Monday, June 11, 2018

Going Where There Are No Podiums

Not too long ago I wrote a post about Getting Out From Behind the Podium when giving a talk at my association's Annual Conference. For the first time in a decade, as I describe in that post, I got out from behind the podium and walked the stage while delivering my speech, like many of the professional speakers that we hire do.

Last week I had another speaking opportunity. This time one of my members had invited me to come and speak at his company's sales conference. They wanted to hear my take on our industry and the various markets we serve. Where are we now? Where are we going? What trends are impacting our industry and where are the opportunities for growth and success?

It is something I am always happy to do. Constructing such a presentation helps me think through these important issues (something I should be probably be doing more regularly anyway). But, more importantly, it gets me out of my office and into the environment of my members. It is, without fail, always a very positive experience for me.

But this time, oddly, it seems like I had failed to learn anything from my experience at my Annual Conference. As I often do, I wrote a very detailed script for my presentation. There are things I absolutely want to make sure I say and I've learned the best way to ensure that I say them is to write them out.

I did the same thing at the Annual Conference, but there I had the right technology at my disposal. What got me out from behind the podium was not the lack of a detailed script, but my ability to put the script not in a ring binder on the podium, but on the confidence monitor that was propped up, facing the speaker, at the foot of the stage.

There was no such confidence monitor at my member's sales conference. Or, at least, I didn't expect that there would be. Truth be told, I asked very little about the format, arrangements, and technologies of the conference. There would be a projector, I was told. If I wanted to bring some slides, they would have the ability to project them.

Not knowing what else to expect, I reverted to my old habits. I wrote out my script. I put it in the Notes section of my Powerpoint in case they had me standing behind a podium. I could then use Presenter View and, if not get out from behind their podium, at least have my detailed notes in front of me. And, in case there was no podium, I also printed out the script in big enough type to read at an arm's distance, folded the twenty or so pages in half and tucked them in the inside pocket of my sport coat.

When I arrived on-site at the conference, I realized I should have asked more questions in advance. The audience of the sales conference was no more than thirty people, and we were all in a large conference room in the company's corporate headquarters. There was no big conference table. If one had been there, it had been removed, and in its place were fifteen or so classroom tables, all oriented towards the front of the room. And at the front of the room? Nothing. A screen, sure, and a small table pushed up against the side wall where I could place my computer and connect it to the no more than three-foot cord coming out of the wall which would link me with the LCD projector hanging from the ceiling above. Other than that, there no nothing but a big, empty space for me and whatever speakers were to follow me to roam around in.

I realized there was no way I was going to be able to read my script in Presenter View and maintain any kind of connection with my audience. To do that, I'd be tucked off in the far corner with my laptop. So I decided to go with the printed copy in my pocket. As long as I only glanced at it from time to time to get my bearings, I figured I should still be able to watch for reactions and hands going up for questions.

And that's what I did. Except something even more unexpected happened. There were sections of the presentation where I really needed the script. It was new information to me, and I was less familiar with it. For those sections, I'll admit that my head was down and I was reading. To help lighten the mood, I joked that the attorneys had reviewed my remarks and were requiring me to stick closely to script during certain parts.

But other sections were very familiar to me. I had used the slides and the remarks that went with them many times before. Even if I didn't remember every word in the script, I knew intimately the essential points that needed to be made. And for those sections, throwing my last scrap of caution to the wind, I quite deliberately decided to abandon the script completely and go with my gut.

I kept my head up. I made eye contact. I paused for emphasis. I did everything I had done at my Annual Conference, but I was doing it without a script. My mind was obviously active, but more frequently, I was speaking from my heart.

It's a strange and sometimes frightening country, this place where there are no podiums and no scripts to place upon them. But sometimes, it seems, it is the best place to deliver information that connects with an audience.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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