National Speakers Association (NSA) President Kristin Arnold bemoans the disconnect between what we've done and what we speak about, urging readers to "get yourself some (relevant) experience" before peddling one's wares as a presenter on a topic. You can't simply talk the talk, in other words; you have to have lived it.
Call me naive, but I'm shocked that some leadership speakers haven't been leaders, customer service presenters don't have experience (much less expertise) in that area, etc. because for me there's never been another alternative. I've learned over the last two decades that I simply must have practical AND deeply significant/meaningful experience in what I'm covering in a presentation, workshop, or class. There's no alternative. I've learned that the absence of such a connection results in a presentation that while on the surface might demonstrate the enthusiasm, passion, and even insight I typically bring to the platform, something is missing--and my audience suffers as a result.
Besides, audiences crave the kind of insight that only personal experience with a topic can yield. My students constantly tell me that real value they derive from classes comes from an instructor's insight/experience related to the topic and that conversely those individuals who stick to the text (or offer outdated examples) fail to capture their attention and respect.
I also look at this issue another way: I must love my topic with my both my entire head and heart if I am to realize my potential as a vehicle for connecting with students, audience members, consulting clients, and others with whom I come into contact while discussing it. In other words, I can engage in exhaustive research on a topic (and relish opportunities to do so) yet at some point must get the experience (and continue to keep it fresh and current) if I am to feel totally credible and confident as a presenter on it. This represents an ongoing challenge, but more importantly has emerged as an unshakeable commitment I've come to realize is central to who I am.