How to talk an audience to sleep ? A practical guide.

Looking for a speaker for your upcoming congress ? Seek no more ! A nice location, a warm welcome and decent coffee suffice to lure me into your den. In exchange, you will get a stimulating talk with a couple of fun pictures. Moreover, I always guarantee a lively interaction with the audience.

Almost any speaker will give you this sales pitch. Sadly, at many a congress you find yourself looking for the fire escape after 5 minutes. Most speakers did indeed get some sterling tips about public speaking, but they happily ignore these when their moment has come.
And can we blame them ? At last they have a lectern in front of them and a shining beamer behind them. Who wouldn’t grab the unique chance to take revenge on all those horrible speeches that were a total waste of time ?

You too might get this golden opportunity one day. Use your power ! Let the audience wilt with boredom. Here are 6 tips that will ensure their ennui.

1 ) The more time you spend on stage, the more important you will feel. If you have gotten 20 minutes for your talk, make sure to take up at least half an hour. And if your part starts late because all the other speakers have taken up more time than allocated, you have an extra reason to drag it out.

2) Start with presenting your organisation. If you work for a big company, you will find what you look for in the slide deck of the annual report. Be attentive to the least interesting details : where you are located (loads of tiny dots on a barely visible world map) ; how much profit you have made in the last 10 years (a very cloudy graph) ; what you produce or offer and what the core values of your company are. Beware, this last point can require some extra research.

3) Certain evil tongues say that Powerpoint is to blame. Or Keynote, if you insist on using an Apple computer. No matter the software package of your choice, you can put technology to your advantage in order to waste your and other people’s time. You can fill up the pages with tons of text (make sure to pick out a small and fine lettertype), you can copy tables out of Excel ( the excitement of numbers), Clipart is a standard component and with a Dilbert Cartoon you know you have the humor part covered. As an extra bonus, you can make use of ghastly color combinations, especially the ones with minimal contrast. This obliges you to turn of all the lights, which is a perfect strategy to encourage the after-lunch nap if you time it right. Still not satisfied ? Don’t hold back on gratuitous animation or go all the way and induce seasickness with Prezi.

4) None other than YOU are on stage. This fact alone makes you a certified expert. Flaunt your know-how by loading your talk with complicated technical details. It is key to elaborate extensively right from the start to ensure a glazed-over look in the eyes of your audience. The perfect closing for any topic is “ I will get back to that later “, except you mustn’t come back to any of it. Never question what would be of interest to your audience. This is YOUR moment to shine so don’t feel ashamed to enjoy it to the fullest.

5) How do you talk people to sleep ? Beginners simply read their slides. If you are more experienced, you can turn your back to the audience and gaze lovingly at your slides. Needless to say, your voice should be monotone but I’d like to suggest staring to an unidentified point in the distance as an additional quality.

6) How to answer questions of the audience ? There are two options. 1) At the beginning of your talk, you announce that questions will be answered at the end. Proceed to go way over the allocated time slot. With some luck, the Q&A time will be scrapped. 2) Allow people to ask questions throughout your speech. After each question you proclaim : “Thank you for this very interesting question. I will talk about this in just a moment and I will answer at that time’. Instantaneously, you forget a question was ever asked.

In the unlikely event that you do prefer people to actually remember your presentation, you need just one tip : imagine that the audience is a group of your friends. The rest simply follows. And I’ll be happy to come and listen.

photo : © Bettmann/Corbis


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