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Do you know how you’re coming across to your audience?

In the business of professional speaking, or any type of presentation given in a business oriented audience, you don’t just have one boss to please. You have hundreds. You have to please the meeting planner, the decision makers in the company who brought you in, the agent if one is involved, and the majority of that audience. I say majority because, well let’s face it, you’ll never please everybody. There will always be that one person in the audience who has a complaint. Today we’re not focusing on the one – we’re focusing on the majority. That’s a LOT of bosses.

It’s not just about pleasing them. It’s more than that. Other reputations are at stake. When you do well, you make them look good. When you don’t, they have to stay and face it while you waltz out the door.

Many clients, meeting planners, and bureau reps have shared with me the horror stories of things speakers did on stage and how they will never book that speaker again. In all the complaints I’ve heard over the years, four issues presented themselves over and and over. Today I’m not talking about showing up late, acting like a diva, not turning in your PowerPoint presentation in time, or not responding to your emails. Today I’m just talking about the presentation itself.

Your Presentation Started As Soon As They Called You

If you’re a professional, you should always be a professional. When you’re eating dinner with them the night before, you are at a client meeting. When you’re in the hallway of the hotel after you speak, you are still “at the office.” When the client is paying you to be part of their meeting, you are a hired contractor. Be aware that reputations are sometimes killed before you step on stage. So the four mistakes below matter everywhere.

Reframe It

If I just tell you that should not do these four things, then most of you won’t listen or care. You’ll be too busy trying to defend your position. Therefore, let me begin with a different way of framing the presentation.

Professional Speakers are hired to be part of a business event. At professional business events, there is an understood professional manner of behavior for all of those attending. This applies to you too. Many of the companies you are speaking to have clear conduct policies in their organizations. You are not the exception. In every decision you make on stage, take a moment to imagine if the CEO of the company would say that at work. If she wouldn’t say that in an executive board meeting, neither should you. If he wouldn’t be talking with his employees about that topic at a business awards dinner, neither should you.

Don’t Curse

I’ll start with this one because some don’t agree with me on this. But let’s go back to the CEO example. Would the CEO of his company stand up at an awards dinner and drop the F-bomb? Would a manager hold a sales meeting and curse the whole way through it? Do commercials have foul language? Do business publications? If your doctor came in and gave you your test results with a string of profanities?

No. Of course not. Why? Because it’s not professional.

If you’re famous for dropping the F-bomb and the clients know it, and they are booking you because they are impressed that you didn’t bother to clean up your language – then that’s different. But most of you who think you are famous, aren’t. And your clients are telling a different story behind your back.

Every bureau showcase I have done, includes STRICT instructions not to say any word that could remotely be considered offensive. That tells me that they can’t run the risk of one buyer in that audience being offended.

So why should you?

Don’t Talk About Your Sex Life

Now more than ever there are very strict rules about what is acceptable conduct in a business or public setting when it comes to touching and language. If we are going to hold men to a high ethical standard of conduct, then women need to do the same.

Women: To determine whether your subject matter is appropriate (even if you’re being funny) ask yourself, “What would you do if a man said it?” If a man can’t get away with making comments about body parts, sleeping with his wife or girlfriend, or making sexual references to/about females – then neither should you.

Men: Same rules apply.

Again, the CEO test works here too. Is it appropriate behavior for the CEO of the company to walk into a meeting a bunch of new investors and start by talking about his latest romp? No.

Don’t bring up politics.

Don’t assume they are on your side. Unless you are hired because everybody wants to know what you think about the current people in charge, don’t go there.

Don’t preach.

Religion is still a touchy subject. Teachers aren’t allowed to bring it up in the classroom. Employees aren’t allowed to ask their customers if they believe in God. Again – this is a work setting. This is a professional business setting. You are required to conduct yourself the same as everybody else.

At the end of the day, this is really not about you having the freedom to say the things you want to say. This about you being invited into someone else’s business setting and expected to act in accordance with everybody else. But even more than that, this is about offending an audience. Everybody knows that these topics are hot buttons and you run a high risk of offending more than one person. So why do it?

Isn’t the goal to make as many friends and influence as many people as you can in a positive way? If you turn them off, your work is over.

Still not convinced? Then at least let the client know what’s coming. Just because you curse in your blogs, doesn’t mean they know you will do it on stage. It’s your job to make them look good. Make them look bad, and word will get out.

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