BY Russell Wardrop

DATE: 20 MAR 2015


On a train to Cardiff for two sizeable seminars I am reflecting on the big audience gig. There are quite a few coming up. And Nicky, Michael and I are all working on a series of 24 big belters in June.

Three essentials spring to mind.

The first is presence. Last week I went to a lecture by John Peters - he of The Chimp Paradox - at the University of Life in London. Plenty slides, a fixed mike, standing behind a lectern the entire time, he cut a much more static figure than I would, with my two flipcharts, tie-clip mike and lots of walking between them. But from the outset there was a sense, from his comportment, that we were in safe hands. There are many ways to be an effective big audience speaker stylistically, but presence and comportment set the tone early on.

Secondly, trust yourself to deliver. Assuming you have done your preparation properly and can remain vertical and continent throughout, you will probably deliver what the audience expects. That gets three out of five on the happy sheet (two from the grumpy ones and four from those delighted to be out of the office). For top marks you need to be in the moment and go for it. In Cardiff the room I had been allocated was far from ideal: too small and set out theatre style, rather than with round tables. One of the organisers said I could use the council chamber. I had a look and went for it, speaking in the round as everyone sat on the leather and oak tiered benches. What a gig and what a venue! If you can trust your delivery even when something changes to throw you off, your audience will show their appreciation.

And when you trust yourself and your technique completely you get “in the zone” as top sportspeople say. Last Friday afternoon I had two hours to 250 young analysts: the graveyard shift, just before evening drinks. Trusting in my material and in the tools of delivery I allowed myself to cut loose, especially in the session after coffee break. The energy created in the room was tangible and the fuel was trust.

But not every gig is like last Friday’s and putting yourself out front is a risky business, so resilience is the third trait that springs to mind. It is a key emotional intelligence trait and essential life skill. It is also a key component of big audience speaking, no matter how experienced you are. Late one Saturday night in January I was standing in front of 650 in an hotel in Glasgow. I was last up and the brief was simple: make them laugh. My material was spot on but it had been a long night and we were running late and the chap up before me was not Billy Connolly: he was much funnier than The Big Yin. As he sat down to rapturous applause the Chair introduced me for my 20 minutes.

It felt longer. It was three out of five. The next week Michael was in an account taxi and the driver asked if he was the KWC speaker at the Marriot last week who was up “after the funny guy”.

Heh... it’s a funny old world, sometimes. And sometimes it’s not.


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Russell Wardrop is our Chief Executive. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.

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