Posted on 23, June, 2015
Last Modified on 28, February, 2023
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Whether it’s a team meeting or presenting in front of an audience, we all have to occasionally speak in public, and it’s often a cause for anxiety and concern. Public speaking does not have to be a nail-biting, headache-giving, stomach-turning type of experience, though. With enough thought and preparation, anyone can command a crowd with a confident speech. Follow these tips and strategies to craft compelling speeches and improve your oratory skills.
Conceptualize: Be the Speech
Coming up with your topic should be the easiest part of your speech, especially one that you’re passionate about. Your passion for the topic will help with your delivery because your enthusiasm about the subject will show through. It’s important to have great content and to be professional, but it’s all for nothing if you don’t have a personal connection with the subject of your speech. All of the best speeches come from those who are passionate about their subject matter and can therefore be honest and inspire their audience in the same way that topic has inspired them.
Of course, it’s not always possible to deliver something you genuinely want to talk about. Sometimes what you present is determined by your profession, a conference theme, etc. When in these situations, find an angle that interests you then do the research to train yourself to be excited about the subject. Putting enough blood and sweat into something makes you characteristically passionate about it. Although you may not always be able to deliver a speech on your top five favorite movies, you will be able to transform your presentation into something you’re enthusiastic about.
While constructing your speech, remember to ask yourself these questions:
- WHAT IS MY GOAL?
- WHAT IS MY MAIN MESSAGE?
- WHO IS MY AUDIENCE?
Each presentation should have a specific goal. Knowing that goal helps you stay focused when preparing to write your speech. So, start with a problem and come up with a solution. Refine that solution until you’re happy with it and use that as your objective.What is my main message?
After the goal is determined, you need to ask yourself what you want your audience to take away from your speech. This message can be expressed by a slogan or a strong phrase. The “take-away” should be repeated throughout the speech to engrain it in your audience’s head. When this main goal is developed try writing or typing that message out in big letters and keeping it within your line of vision throughout the writing process. That way, it’s deeply engrained in your own head and keeps you on track.Who is my audience?
Identify your audience to help tailor the script to identify their needs. Is this a formal meeting where an engaging anecdote would work better than a joke? Is this a class-type setting where tools like whiteboards and PowerPoint might come in handy? Or, is this a casual conference with people of all types allowing you the benefit of adopting whatever style works best for you? The type of story you convey, joke you make, visual cues you use, and the overall type of speech should be determined by your audience. Obviously, the presentation you would give to a group of students would be different than the type you would give to a senior board of directors. Don’t take for granted the importance of your audience.
Lastly, you want to remember K.I.S.S. - “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Simplifying doesn’t make your presentation plain or childish; it makes it easier for the audience to understand. You are the expert of your speech topic, but that does not mean your public is, too. Avoid jargon and put as many points in layman’s terms as possible. Help yourself by listing the three main points you want to make. Those points should be what the audience will be able to take away when you’re finished. Hammer those three points into your audience’s head by repeating them throughout your speech.
Prepare: Practice Makes Perfect
An important key to success is confidence. The way you gain confidence is through preparation. If you’re given six hours to cut down a tree, you should spend the first five hours sharpening the axe. Practicing (or sharpening) your speech is essential to the success of your presentation. Not only does it build your confidence but you also reap other benefits. By practicing out loud you can gauge your energy levels, your timing, and you can discover awkward phrases that may have sounded better in thought than when exercised.
*Fun Fact: Steve Jobs would typically take two days to rehearse before a presentation.
When you think you’ve prepared to the point that your speech is the best it can be, try to sell your point in 30 to 45 seconds. Imagine that you have a chance to pitch an idea to the senior executive. As she is walking out the door, she says “I’m in a rush, pitch it to me as we go down to the lobby.” Could you sell your idea and make your point in the time that it would take to ride down 10 flights and walk out to the parking lot? This exercise helps you cut away the unnecessary fat of your speech and keeps your mind clear and focused on your main message in case you forget a line.
Gadgets & Gizmos: Tools You’ll Need
Slideshows. Slide-sharing presentations are a go-to demonstration tool. They help engage audience members and also keep the presenter focused and organized. Although PowerPoint is the most common, there are tons of different slide-sharing programs available to help you personalize your presentation. Slideshare allows you to incorporate pictures, videos, and links as it suits your presentation.
