Public Speaking Skills: After Dinner Speaking

I just finished working with a client who had to prepare and deliver an after dinner talk to clients in a museum. Her firm planned to take the clients on a private tour of the museum, feed them dinner, and then she was to stand up and offer them a short talk on investment opportunities in the current turbulent markets.

We spent a few hours crafting the talk, and another couple of hours getting her to verbalize it. At the end of the rehearsal, it was still not right, but she had to go. It was Friday afternoon–the weekend called.

As we parted, I made a few suggestions.

  1. Cut it. Your audience is primarily in their 60s and beyond. They will have been on their feet, drunk a few glasses of wine, and will be looking at their watches thinking of bed.
  2. Say it aloud at least five times over the weekend (she was to speak on Monday night).
  3. Don’t drink any wine until you’ve spoken.
  4. Go to the museum tonight, or over the weekend, to see the room where the dinner will take place. Find out where you will stand, what the acoustics are like, and whether you need a microphone or a lectern.
  5. Wear something red.
  6. Keep it simple, upbeat, and story-like. Don’t drill down into an analysis of the investments.

A few days after the event, I called her. “How did you do?” I asked.

“I give myself a 7 out of 10,” she said.

“How come?” I asked.

“Well, it was too long, they couldn’t hear me, the room was horrible, I didn’t go to see the room over the weekend, I had to cut it on the fly, which made me nervous and look discombobulated.”

“Great!” I said. “Now you know. After dinner speaking is intense. It is intimate. Your audience is on top of you. The rooms are often not good for speakers. There’s noise in the room. The audience is tired and drunk. They want to be entertained–period. They want funny stories and they want them short.”

“It was intense,” she said.

“You’ve had an experience,” I said. And I quoted Mark Twain: “Good judgment comes from experience. And where does experience come from? Bad judgment!”

I told her not to be discouraged. Most people fail their way to success.

She said she was not discouraged, and looked forward to trying again.

She’s a trooper.



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