Our Speaker Contest is on for the third time and the applications are open to anyone, anywhere in the world until 6 February!
Now that we are on the lookout for an aspiring speaker, I wanted to repost my reflections on our past speaker contests. Many have asked me what makes a winning speech. To me, it seems that there are three key characteristics that the more promising speeches had in common. I hope these notes will help and guide you to do your winning speech, whether it was for our 2022 Speaker Contest or for any other speaking engagement.
(Please note: I did not take part in the voting process or as a jury member, so these opinions and comments are my own.)
Nordic Business Forum events are known to host the best speakers in the world. So, it will be extremely difficult to stand out when your task is to talk about one of the same three topics that all the other competitors are talking about (future of work, culture, and sustainability, in this case). Beyond repeating your fellow contestants, you have to refrain from parroting other famous speakers who may have spoken at Nordic Business Forum events.
So, how does one come up with solid content that is rooted in other people’s work? Innovate. You’re not going to win if you quote speakers that are going to be presenting their own research and findings on stage themselves. You are not the expert, in this case, they are! You need to find your own unique approach to presenting your information to make the audience think of you as the expert on the subject. I know this is not easy, but it is the only way you can win the contest.
This is what we mean when we say we are looking for fresh ideas. Fresh ideas reframe a familiar problem with a creative solution and give the (often very distinguished and busy) audience some key takeaways that they can use to improve the way they do business. Remember, as a speaker, you’re addressing people who have heard more than their fair share of speeches and want to get a new perspective. You aren’t being original if you copy someone else’s perspective.
Content may be king, but that’s only half of the equation. You need your audience to listen to you. You need their attention, and what better way to get it than by making them feel like they will miss a lot if they are not listening?
Our 2018 winner, James Hewitt, made people pay attention to how they pace their workdays and stressed the importance of following your own optimal rhythm to be productive and effective. The message may be clear, but it’s how he presented his message that captured people’s attention; he sported some impressive headgear throughout his presentation, which he explained was monitoring his stress levels in real-time. He even went so far as to switch from his presentation to the data collection dashboard to demonstrate the effect of his experienced stress and recovery periods. Was it a gimmick? Maybe. Was it impressive? Absolutely. It was a dazzling experience for the audience to see the peaks and troughs in stress levels that were unfolding in front of their eyes, and to a man who was presenting the knowledge in an authoritative and understandable way. Even while I was watching his presentation in the audience, I couldn’t help but gasp when I started to think about I pace myself during the day. (If you missed it, read the recap or watch it here!)
The 2019 winner, Anssi, also dazzled the audience with his performance. In explaining the rapid rate of change that technology has allowed for in business, he demonstrated how companies need to lean into the changes and keep up with the pace of the internet age. He stressed that, as business leaders, you need to be aware of any macro-level changes or risk being left out of the development curve and losing the game. And to do this practically, he… wait, I won’t spoil the surprise. You can watch his full keynote here. He truly awed us again at Nordic Business Forum 2019 and the audience was at the edge of their seats with socks knocked off and eyes glued to the stage for four truly dazzling minutes. It made us smile and shake our heads afterward!
The last ingredient of the winning trifecta is perhaps the most difficult to teach: entertainment. You need to be able to entertain the audience throughout the speech to make them listen to you. But remember, entertaining is not necessarily a synonym only for humorous or amusing. Entertaining can also mean moving, interesting, captivating, inspiring, engaging, and so forth.
The endgame of this contest is to speak at Nordic Business Forum, which is known for being the pain killer to boring business events. We want our customers to pay attention and learn. The best way to get to that position is to put on a show in which people feel entertained. And if you’re a speaker in this mix, you have to tap into people’s emotions, and then you’re on the right track. A great speech is remembered by the emotions first, the content second. Make people feel, make them laugh, make them reflect – that’s what elevates you from good to great. I have seen many professional speakers who have excellent content but do not deliver it in an entertaining way. As a result, no one listens to them.
In my experience, the most excellent entertainers do what they do for the sake of the audience, not for the sake of performing. And for this contest, winners make that connection with their audience. They reassure their audience that they made the right decision to listen to you because you and your message are valuable to them. To the current and future winners of our Speaker Contest, make a concerted effort to harness these feelings in your audience and make this the performance of a lifetime.
I’ll end on this note: For anyone considering applying for the contest this year, I hope these insights help you reflect on your abilities as a speaker and help you become a better public speaker, especially on all things related to business and leadership.
About the Speaker Contest
The 2022 Speaker Contest is Business Forum Group’s initiative to find individuals with original ideas and give them a platform to speak. This year, the winner is offered a spot on stage at Nordic Business Forum 2022, Oslo Business Forum 2022, and Amsterdam Business Forum 2022 with a 70,000 € fee for the speaking engagements.
Are you interested in applying? Send us your application by 6 February.