Speakers Talk Too Much!

With smiles like that they must be...stoned

You talk too much!

Yes, that’s right. You talk too much!

Talk, Talk, Talk

I remember growing up that my sister and father never stopped talking. They seemed to be in an endless competition to see who could talk more. They never shut up. They even talked when other people weren’t listening.

My father would wake up in the morning and begin singing at the top of his lungs. Never mind that it was 6 am.

He’d walk into my bedroom and pound on the walls with glee, shouting:

“Good morning, good morning, good morning
It’s time to rise and shine
Good morning, good morning, good morning
I hope you’re feeling fine

The sun is just above the hill
Another day for us to fill
With all the things we love to do
Oh can’t you hear, it’s calling you
Doodle-y do, doodle-y do, doodle-y do!

Get up. Get up. You sleepy head.
Get up. Get up. Get out of bed.
Oh can’t you hear, it’s calling you
Doodle-y do, doodle-y do, doodle-y do! ”

Then he would crow like a rooster and start into a long diatribe before I even had my eyes open. It was very annoying. I suffered through this every morning until I left for college.

Presenters Talk Too Much

As presenters and speakers, we talk way too much. Teachers and professors talk too much too.

I don’t think it’s our intent as speakers to talk so much. We actually think we are not talking enough. We think we are choosing our words intentionally and saying very little. We feel we have to add more information to our presentations so our audience understands it. We don’t embrace the less is more philosophy.

As long as our audiences sit passively listening to us ramble, they are not learning. We think speaker monologues are the best way to present because we don’t know of any other ways.

Remember, the person who does the most talking, does the most learning! Why? Because the person talking is processing information and stating it aloud. So, we have to find ways to talk less and let our audiences talk more.

Speakers Talking Less, Audiences Talking More

As speakers, the single most challenging thing we have to do is move from the sage on the stage to the guide on the side. We have to stop the ongoing “stand and deliver” presentations. We have to get out of the way of real learning and become a catalyst to our attendees’ learning.

We have to find ways to present and engage our audience from the moment they walk into the room and beyond when they leave. We have to talk for a few minutes and then let them discuss what we said in small groups or pairs. That means we have to talk less. And we have to allow them to talk more.

One final thought about speakers talking too much.

Asked by his teacher to summarize the life of Socrates in four sentences, the student said:

Socrates lived a long time ago.
He was very intelligent.
Socrates gave long speeches.
His listeners poisoned him.
~ Anonymous.

That sums it up best. We talk too much!

What are some ways you’ve seen presenters engage audiences and allow them to talk? How do you get your conference and workshop speakers to talk less and get the audience to talk more?

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  1. If I may offer my own example. At Blgoworld LA 2011 I stopped multiple times that were perfect spots to allow participants to give answers to questions about what we had seen others do ( in my topics) and I ask them how would they take action for their business.

    At first folks were a little shy, then they saw he was rewarded with a book from one of the case studies I offered.

    I made sure I had a reward for every question. Sometimes it is rewarding the behavior you want to have happen that allows for the audience to trust you have their interests at heart when asking them to speak up.

    Wish I could find more event planners who want a speaker who does that, it’s more more fun and engaging.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Excellent example of giving people time to digest and think about your content. Sometimes, the best reward is just having a person turn to the neighbor on their right or left and answer the question. They may meet a new person which is a great reward!

      I think you’ll find more meeting planners in the future seeking out speakers like you!

      Thanks for extending the conversation. You are one of those great motivating contagious people that you bring a smile to everyone’s face. Thanks for seeking engagement from the audience.

  2. Neen James says:

    Having just participated in the PCMA Convening Leaders event as both a presenter and a participant I LOVED the interactive sessions in the Learning Lounge.

    The Bring Your Own Device Lab allowed audiences to drive conversation with me just facilitating it.

    The Big Experience Theatres with TED type talks allowed us to engage both the virtual audience and the live audience with Q & A and great conversations.

    The iPad Lab allowed us to play with new technology, ask questions, share thoughts and overall experience learning.

    The Really Live Chat relaxed and facilitated conversations exposed us to thought leaders and draw from the brilliance of those in the chats!

    As a presenter I NEED audience engagement to keep my energy high, to have fun and to know the audience is taking away practical, implementable strategies! As a participant I need to share ideas and learn from other’s brilliance (not just the presenters).

    #PCMA12 showcased this brilliantly!

  3. There’s an easy way to stop our talking too much as speaker Jeff — suggest that meeting planners simply show that ghastly teeth-in-rocks-with-zipper image on the screen on stage.

    It would stop me in my tracks 🙂

  4. Eric Lanke says:

    By coincidence, I just blogged about an experience I had where the audience got involved because the expert speaker had failed to come prepared for the group he was talking to. And it worked great!

  5. One of the great ways to not only help speakers get more comfortable but also engage the audience is to do two simple things. First, before you begin talking about yourself, ask your audience about themselves! Who are they? What do they want to hear about? What do they expect to get out of your session? Figure out how you can best help them! Unless you’re a former President of the United States, it’s probably a good idea to at least collect this feedback before you begin.

    Second, schedule time in your presentation before the end to ask questions and engage your audience. If you’re giving a formal presentation, maybe every other slide or at a minimum audience surveys where you can ask questions and collect feedback. Having a Twitter backchannel is also a great way to collect feedback from the audience.

  6. Mike says:

    Wow! A great article to read. I always had the same feeling when I was sitting in college and listening to all those boring professors.

    Once I finished college I started my own company called Sendsteps. The number one reason was to develop software in order to engage the audience via their mobile phone. Via TXT, Internet and Twitter they can vote and send in messages. You can use it in various ways to let the audience speak up and be heared. Now you even hear the people who normally don’t even dare to speak up.

    Please let me know what you think about it. The software integrates into your own PowerPoint. Thanks Jeff for sharing your thoughts and let me know if you have any ideas for me so people know of the existance of the tool we developed…

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      That’s too funny. We’ll have to try that one some time…show the image that’s used with this post and watch the audience’s reaction.

      Great example of how an audience can get involved with a presentation. Thanks for sharing!

      Love it…ask the audience about themselves. So true and so beneficial to everyone involved. Thanks for sharing those two great ideas Marvin.

      Thanks for the tip on a potential vendor to use for text to screen and audience interaction.

  7. Charel Morris says:

    Great topic! I may have a unique experience in learning the importance of letting the room be quiet. I am a planner but I am also a minister. In learning how to be with people during memorials or other times where it is important to provide a space for the ‘attendees’ to speak and add their thoughts to the ‘event’ I had to learn to be comfortable with the room being quiet and waiting. Because until I stopped talking and opened the ‘space’ for others to speak – no one would.

    Granted speaking at a conference is different but speakers still need to learn that even though you are on stage you don’t have to fill every second with your voice. It is a challenge to become comfortable with the silence as it seems to take forever for another person to speak up – but it is worth it. Everyone has something to offer and we need to to hear what they are saying. It makes the entire presentation better. And the experience is fuller for everyone present including the speaker.


    1. Jeff Hurt says:


      Thanks for furthering the discussion and adding a wonderful example of using silence as a tool to engage the audience. Beautiful and gives a great context where it’s time to stop talking and let the audience talk.

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