are five challenges Kayleigh spots in speakers (men and women) – and my advice for female leaders preparing to rock it at conference:

  1. Impostor syndrome – ‘I don’t deserve to be here’

Kayleigh says – ‘I see even very senior ladies saying that they don’t deserve to be speaking at conference. As a conference organiser I can say definitely say that you do – we wouldn’t have invited you otherwise!’

My advice: Permission to shine on stage doesn’t get given to anybody. There are no qualifications to win that say ‘now I legitimately deserve to be here.’ We have to give ourselves permission. Seek to humbly offer what you have to share without questioning yourself too much. Someone who does this beautifully is Brene Brown in her TED Talk on vulnerability. It doesn’t need to be perfect.

See public speaking as an act of generosity – you’re giving the gift of your time and attention to a group of people in the hope that they’ll benefit.

  1. The tendency to judge yourself – ‘How am I going to follow her?’

Kayleigh says – ‘I see speakers listening to speakers succeeding and becoming less confident as a result. It’s really common to compare yourself to others and feel that you’re under pressure because the speaker before you was so good.

My advice: The best way to succeed in a conference speech is to be yourself. It honestly doesn’t matter how the person before you did. Bring your humour, share your stories, let your personality show. If you do this with confidence, the audience and you will enjoy the speech.

  1. Wheeling out the same info

Kayleigh says – ‘I go to a lot of conferences, so I hear the same stats time and again, especially in Tech conferences. What stands out is when someone does something bold or different. That makes me think “Great – we’ll need that speaker at future events”.’

My advice: Those of us who work in big companies are taught that conforming; fitting in; towing the company line, is critically important. Yet, when we stand up and speak we have to ditch these ideas. The audience don’t want a line-up of identical speakers who sound the same and say the same things. We want ideas and speakers that are different, controversial, spicy. We have enough data at our finger tips to last a lifetime. What we want are speakers who bring insight and analysis. Focus your preparation time on developing a unique approach or angle that will make you stand out.

  1. Trying to be someone else

Kayleigh says – ‘I see a lot of speakers copying each other in style – they’re one person on stage and another off-stage. Often it doesn’t feel authentic and it stops me relating to them.’

My advice: The best speakers (and leaders more generally) are authentic – that’s what makes us trust them. Traditionally speakers put up a shield of professionalism and jargon to distance themselves and make them seem credible. This is old news. What’s really effective these days is to show your personality, to talk about your struggles and to connect work related concepts to your broader passions. The best thing is that this is less effort than the old approach because you just have to be yourself.

  1. Over-thinking it

Kayleigh says – ‘A lot of speakers over-think what they’re going to say. They worry about seeming credible enough, or having something meaningful to say. The best speakers I see just stand up and do it.’

My advice: An important principle of personal development that is proposed by Hermania Ibarra is to act before thinking. If you’re going to stand out as a conference speaker, throw yourself into trying something different without over-thinking it. Could you use a personal story? Involve the audience? Bring a prop on stage? Show a movie clip? Those speakers who get playful and take risks create more spark and stand out versus their peers.

About Sarah Lloyd-Hughes

The UK’s leading leadership communications expert & best-selling author. Sarah Lloyd-Hughes is a multiple-award winning public speaking coach, founder of Ginger Training & Coaching and author of “How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking” (Pearson).

Sarah’s particular passion is helping senior female leaders to become visionary communicators, capable of rallying change. If you’re interested in this work, she invites you to get in touch via www.gingerpublicspeaking.com, or https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarahlloydhughes/



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