Let me paint an all too common picture for you: You're planning an important company event. Prospects and current clients will be present. Strategic industry partners are joining, and your top internal technical experts will be taking the stage. Your subject matter experts are your competitive advantage. They're the brains behind your market expertise.
But they aren't stage ready. They hate public speaking, and they'd rather stay behind the scenes. Their knowledge is so advanced that speaking to the masses is painful for them.
Here are a few easy ways to prepare your internal subject matter experts (SMEs) for the big stage—so they can share their passion and anchor the audience behind the company's strategic vision.
Step 1: Remove the Curse of Knowledge
Your SMEs have the curse of knowledge. Their super-advanced understanding of the topics makes it difficult to communicate knowledge to a broad audience.
Remove the curse of knowledge by having them speak to an audience of one. Create a persona. Give this audience member a job title, traits, characteristics and a descriptive level of understanding on the topic. Now, paint the picture. Define how you want to expand this audience member's knowledge, and how it connects to the company's vision in the market.
Focusing on an audience of one will allow your SME to be specific and define the purpose of this particular talk.
Step 2: Get them relevant resources
Subject matter experts have studied their craft for years. Strong soapbox-style opinions can derail them, and the language they've acquired is often industry jargon: it can be complicated, confusing and hard to follow.
In order to keep your SMEs away from industry rants and get them speaking common language, get relevant resources for them immediately. Identify key case studies applicable to each particular presentation. Have them weave the stories from the case studies into the strategic vision of the company and explain why they represent steps forward.
Specifically, identifying one key story will allow your audience to understand what it's like to be your client and work with this expert.
Step 3: Allow Your Geeks to be Geeks
Over the last decade, analytical SMEs have continually been pushed out in front of clients. They've been asked to present in boardrooms, lead conference breakouts, and speak to media. Society has embraced the “geek." Introverts are cool and intelligence is definitely sexy.
The problem is that SMEs have been expected to carry too much of the presentation. They've been asked to stand singularly on a stage and carry the entire weight of the audience and the delivery of a full presentation.
Do not put all the burden of a presentation on your SMEs. Put them on stage with a setup person—someone whose sole job is to make the expert look good, keep them on track and allow them to be natural. This can be done via a Q&A-style setup, where the expert is given leading questions to move the conversation forward.
For example, if your SME is a geologist, allow her to proudly proclaim, “I love rocks!" Allow her to be quirky and eccentric. If she naturally expresses her passion for the subject in unusual ways, embrace her style and take the pressure off her to the carry the entire stage.
As an internal event planner, these suggestions to improve the performances of your internal speakers and the effectiveness of your events do require more of your time, more advanced planning and more involvement in company strategy. However, this is where your true value lives: having a clear understanding of the strategic outcomes you're trying to create and the mission-critical importance of your work to the success of the company.
Want to learn more about how to elevate your speaker lineup? Check out part one in this series on "How to Get the Most Out of Your Paid Speakers in Three Easy Steps!"
Shane is a speaker coach, consultant and founder of Overflow Story Lab. He is an expert in story structure, messaging and launching strategy. A former COO at a multi-national firm, Shane has built four companies inside two billion-dollar organizations. He understands the importance of live events and regularly advises committees and event-planning teams.