*Fun Fact: When you use vivid images in presentations, people will remember 95% more of what they hear and see.
Props. Believe it or not, you don’t always have to use PowerPoint for a presentation. Props make ideas come alive in tangible ways that pictures may not necessarily reveal. Always think about whether or not you can substitute slide shows with tangible objects instead.
Whiteboards & Smart Boards. If you feel more comfortable writing and drawing as you go, whiteboards and smart boards are great tools. Most settings will have these tools available for you to use so it’s an accessible go-to if you prefer this type of presentation. Just remember not to keep your back to your audience for too long or they will disengage.
Videos. Video is another great way to demonstrate concepts and ideas to your audience that might otherwise be hard to describe verbally. Plus, an interesting video is a great way to keep your audience engaged and listening. We often use videos, for example, to demonstrate product features that are best appreciated when customers actually see them in action. To check it out, scroll to the footer under ordering and click the "Videos" link.
Deliver: Start Strong, Finish Strong
With apt preparation comes confidence. Remember these tips:
Make a good first impression. We’ve heard it a million times but it’s true that “first impressions matter.” The first two to three minutes of your speech will be the most persuasive for your audience in terms of engagement. Speakers usually choke at the beginning because they spend too long talking about dispensable tidbits about their personal and professional lives which causes their audience to lose interest. People inherently want to like you and the audience will give you a chance to engage them at the start. When you begin your speech provide them with a strong foundation that is backed with elemental and valid content to reel them in. Hook, line, and sinker.
*Fun Fact: Facts are 20 times more likely to be remembered if they are part of a story.
Stand tall and firm. People are continually interpreting body position and movements. Your audience will unconsciously react to your body movements throughout your presentation. Standing confidently shows the public that you’re competent. Keep your body and head forward-facing, stand with a strong core, adopt open-armed gestures, and don’t fidget! Put your feet in the right place then stand firm. A great way to practice your stance is by recording a video of your presentation during your practice rounds so you can analyze your own movements.
*Fun Fact: Audience attention levels peak when speakers stand with open-armed, demanding stances.
Read your audience’s energy and change up the energy in the room every five or ten minutes. *Fun Fact: Audience participation levels begin to drop quite dramatically after 30 minutes. Throw a joke out there or tell a story. If you see that there are audience members starting to disengage then change the energy in the room to re-engage them. Be observant of your public and you will keep them wanting more.
Give the audience something to take home. Provide something specific at the end of your presentation that gives the audience something to do almost immediately. No matter the content, there’s always a way to make something tangible for your public that they can actually apply to what they’ve learned in their own lives. Give them homework because inspiring or wowing them is great, but giving them something to apply is better. For example, tell them to go home to tonight and think about a co-worker who is struggling, then tomorrow do x, y, and z to help them.
Always leave ample time for questions. Never ignore the opportunity to foster a sense of interaction. It builds a bridge between you as a speaker and the audience as your students.
Take to the Stage
We all know public speaking can be daunting, but the best way to prepare yourself is by outlining your goals clearly and precisely. Practice thoroughly to make sure you get all pre-public jitters out and to simplify/review your speech. Use presentation tools to your advantage. Read your listeners for cues on stage presence and strategy. Maintain confidence and let your passion and enthusiasm shine through. Use these tips to go forth and wow your audience!
- Keep the lights on. Your presentation could include a computer or TV screen as a tool and you may feel an urge to turn the lights off so the audience can see the screen more clearly. However, turning the lights off turns the focus off of you and on to the computer screen. Also, it makes people tired and could disengage your audience. Choose an ambient lighting that compromises between a bright screen and a clear vision of you.
- Remember the “B” key - if you’re using a PowerPoint presentation, press the “B” key to turn the screen blank. This could be useful if you need to take a break and recollect yourself or if you need to skip some slides. To make the screen reappear, press the “B” key again.
- Use a podium to your advantage. If you feel nervous, stand behind the podium until you’re comfortable to come out from behind it to connect more with your audience. You can also use the tabletop of the podium as a balancing mechanism. If you tend to get lightheaded from anxiety, hold the sides of the podium to steady yourself instead of fidgeting which comes across badly to an audience.
- Another tip for nervousness is holding something small in your hand. Something as simple as a paperclip can keep you from fidgeting. Also, a stress ball is not highly visible to audiences and keeps presenters feeling centered and focused.