When a speaker stands on a stage – virtual or live, to present to an audience, there is an inherent contract.
Outside the standard speaker contract with the event producers, there is an implied contract between the audience and the speaker. Maybe not an ‘implied contract” by the letter of the law, although someone more knowledgeable in law might help here.
The title is part of the contract.
The content is part of the contract.
Your delivery is part of the contract.
All your material is part of the contract.
Each of these parts of the contract are a promise you, the speaker, makes to the audience. What is most important is that you fulfill those promises. Some of these are easier to explain than others.
This promise is that you will present a session that matches the title. I saw a speaker once present a topic about the fear of speaking, and spent the first 20 minutes talking about brain transplants. If the audience was not captive, the promise was not met, and people would have left or shut down. Had the speaker told the audience that they were going to present a short topic to demonstrate parts of the actual topic, the promise would have been met.
This promise is that your content will be related to the topic and the purpose. A friend calls me Mr. Sidebar, because I like to tell stories (that he says are unrelated). While this works for Billy Connolly – who is the world’s best comedian – his promise is comedy through storytelling, and sidebars are part of that experience. When you present a topic on Leadership and you sidebar a personal story about your pet that is not about leadership, that is breaking your promise.
Speaking, as you may know, is about stepping into a character that is appropriate for this purpose, this topic, this audience, at this time. That will require you to present your material with two key points in mind.
1. Your audience. For most speakers, audiences range widely. Corporate audiences expect a more formal approach. Associations may enjoy a balance of play and formality, education and entertainment. And some audiences may expect your session to be purely entertainment.
2. Your character. After your audience, consideration must be given to your own personality, your own character, your own delivery method. If you are a playful speaker, and you tone it down to boring, the audience will not receive the best you can give them. If you are a dynamic speaker and you offer unexciting, your audience will not be satisified.
One of the polishes we need to make as a speaker is to find the right mix of delivery to ensure your audience is considered while not compromising your personal style. If your delivery is inappropriate compared to the audience expectations, you are breaking your promise.
While your message is key to your presentation, all of your material must deliver on the promise you have promoted and the audience expects. Your slides, your handout, your giveaways, your social media, your websites – these all combine to build your platform. They define who you are and what to expect.
A speaker friend of mine once said “one stinking slide means your entire deck is stinking”. It is the same with all your material. It should be at the highest level of excellence to represent who you are and your message, and it should be consistent. Including one stinking anything breaks your promise to the audience.
At this point, there is only one thing to say: Keep your promises!