In today’s business world, having the ability to effectively present to groups or on video is critical. There have been many books written on this subject and I have read a number of them. One of the better books is Michael Port’s “Steal The Show.”
I highly recommend this book for anyone who is looking to be a keynote speaker. However, most people will not be keynote speakers and most speaking opportunities will be in front of small groups and only last 20 minutes to an hour. An effective and memorable 20 minute presentation can open doors and create opportunities that have the potential to change lives and careers. As a speaker, you may only have one chance to make this impression, make it count.
Here are some of my tips for preparation and presenting:
- Know your audience. It will be virtually impossible to prepare for a speaking engagement if you don’t know your audience. Knowing who will be in the audience will allow you to craft your message, identify key points and structure your presentation. Speaking to a group of CPAs vs a group of small business owners is very different. When you know the audience you will be able to find out what their challenges are, how they conduct business and what they need to succeed.
- Beyond being prepared. We all know the saying “Practice Till Perfect.” This is a good approach; however the exceptional speaker will practice and rehearse until they are so prepared that they will not make a mistake, get lost, get distracted or fail. I call this “Practice Until You Can’t Get it Wrong.” Practicing a speech or presentation once in front of the mirror is not enough, multiple practice sessions and even video tapped rehearsals are required to achieve this level.
- Body Language is critical to keeping audience interest and supporting the speaker’s message. Powerful body language and stage movements allow the speaker to more effectively convey their message. Folded arms, facing sideways and looking down are all negative body language messages. Instead look at audiences members in the eyes, move while speaking but stop when you finish or wish to make a point, move forward when making an important point and use open arm gestures that welcome people in instead of blocking them out. Simply being aware that gestures and position impact a presentation is important for speakers to recognize, most don’t.
- The art of the story. Studies show that people remember information that is given to them in story format. For thousands of year humans have been passing along stories in this way. When speaking look for stories that illustrate the points that you are seeking to make or validate your message.
- Take some time to study improvisation (improv) class or classes. For most public speakers, there are going to be times when something goes wrong or unexpected happens. Improvisation is an excellent skill to have to manage when this happens. While it is critical to be well prepared and rehearsed, having the ability to pivot is critical. Improvisation is helpful if the speaker involves role playing as part of presentation or is involved with Questions and answers. Remember that improv is not about being funny its about being honest and having he ability to move a conversation forward and empowering others. Improve also focuses on the positive though the use of “Yes and….” Basically the concept is that instead of saying no or being confrontational agrees and adds to the conversation. This keeps conversations positive and moving, in the direction that the speaker wants.
- Don’t rely on technology and power points. While there is place for presentations and power points don’t use them as a crutch, script or notes. Looking back at a screen conveys a message that you are not sure what you are talking about and you face away from the audience. People also don’t want to read long lists of bullet points and facts. Know your facts, know your presentation and use slides to illustrate points, convey broad messages or event ad some humor or fun to presentations.
- Be fun, not funny. Most audiences have expectations of speakers. They expect to learn or be provided with new information. They expect to some degree to be entertained, however they don’t usually expect the speaker to be funny. This does not mean that you can’t be fun or have some funny or humorous elements in your presentations. The point here is don’t try to be funny, at least not at first. If you want to inject humor, make sure you practice your presentation in front of friends, family, staff members or others before you event. Humor requires the ability to judge audiences, timing, and delivery. If you really want to learn how to use humor study comedians, read books on the topic and attend comedy classes for practice. Noting makes a speaker more memorable, in the wrong way than trying to be funny and falling flat.
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By Bill Corbett