Hi Michelle, thank you for joining us! Could you tell us how you started out as a public speaker?

Michelle Dassen

That happened very organically, actually. I studied Communication Management with a specialization in Public Relations. In that specialization, we were trained in public speaking. I love creating structure in new ideas and crafting hands-on examples for new strategies. I started with workshops for small groups and guest lectures to marketing and communication students. That evolved then into seminars and keynotes for marketing or digital professionals.

More schools should train their students to become public speakers! What is it you talk about in your seminars and keynotes?

Well, that’s easy: everything email. I work at Flexmail (which is an email marketing platform) for almost 7 years now, where I started in marketing. Now, I’m business unit manager. That means that I represent all stakeholders of our product. I align the product vision for sales, marketing and development, follow up on market developments and manage the roadmap for our platform.

We like to call email “The Cinderella channel”: like Cinderella, email dutifully and without moaning performs a host of marketing jobs – from lead scoring to nurturing and direct conversion or sale. At that, it also takes care of the less sexy tasks such as transactional notices, confirmations, notifications, reminders and warnings.

Email generates the greatest ROI of all direct marketing channels and comes in second (after organic search) in terms of customer acquisition. Yet, in spite of that, e-mail is often pushed aside and only resurrected when we need a miracle. Email barely gets the attention and investment it deserves from an economic point of view.

As GDPR is a hot topic in our business right now, that’s also a topic that I speak a lot about in my keynotes and seminars.

How much time do you spend on average to prepare those presentations?

The time I spend on my presentations really depends from time to time. I tend to write a lot. First, I make sure I have the general message on paper. Next, I try to chop that story up in blocks. Then, I start constructing the content for my slides. I always try to go over them with a colleague, to make sure my points and the order seems logical. Next, I usually – not always- tend to write out some points that I find the most important. I also spend a lot of time on the lay-out of my slides.

When I’m done creating my presentation, I practice telling my story out loud, until I’m happy with the result. But the way I tell my story will always be different from the lines I’ve put on paper.

I can imagine. When are you happy about your talk?

I find it super important that my audience can go home with hands-on tips they can implement immediately. To me, I feel happy afterwards, when feeling a positive vibe during the presentation, or by receiving positive feedback or reviews from your audience afterwards. Your message gets measured at the other person’s ear, not at your mouth 😊

When I attend a presentation myself, I always look for the practical implementation possibilities for myself of the ideas being discussed. A talk can be as inspirational as can be, but I consider a talk successful if I have noted down practical take aways. That’s something that I always strive for with my own presentations.

I believe you need to be truly passionate about your topic in order to deliver your message effectively. So no reading from slides, but delivering a story. Confidence helps you a lot, but isn’t really important to deliver a good presentation. I want to believe the public speaker’s story.

What is your best advice for public speakers who are starting out?

Preparation is key. Make sure you know what message you want to convey. Don’t study you “lines” by hart.  You don’t want to look like a robot, or worse: forget your exact wording and freezing because of your nerves. Don’t put your entire text on your slides. But I also find it helpful to make sure your slides mean something, or convey the outline of your story when a participant consults your slides afterwards.

It’s also important to capture your audience from the start: can you paint a picture or identify a problem that is relatable for your audience? Are there questions you can ask your audience to get them engaged?

Ask someone you know to tape your presentation: and rewatch it afterwards. But don’t be too hard on yourself: you learn something new every time you speak.

Do you also learn from other speakers’ techniques? Where do you find your inspiration?

To me, a great presentation given by a great presenter is very inspiring. So that changes a lot. My current top three is

  1. Nathalie Nahai: empathy, clear speaking, beautiful examples, lead with the why
  2. Tim Urban: humility and humor and a great storyteller, and a great example of my theory that beautiful slides are a great plus, but you don’t really need those to tell a good story.
  3. Aral Balkan: humility and humor, great insights, beautiful and visual presentations that suck you in

I also love comedians, because they always construct their different messages in a very smart way. Ted Talks are also great for inspiration.

What is your biggest accomplishment as a public speaker? 

I can’t really pinpoint one exact presentation. But if I have to choose, is to hear from someone that attended one of my presentations, that they really learned something. I also have done a lot of guest lectures, and I find that that’s the hardest audience to please. Thos students are always busy on their phones or laptops, and I find them to be the most difficult audience to engage. So to hear that they learned something and that they are really engaged into my message, makes me feel very thankful and inspired myself.

I also speak a lot for marketing-minded audiences, so when I have an audience in front of me with more technical background for example, I find it very motivating to have them discuss my own topics with me.

Is there something you want to achieve in the future as a public speaker?

I would love to continue learning from my audiences, and to talk to people who want to move forward with their business and/or marketing. Basically continue what I’m doing now, pushing the agenda for email marketing, and try to put the bar as high as possible for myself, for every presentation.

Thank you for your story and advice, Michelle!

You’re welcome!

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