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Use this simple tip to improve how you speak about security

Feb 04, 20154 mins
IT Leadership

When speaking about security, here is a simple -- and overlooked -- way to meet the needs of the audience

The big, bright screen at the front of the room displays the title of the upcoming presentation. You settle into your seat.

On cue, the speaker takes the stage. Smartphones dim.

“Good morning.” People murmur.

“I said… Good morning.” Conditioned, the audience calls back, “good morning.”

Then the speaker advances to the next slide. It’s a picture of them. It lists accolades, companies they worked for or with, and a series of other facts about them. Sometimes it spans two slides. It takes minutes to talk through.

None of it memorable. None of it necessary. Momentum gone, the audience starts checking their smartphones. Minds wander.

After what feels like an eternity the speaker advances to the next slide. Then they work to introduce the topic and try to recapture the lost attention.

All the audience wanted was simple: just get on with it.

Why speakers tend to do this

For many, standing in front of an audience is an unusual, uncomfortable event. The anxiety is compounded when we stand to share our ideas and experiences. Done well, we’re revealing and sharing a piece of us.

What if people don’t like it? What if they don’t understand?

To allay these fears, speakers seek to qualify themselves to the audience. They try to preemptively answer the unasked question, “why should I listen to you?” It’s an attempt for the speaker to appear important, for their words and message to have gravity.

None of it’s needed.

What your audience wants

The audience selected your talk for a variety of reasons. The key is they already decided to invest their time with you. In return, they seek ideas. They want to learn from your insights. We tend to appreciate when you share yourself with us.

Ultimately, the audience wants a story. Guide the journey from where they are to where they need to be. Paint the picture of where they could be. Show people the possibility.

Bottom line: deliver value to your audience.

Skip the brag slides to open with value

The open is your opportunity to make the connection and engage the audience. You have a short period of time to make a promise that the time invested is well spent. Capture their interest, you’ll likely hold their attention.

Brag slides don’t cut it. As the speaker, you already have some level of authority. The audience already chose to be there.

There are a variety of solid openings. Consider starting with a quote, a story, or a question. Invest the time to prepare and practice. Your job is to be more interesting than the devices and other distractions people carry with them.

Want a better way to start? Get Introduced

Most professional speakers have someone introduce them. Ideally, it’s a prepared script that takes less than a minute. It provides the opportunity to build authority and interest. Done right, it captures attention and has all eyes on you.

At that moment, you take the stage. Match the energy and leap into your program.

What about saying thank you to the introducer?

Depends. The more dramatic and power opens come without it.

However, the nature of the event, physical position, and experience of the introducer sometimes work against you and create the situation where it’s more awkward not to thank them.

In those situations, I tend to shake their hand and quietly thank them. Then take my position on the platform. I take a deep breath. Then I launch into my open. Recently, off hand, I make a funny remark as I took the stage… it got the audience and the introducer to laugh. Their laughter actually set the stage for the introducer to leave the stage and me to set the tone.

Make it easy to find you, if they want

Make it easy for people to find you *after* the event. If you want to include a contact slide — perhaps instead of the dreaded and totally useless “questions?” slide, fine. Sometimes I do that. It depends on the audience.

If you’re the conference, event, or webinar host, make sure links and (provided) contact information is available to people. That way, the people wowed with your message, and possibly your eloquence, have a way to find you.

Give people a reason to look you up. Forget the brag slides and invest in distilling and delivering value. At your next opportunity, seize the moment, engage the audience, and just get on with it.


Michael Santarcangelo develops exceptional leaders and powerful communicators with the security mindset for success. The founder of Security Catalyst, he draws on nearly two decades of experience of success advancing security in variety of operational roles. He guides leaders and teams on the best next step of their journey.

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