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Chapter 4: How to Be a Luncheon Speaker


In Chapter 6, we discuss the business lunch as it can work one-on-one. What about when you are invited to address a business or professional luncheon group? Asked to share your words of wisdom? Give a lift to the group? Can you speak on the subject of your expertise and send them back to work motivated?

Being asked to be a luncheon speaker is quite a compliment! Do it well and you are a hero. Do it poorly and you’re like most luncheon food . . . soon to be forgotten.

First, Master the Obvious

For some reason the setting is never right, so your first concern is figuring out where to stand. It’s not like a more formal meeting where the audience sits in one place and the rostrum or podium is set up so that the speaker is the center of attention. Sometimes ten or twenty people on the dais flank the speaker on both sides—which means you’re trapped behind the lectern. At other times, the configuration of tables makes it difficult to find a central place to stand so that you are in command of the entire audience and room.

One good strategy is to let your host know in advance that you will be using slides or a PowerPoint presentation with a projector. That will force the room to have a focal point. That’s where you will stand in order to use your visuals. And if you should decide you won’t use visuals, don’t tell anyone until the room has already been set up. Then you’ll still have the spot you need.

If there are more than a hundred people, make sure you have a platform at least three feet high. You can’t be at ground level with that big a crowd. They need to be able to see you for most of the talk. If you are one who likes to mingle with the masses, walking through the group as you talk, you can do so, but the opening and closing should always be delivered from a platform, where you are the center of attention.

What Kind of Microphone?

There is only one answer—a lavaliere mike. Don’t accept the claim that they don’t have one. Don’t accept the statement that they only have corded lavaliere mikes. Don’t accept a handheld mike. Tell them that you MUST have a cordless.

You might argue with me on the handheld. You might be one of those people who simply must have something to hold. OK, your choice. But it’s a crutch, and it limits your impact. Handhelds also have their perils: Novice speakers sometimes forget to hold directional mikes up to their mouths and, whoops, there goes the volume.

Or perhaps you are thinking, “I don’t care about impact, I’m thinking about survival. I would rather speak into the stationary mike while standing behind a lectern and feel I’m being protected by something. I don’t want to walk anywhere or go anyplace. It’s bad enough to be giving this talk in the first place. Please don’t make it any worse.”

OK. You win. Survival is more important than impact. Use the lectern mike if your confidence level needs a bit more support, but promise yourself you’ll work up to using a lavaliere mike next time.

Should I Use Visuals?

Visuals help get and hold attention. They help register points. We are guided by that physical rule that 85 percent of all information stored in the brain gets there through the eye. Visuals make what we say more memorable.

And, just as visuals serve as notes for the audience, they also serve as notes for the speaker. You don’t have to have a written script or handheld notes if you can read them off the PowerPoint slides on the screen. You should use visuals whenever possible.

Lights On or Off?

As soon as we show up with a projector, the audiovisual aide will want to turn the lights way down. Your job is to tell him or her, “I want the lights as bright as possible even if they have to squint to see the visuals.”

It’s important to say, “bright as possible.” The one thing you don’t want is darkness at noon. You don’t want to be a shadow of yourself up there. If there is a choice between you being seen or the visuals being seen, you win, hands down.

Remember that you are not showing Rembrandt’s paintings. You are showing graphs and bullet points and, hopefully, illustrations. They should be idea visuals, not artistic works. They don’t deserve center stage. You do. The most important visual you will have working to make you successful is you. Don’t compromise with the audiovisual people or let them intimidate you. You are the speaker, a featured attraction at this luncheon—the main event. You decide how bright the lights are. And the brighter the better.

How Long Do I Talk?

Brevity can be blessed. Length can be deadly. Twenty minutes is good. If they beg you to go thirty, give in gracefully. But longer than that, don’t do it. Maybe at a seminar you could do it—but lunch is the wrong setting.

I recently conducted a training session for an investment banking house. We were working with sixty top producers. At noon we broke for lunch. At 12:45 the president was scheduled to speak for twenty minutes. He spoke (sitting down, no less) for one hour. It seemed interminable, even if it was the president. Then he asked for questions. Believe me, the sixty listeners had had enough (later on they were quite candid in telling us so), but if the president wanted questions, they were smart enough to supply them. The Q&A lasted another forty-five minutes.

That noontime break, which was supposed to be forty minutes for lunch and twenty minutes for the president, turned into two hours and forty-five minutes. But much more important, the sixty producers thought it was much too long and wasted a lot of time. So don’t think that the audience is enthralled if your speech goes long. No matter who you are, or what your credentials, long is bad. The news media once criticized President Clinton when he addressed Congress for an hour and twenty minutes. Too long!

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