Setting the Table for Your Speech: Presenting Hospitality

Picture walking into your favorite restaurant. What does it feel like when you walk in the door? Does a friendly face greet you warmly? Do you hear water trickling from a courtyard fountain, brush by beautiful fresh flowers as you enter? Is the aroma from the dining room making you hungry? Do you see your table set with sparkling silverware and a crisp tablecloth? Does your server make you feel as if you’re doing him the greatest honor by letting him serve you?

Now forget that 4 star restaurant downtown for a minute. Here in Texas, waiting for your table sometimes means listening to live music in the shade of a 100-year-old oak tree with a bottle of Shiner Bock in your hand! But even the best barbecue restaurant on the edge of town has cheerful faces, drop-dead Hill Country views and a smoky savory smell that would bring tears to your eyes. From the moment I walk in, I know I’m in good hands and I’m going to have a great time. That’s hospitality, y’all.

Hospitality is essential for public speakers and entrepreneurs.

According to NYC restaurateur and author (Setting the Table: the Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business) Danny Meyer, providing and receiving hospitality is one of the most intense human drives.

“Within moments of being born, most babies find themselves receiving the first four gifts of life: eye contact, a smile, a hug, and some food.”

Now if that doesn’t make your heart skip a beat, you’re probably not cut out for the restaurant business. However, if you are an entrepreneur — even if your business isn’t food related — the business angel tapped you on the shoulder for one reason or another, so this sentence should strike a chord with you, too.

Your customers pay your for your services and products. If you’re also a public speaker (and we all are on some level) our audience also appreciates a memorable experience. Their encounter with you is transformed by your hospitality to them: before the event, while you’re on stage or presenting at a meeting, and after your speech.

Infuse hospitality into your speech and your business; your audience’s experience will be transformed by it.

Much of hospitality centers on presentation. I’ll bet you can vividly remember a meal that was so unpleasant you couldn’t wait to get out of there. Whether it was at a restaurant, a picnic, or a person’s home, if your experience was inhospitable then you felt like someone was doing something TO you instead of doing something FOR you. The worst!

Your presentation is “felt” in everything you do. In business and on stage, serving clients, customers, vendors and your audience requires hospitable manners. That may not mean white glove service (especially if you’re in the BBQ business!) but it does have those four elements Meyer mentions:

  • Eye contact: Your connection depends on it. Have you ever sat in a presentation where the speaker never bothered to make that connection? Even in the smallest room, the eye contact helps you follow the message and creates a dynamic and powerful link. The hands may move, the speaker may walk around, but unless she’s making eye contact, the speech falls flat on its face.
  • A Smile: If you’re nervous or worried, or if you think you’re just s smidgeon better or smarter than your audience, it shows. A smile is the great equalizer, the universal sign of goodwill. One of my favorite personalities, author and speaker Guy Kawasaki (Enchantment), says to smile so your crows feet dig in. Smile so your eyes close, smile like you really mean it.
  • A Hug: OK, even if you wanted to, even if it were required, it’s not possible to actually hug everyone. What IS necessary though is to embrace people with your message. Even if they don’t have any interest in what you’re presenting, your audience will be more receptive to your speech if you roll out that personal touch. Good speakers are prepared. They know ten times more than they actually tell. They spare you from boredom by incorporating stories, specific details and enthusiasm for their subject. That’s the speaker’s equivalent of a hug.
  • Some Food: ever notice how words and speeches are often perceived in distinctly food-related terms?

You want your listeners to digest what you’re saying.

They showed interest by consuming all of your content.

Your delivery was fresh.

He had a crisp tone of voice.

They roasted the guest last week.

Her words were tough to swallow.

Chew on this advice.

Break your speech down down into bite-sized portions.

He poured on the intensity.

She has a spicy style.

His words were raw but effective.

If you spend weeks and months working on your craft, you know that your word choices matter. A hospitable speech is memorable and well prepared, just like the most fabulous dining experience or exquisitely planned event.

When you are on stage your natural voice comes through (with experience) and you find a cadence and delivery that just feels right. When you are on your dime, your speech is fun to give and receive, just like that human desire for hospitality!

Your presentation begins long before you step up to the podium. Your written materials also reflect your style and your professionalism. Copywriting plays a part in your hospitality quotient, too.

Don’t forget the service and preparation you deliver before and after your speech in the form of your emails, your correspondence, your written bio, and your web content. Words are the “Food” part of your service to your organizer, so remember that the “Written Word” makes an even more compelling and long-lasting impression.

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