Monday, May 18, 2015

7 Things that Make a Good Speaker Great

Photo: breezanemom via Morguefile
I spent my weekend in Pittsburgh at my favorite writing conference. It was a great mix of speakers, socializing, and even a little writing when I could sneak away to my hotel room for a few minutes.

I never leave this conference without ideas. Some, I came in search of, and others I stumbled upon. A wide variety of speakers and topics ensures that there's bound to be something for everybody, even if sometimes two workshops I want to attend are offered at the same time.

Regardless of the topic of the conference, however, there are common threads among good speakers. Here, in no particular order, are seven criteria that separate a good speaker from a great one.

Photo: jppi via Morguefile
  • She can adjust her topic to suit her audience. I was impressed by the speaker who asked a few clarifying questions before she began so that she could adjust the coverage of her material to suit the audience. It was clear from the outset we weren't going to get a canned presentation.
  • She can speak extemporaneously and not just from notes. This same speaker could speak off-the-cuff, speak from her notes and field questions with the same level of agility. Though she had a sheaf of papers, she referenced them only occasionally when she wanted to move into a new topic. The rest of the time, she maintained eye contact with the audience, moving easily in and out of the presentation to field questions. 
  • He has visuals. When you spend three (or more) days moving from room to room, sitting in uncomfortable chairs and soaking in copious amounts of information, reference materials that allow you to soak in the presentation rather than worrying about getting every little detail into your notes are greatly appreciated. And handouts or links that give you access to the information after you leave the room? Priceless.
  • He is lively. A speaker who presents with enthusiasm generates enthusiasm, along with a wealth of new ideas. It's true: enthusiasm is contagious. 
  • She tells personal stories that complement the topic of the presentation. Many speakers tell personal stories. The good ones know when to stop talking about themselves and connect the story to the topic you came to hear about, because when it's done well, a connection between the personal and the technical will cement the information in the listener's mind.
  • She is a master of technology. Nothing slows a presentation down like technical difficulties. These are particularly difficult to manage when there's no tech support available. I'm always impressed by speakers (and there were several) who can seamlessly add bells and whistles beyond the basic PowerPoint, capturing attention, and even inspiring laughter.
  • He encourages audience participation...but knows where to draw the line. While it's true that people don't attend workshops to listen to the audience, sometimes good ideas and welcome comments arise. Confident speakers make those who participate feel glad they did, and the really good ones know how to avoid getting sidetracked in the process. 
It was another great conference, thanks not only to the speakers who demonstrated these skills, but also  to the hotel staff who welcomed us, and most of all, the writers who tirelessly planned and executed the conference, making sure to leave time for socializing and personal recharging. 

367 days until the next one.


  1. It was a great conference. Very good breakdown of what makes a good speaker. I enjoyed every workshop I went to and took something away from each one.

  2. Thanks, Susan! Sorry we didn't connect while there!

  3. Great points, Lisa. You really captured the essence of a great speaker.

  4. Thanks, Carol! We had lots of them last weekend. It was easy to get inspired. :-) Thanks for all your hard work, putting together a great conference!