Author and business innovation expert Melissa Kennedy recently completed a feat that would make many shudder: she gave 29 business presentations in a period of 30 days. Whew! That’s a monumental challenge, but as you might guess, one that yielded phenomenal results.
Business leaders are often faced with similar scenarios, such as road shows, multiple sales meetings and/or product launches, investor pitches and multi-media marketing efforts, to name a few.
I spoke with Melissa about why she took on this challenge and what she learned, specifically looking for insights on how business leaders can further their goals and improve their presentation skills.
Melissa’s experiment: 29 presentations in 30 days
Melissa was looking to take on speaking opportunities to promote her new book, The Innovation Revolution, when she had a revelation. She noticed that people she knew were engaging in immersive experiences to achieve specific personal goals, such as exercising or changing eating habits. In doing so, they got help and encouragement from others. Melissa decided to try something extreme to get her network to rally and support her business goals. So, she spread the word that she intended to do 29 business presentations in 30 days.
“That created a sense of urgency,” said Melissa. “Everyone who had the authority to do so began booking speaking gigs, and those who didn’t made introductions to others that could.”
Before she knew it, Melissa had arranged presentations for companies in a variety of industries and professional organizations, with audiences ranging from dozens to hundreds. Presentation formats included lunch-and-learns, lightning talks, webinars and podcasts.
Melissa admits her experience over that 30 days was a little crazy! Yet it yielded important lessons and results in a very short period of time.
Lessons learned from the road warrior
While Melissa’s immersive speaking experience was intended to promote her book and her business, in the process she also upped her presentation skills as well as her confidence. Here are a few important lessons she shared from her 30-day adventure in speaking.
Adapt your content for different listeners and formats. Though your core message may remain the same, it’s essential to prepare different versions of your content for different audiences and presentation formats. Melissa’s message was about redefining innovation to overcome company challenges, so she researched the challenges each audience was facing and used those to explain her concepts. Also, she prepared both short and long-form presentation content, with and without visuals, to accommodate a variety of formats. For example, for a podcast she needed to make the same points without some of the interactive elements she used in her other talks, so she fed questions to the interviewer in advance to tee-up a conversation that achieved the same result.
Learn more: 9 Best Practices for Podcast Interviews
Understand audience expectations and behavior. One thing you’ll learn quickly when doing a bunch of presentations to varying audiences is that people can have wildly different expectations of you and ways of responding to you as a speaker. Melissa’s advice: don’t let that throw you! Before her 30-day experience, Melissa was a seasoned group facilitator but didn’t have as much experience as a speaker. In her first couple of presentations, the room was deadpan and people seemed reluctant to participate and express themselves. “At first I thought I must be terrible!” Melissa shared. “But then I got all these very positive reviews after the event. I realized those particular audiences were expecting a monologue instead of a dialogue. I hate speeches like that and I wanted to be the anti-presenter. But they weren’t used to that and didn’t know how to respond.”
Test content & techniques. Doing many presentations in a short period of time provides a unique opportunity to test and hone your content as well as your delivery. You can try different titles, vary the words used to describe your key concepts, or even introduce new techniques for getting your message across.
Logistics planning. There are lots of logistical details you can perfect during an immersive speaking experience, such as how to set up quickly and even what to wear. “Doing so many presentations in a short time allows you to compare options on an immediate and visceral level,” said Melissa. “For example, after sweating through several presentations I realized it’s better for me not to wear dark clothes, and I prefer skirts to pants.”
Read more: Beyond the Presentation: Things We Don’t Think About
Considering Melissa’s experience and lessons learned may help you reframe those speaking opportunities you have ahead, giving you a new perspective on how to address varying audiences and achieve the results you desire!