3 Mistakes Executive Speakers Make
and How to Avoid Them
"An apology is an excuse for something you could have done right,
if you cared enough to do it right in the beginning." - Don E. Smith
I recently attended a webinar hosted by a company introducing users to the newest version of their online survey tool. I was stoked, expecting to get a sharp, well focused insider's look at something that would make my life easier. A short time into the presentation, we were introduced to the CEO of the company who casually stated to his listeners, "We've never done one of these before, so bear with us."
Bad Executive Speaker! - Go to your room and stay there until you learn to behave better.
Utterly shameless! There is no other way to say it or sugar coat it. If you know you haven't taken the time to prepare and rehearse for a big presentation, all you've done is insulted your audience.
Unfortunately, in today's world, this is all too common. It's no longer a "big deal." Some people use this pretense to lower your expectation, so they don't have to rise to a standard the occasion demands. They think apologizing for not treating you with respect and professionalism makes it okay to underperformance while you pay the price.
The awful part is, this behavior (especially on the part of executive speakers) is pretty much everywhere. Even more shocking, people are settling for this behavior as an acceptable "new standard". We all suffer when one high standard falls to a lower one, and then the lower one to an even lower one, and on and on until we hit rock bottom in the end.
Imagine how that CEO would feel if his heart surgeon stepped into the operating room and announced, "This is the first time I've used this new piece of equipment, so bear with me if I hit some snags."
Imagine you're at your favorite restaurant. Suddenly the Chef erupts from the kitchen and announces to all of the patrons, "I got a new oven today and I haven't quite figured out how to work it. So, bear with us if your food is either undercooked or brunt." How would that make you feel?
The Role of an Executive Speaker
The role of an executive speaker is to use communication to create buy-in, instill certainty and establish trust with their audience. It is almost impossible to do this when you begin a presentation with uncertainty, apology and obfuscation.
The 3 Mistakes Executive Speakers Make
These are the three mistakes executive speakers most often make.
1. They make an excuse to lower your expectations in defense of their underperforming.
As in the case of our CEO earlier, many executive speakers don't put enough effort into the speaking process. They will say things like, "This is my first time doing this," or "Please excuse me if I seem nervous, because I am," or "I had a rough night last night, so excuse me if I seem fatigued (hung over, discombobulated, etc.).
2. They apologize for a failure on their part.
I once had an executive who did not take the time to pre-read a list of names on an honor roll. It ultimately revealed he had trouble sight reading names. In between each name he read he kept saying, "I'm sorry if I mispronounced your name." Sorry is no excuse for underperforming. "I'm sorry I ran over your dog, but I was texting my therapist at the time."
3. They think only of themselves and forget about their audience.
Any executive speaker who takes the "stage" without a clear path and plan for making their point and connecting it to their audience cannot be considered "audience-centric".
Being audience-centric means you are keenly aware your audience does not have the same level of understanding of your topic that you have. It means you respect their time, so you will get to your point as quickly as you can.
Being audience-centric means you are aware of your audience even when they are not in the room with you. Think of how many virtual presentations and meeting you attend.
Once, during a live webinar, a senior account executive I supported was speaking to 300 people live and 700 people online. The audio feed from the room was a speaker phone. When the webinar was turned over to him, he stayed where he was (on the side of the room) failing to move closer to the phone. So, while everyone in the room could hear what he was saying, those online could barely hear him at all.
Hardly the best way to create buy-in, instill certainty and establish trust with an audience.
How to Avoid Them
If you want to avoid making these mistakes when speaking, think like a Boy Scout and "Be Prepared".
Every one of these 3 mistakes that executive speakers make can easily be avoided with some dedicated attention and intention.
It has been long established that you only get one chance to make a first impression. First impressions are lasting impressions. A good one can take you a long way. A bad one can stop you dead in your tracks. Most speaking opportunities are one-off events. You either get it right for your audience or they don't get it at all.
Care enough to do it right in the beginning. Take the time to prepare. If you're lost in the process, seek out a coworker, a trusted advisor or a coach to help you get it right.
Remember, the audience is listening. They see you as the perceived authority. Don't destroy their trust with a lame excuse you offer for not taking the time to do it right.
Don’t be “care less” with your speaking opportunities.
Do it right and they will know you respect them. They will buy-in, become certain and trust what you say.
If this post has transformed your ideas about executive speaking, please share your comments below. I'm here to serve you, my reader, and your input is most appreciated.