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 multimedia marketing efforts, to name a few.
I spoke with Kennedy 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.
Her experiment: 29 presentations in 30 days
Kennedy 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. she 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,” Kennedy said. “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, Kennedy 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.
She admits that 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 Kennedy’s immersive speaking experience was intended to promote her book and her business, in the process she also improved her presentation skills and 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. Kennedy’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. Kennedy’s advice: don’t let that throw you! Before her 30-day experience, she was a seasoned group facilitator but didn’t have as much experience as a speaker. In her first couple of presentations, the room had a deadpan feel, and people seemed reluctant to participate and express themselves.
“At first I thought I must be terrible!” Kennedy said. “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 and 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,” Kennedy said. “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 Kennedy’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!
Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at ProfessionallySpeaking.net and ProfessionallySpeakingBlog.com.
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