Customer service is critical. And rule #1 is this: never violate your customer’s expectations. You can surpass them – do better than expected. That is a good thing. But never violate them! That is a bad thing. You can count on this: when you violate your customer’s expectations , your customer will not be happy.
For a speaker/presenter, your customers are the people in your audience. And when they show up, they have some very definite expectations. If you meet them, or surpass them, they will be happy, But if you fail to meet them, they will be unhappy. And if you violate them, you’ve really crossed the line.
And you know how customers are – they never forget.
What follows does not replace the basics: prepare well, and speak well. (You might want to read or re-read this blog post: 2 Ways to Guarantee a Failed Presentation). But these will add to your understanding and arsenal, and give you a few more hints on your road to success as a speaker/presenter.
Let’s call these the communication expectations.
Expectation #1: The understandability expectation.
All communication starts here. Can your audience understand your words? Do you pronounce them clearly, and do you speak them loudly enough to be heard easily? Whatever else you do, if your words are not heard and understood, you have absolutely violated your audience’s expectations.
This expectation has two parts: the “volume” expectation and the “enunciation/pronunciation” expectation. Are you loud enough? Do you pronounce each word clearly enough? Get these two right, and the audience will be much happier.
Expectation #2: The time expectation.
I call this the first question any speaker should ask.
“How long do you want me to speak?”
It has a follow-up question: just before you begin, ask the person in charge,
“when do you want me to finish?”
And here is the answer. If you are asked to speak 30 minutes, speak 29 ½ minutes – just under the requested time. Your audience will love you. If you speak 15 minutes for a 30 minute assignment, your audience feels cheated. If you speak speak 32 minutes, your audience begins to get just a little antsy. And if you speak 45 minutes, you have definitely violated their expectations, and you’d best look for a side door to slip out of.
Now, of course, there is nothing right or wrong about a 30 vs. a 45 minute presentation. What matters is the expectations of the audience and the event organizers. So – never violate the time expectation.
Expectation #3: The respect expectation.
Every audience needs to be respected. And they need to feel respected. Disrespect your audience, and you definitely violate your audience’s expectations.
This has many elements; prepare well (an uprepared speaker is definitely disrespectful of the audience), connect with your audience in ways that matters to the specific audience. The list is endless, and the only real test is the “after” test – did your audience feel like you respected them?
But here are two aspects to always keep in mind: the “word choice” expectation and the “appearance” expectation.
Regarding “word choice,” never use offensive language. Ever. Watch your words, watch your jokes… And be on guard against any offense regarding any issue that rightly offends people such as gender issues or racial issues. Never be inappropriate — always be respectful.
Regarding appearance, always dress a little “up.” Yes, if your name is Steve Jobs, you can wear jeans and a t-shirt. And this is a very casual age. But it is always easier to take a tie off than wish you had one on. (My apology – I do not know the equivalent illustration for female attire). But here is the principle: to deliver a presentation, dress like you respected your audience enough to look presentable.
Expectation #4: The energy/passion expectation.
Are you excited about your material and this opportunity to share it? Then act like it; come across like you are excited. Ok, maybe “excited” is not the best word. But avoid lifeless delivery. Be sure you are described as interesting, engaging, passionate about your subject.
The speaker has to keep the energy level high in a room. Sometimes, (maybe after a “boring” business meeting or lifeless introduction) the speaker has to raise the energy level of a room. But the speaker should never, ever lower the energy level of a room. Your audience expects you to have energy and passion. So, be energetic, be passionate. And… never be boring!
If you meet these audience expectations, you have a chance to walk away with a satisfied, happy audience. And that is a good thing.
Cheryl offers: I began to wonder as each Olympic athlete stepped to the podium to be awarded their medal if they were using just a few bouquets of flowers and passing them around between events. They all looked the same! As it turns out, my friend in Canada, Lyn Kyneston, solved the mystery for me. Each bouquet of green spider mums with hypericum berries surrounded by leather-leaf fern, monkey grass, and aspidistra leaves, was made by Just Beginning Flowers in Surrey, B.C. This florist is much more than a florist; they are also a non-profit that teaches people with significant social barriers to be florists, provides them with experience, and then helps them find jobs. The many women who worked on these 1800 bouquets might be recently released from prison, formerly abused or recovering drug addicts. It made me remember what Marcus Buckingham wrote in his book, First Break All the Rules, which in many ways, this florist is doing. He said “Every role performed at excellence deserves respect. Every role has its own nobility.” High five to the Olympic committee that chose this extraordinary florist and bestowed not only medals to athletes, but also bestowed opportunity, confidence, and respect to these women in need.
Sara says: Cheryl and I teach graduate students and we’ve discovered that many don’t write well. It’s a rampant problem and when we mention it, some students get a real “deer in the headlights” look. They don’t have a clue where to start. Now, this isn’t going to be a rant about today’s youth not being able to write. It’s about a leader’s responsibility to good communications. The quizzical look from our students, whether it means “I don’t know what you are talking about” or “I don’t know what to do about it” is not a sufficient response. A leader’s job – right up there with delivering results to the shareholder’s – is communicating. Leaders must always be on the lookout for 1) the most effective ways to communicate and 2) the number of ways they can deliver the message.
Lou Gerstner who wrote about the turnaround of IBM, wrote in his book, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?, “Personal leadership is about communication, openness, and willingness to speak often and honestly, and with respect for the intelligence of the reader or listener.” I heard Gerstner tell an audience of IBM executives that, “you cannot over communicate. You are responsible to communicate your vision in every memo, every conference call, every interview.” If change in a company fails, look first to the leader and their ability (and tenacity) in articulating the change.
Cheryl offers: Our friend and ally blogger, Bob Morse, posted this question only a few days earlier in June: Q #184: Has the ability to write well become obsolete? Bob’s answer was “No, and I am convinced it never will.” I agree with Bob and Sara. The responsibility to teach, practice, and role model good communications reside with leadership; be it the school system or in corporations. “Have you ever thought about the fact that the great philosopher Socrates had a student named Plato, and that Plato had a student named Aristotle?” This comes from the book, “If Aristotle Ran General Motors” by Tom Morris. Morris goes on to say, “Given the right context of intimate and sustained association, greatness gives rise to greatness.” If that doesn’t inspire a teacher or leader to invest the time to teach their students/employees the value of clear, concise, and grammatically correct communication, I’m not sure it can be done!