Nearly all advice about public speaking addresses preparation and the talk itself. Which makes sense. But what should a speaker do afterwards, when the questions and answers are done and the applause has faded? I find this to be a very important phase, rich with opportunity.
(This is a followup to my earlier post about fine presentations. There will be more.)
In general, I like to continue my audience and event engagement after my presentation. For one thing, it’s polite, a way of returning the attention they’ve paid me. For another, I can learn more about the event, the population, how people respond to my work, and more about the topics. If you’re a professional speaker, following up is a good way to win new gigs, as well as to aim for a return engagement with that organization.
How to do this?
Change your focus immediately. After speaking to hundreds or thousands of people, you need to pay attention to individual humans. This takes a bit of mental adjustment, and it needs to be done right away. Be sure you give your attention to the first person who approaches you, zeroing in on them as you would during any respectful conversation.
This means taking some deep breaths and remembering not to project your voice now.
Watch the time. Most of your audience will have other places to be, so don’t make them wait. Ask them how much time they have, if they want to talk. If there’s a presenter coming up after you, get your gear packed up, including leftover handouts, and be ready to exit. Yes, this means multitasking while you engage with people. Make light of it, if you like.
Business cards. Take as many as you can. Jot down on their card important details, such as what the card-giver is interested in. Then reach out to each person by email when you return home.
Give out your own cards. I know this is counterintuitive for some people, but hang on. A growing number of people argue that business cards are an obsolete relic in the paperless, digital age, and there’s some truth to that. Yet there remains a substantial chunk of the population who rely on business cards, and who might not check you out on the web after the talk, or use their phone to capture your contact information. Additionally, an interesting business card can prod an audience member’s memory, reminding them of your work and the importance of following up with you. (Should we discuss how to make a fine business card?)
Social media (1). As soon as you can, review what people said about your talk on all likely venues. This means Twitter above all, but also Google+, the blogosphere, Facebook, and photos on Flickr and Instagram. Be sure to check for the event’s hashtag, if it has one. Check for any comments or other content aimed at your social media handle and your name.
In doing this you will learn more about how the audience perceived and reflected on your presentation. You can also build networking contacts. Be sure to respond to each social media notice if possible; this is a conversation, an extension of your Q+A.
Return to the organizers. Touch base with those who invited and organized your presentation. Thank them for their efforts – I like to draw attention to people who did exceptional work. Ask them for feedback on your talk – this will differ from what the audience says, most likely.
Then stick around as long as you can. Nobody likes speakers who parachute in then flee. Organizers and audiences appreciate speakers who go on to other sessions and events, participating and making themselves available. Check out programs that coincide with your topics. Make yourself visible during breaks, receptions, and other non-programmed social times. This is fine stuff for learning, networking, and building your reputation. It’s also a good way to win an offer for a repeat presentation from the same organization.
Social media (2). Post about your experience. There are many ways to do this. Tweet observations, for example. You don’t have to live-tweet your own talk (although it’s fun), but send updates before and after, using the event’s hashtag (if it has one). Blog about your talk, linking to other people’s reactions (see Social Media (1), above). Post photos you’ve taken – I’m fond of taking pictures of the audience just before or during my speeches. Upload your slides, if you use them (here’s my Slideshare spot).
If anyone records you in video or audio, find out if you can share it. If the results look good, link to and (if possible) embed them from your site(s). This can be very useful.
Assess how you did. As soon as you can review how the event worked. Go through your slides, if you have them, to check for any issues you ran into. Look over notes you took. Consider the social media response. Then revise your presentation and hone your skills.
Did people find you hard to hear? Practice projecting, and get a coach if needed. Was one of your slides redundant? Kill it. Did one of your jokes get especially rich laughter? Be sure to use that. And so on.
Then move on. You’re building on a rich speaking experience, making your presentations and presentation skills better each time.
What else should a great speaker do once the applause ends and the lights come up?