I am currently working with a highly experienced finance executive finding themselves facing the daunting task of speaking to an external audience comprising people who really know what they are talking about. This individual has been asked to speak because her company is high profile but the subject matter is not finance. So what to do?
The first thing is to acknowledge the expertise of those in the audience who know more than you. A great way to start any presentation is with a question. In this case, “What on earth can I tell you about the subject which I know you are already an expert in?” is a good place to start. And then resist the temptation to try to look an expert yourself. Rather, talk about your particular story and that of your company in relation to the subject area. The emphasis should be on storytelling. Steer clear of broad conceptualisations, sweeping generalisations. Give plenty of examples and remember audiences will love to hear about mistakes as well as successes and in particular how you have learned from your mistakes.
Don’t try to “boil the ocean.” You cannot possibly tell the War and Peace on your subject so limit the aim. Much better to pain vibrant word pictures on just an element or two of the subject matter than attempt to convey a verbal encyclopedia.
All audiences are interested in “news they can use.” They will want take-aways, and preferably things they can put into action immediately to improve the way they get things done. So when you sum up make suggestions and give action points. Leave them feeling good about themselves and as they used to say in the days of music hall, “Always leave them wanting more!”