So, recently I was challenged on LinkedIn to come up with 10 public speaking tips in 10 days.
And I said : bring it on!!
And then I said – hey, lets build them all together in one place too 😉
Day 1: Start with the audience, not your topic
When you are prepping your talk, your first thought should be for the audience, not your topic. Oh so often, we as speakers can be so passionate about our subject that we work on the basis of “hell, I’m here to talk about this, and I am going to talk about this, and I don’t really care if you want to listen….”
No wonder we have all had moments of standing on stage and looking out to an audience more interested in their iPhones than what we are saying.
Lets face it, if you are going to talk about new accounting regulations coming in, your talk will need to be different depending on whether your audience is a bunch of chief accountants, or the IT guys updating the accounting software …
So before you start to think about your topic, think about your audience – who are they, what do they know about your subject, what’s important to them, what keeps them awake at night – cos this is going to help you speak the same language, tell stories that resonate, and really connect with them
Day 2: Think about your why
Why do you want to talk about this subject?
And please don’t just say: “because my boss told me to!” or “because everyone else on the planet is talking about GDPR/ AI/ Brexit /(complete as appropriate) … and if I don’t, I will miss the boat”.
That might be part of it, but I KNOW you can do better than that.
What is it you want the audience to do, think or feel as a result of this talk?
Maybe you want the audience of chief accountants to change how they record certain expenses in the accounts; the angel investors to fund your start-up; or the audience to see your expertise in the field so that they recognise you as the go to person on the subject and they come to you to work with you…
Get clarity on your why so that you can (i) give yourself a clear focus for the talk (ii) ascertain the particular elements that you absolutely must include in the talk, as compared to the “Nice to haves”; and (iii) make sure you place relevant sign posts through out your talk.
Day 3: What’s in it for the audience to listen to you?
You know the audience and what’s important to them, why you want to talk about this topic, and you know about your topic.
When you combine all three – what’s in it for the audience to listen to you?
Hint: Audiences like to know how you will help them save money, get them more clients, make them look good ….
Spell that out in the first minutes of your talk, and you will already grab the audience’s attention.
For example: a training on excel formulae to new joiners in the audit or tax department will help them get up and running in their job straight away and not look stupid in front of their new bosses; a talk about GDPR at a conference on digital transformation will help the audience make sure that they don’t lose their most important asset – their client data – by being compliant; and a talk about partial exemption methods to a room of bankers, will potentially help them to save millions of euros in VAT.
Day 4: Story before slides
Your slides should complement not drive your talk.
How many of you recognize this: the organiser of the event asks you to come speak for 20 minutes on a subject, and your first thought is to prepare the slide deck of 52 slides. Only 24 hours before you get on stage, you think about what you will say.
The learning theory tells us that people learn in different channels – audio, visual and sensory – so we understood a long time ago that we should do slides for a talk.
But somewhere along the line, we have forgotten that the objective of the slides is to help explain the content – and slides have become instead a race to the most complex and complete slide deck – its almost like we believe that the more words on a slide, the more intelligent we will appear.
(Is it really only me who has ever fallen into that trap – think 20 min presentation on the vat treatment of vouchers (a REALLY hard subject) and voila jo vomiting the legislation onto the slides cos she has absolutely no idea how it all works, and figures that she can blind them with science and bluff them into believing she is a rock star …)
So: start with the story you want to tell, & build your slides to complete it, not the other way round
Day 5: Don’t forget about your intro
Do not underestimate the importance of a good intro
When we meet someone for the first time, evolution has made it such that we will quickly decide “do I like this person, are they any good at what they do?”. And its the same thing when we “meet” a speaker on stage for the first time – in fact, how many of you have watched speakers that turn you off to their talk within the first minute??
The introduction to your speech is the moment to establish your credibility to the crowd, and also show how likeable you are. It’s the moment to grab the attention of the audience, and its the moment to create rapport.
So think about:
- how you will introduce yourself
- what you will do to grab their attention and
- smiling at the audience, even if getting up on stage is the single most scary thing you have had to do all week!
Day 6: In your conclusion, sizzle don’t fizzle!
Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
As you conclude your talk, this will be the last moments that you will be holding the attention of your audience – so make them count.
Don’t just end with a “Well that’s all folks” – but firm something up so you can really bring home your point.
Leave them with a final takeaway, or a call to action – or take a step back and leave them with a question as to what it all means.
Day 7: don’t believe you need to know everything
All too often I hear clients getting worried about being asked really difficult questions from the floor – and these questions become a mighty big source of concern for them.
But it is possible to minimise the impact of this in three ways:
- When you are prepping the talk, and thinking about the audience and topic, you can anticipate the questions that typically come up, and take a view as to whether you will simply cover them in the talk, or respond to them if asked the question.
- If you get a tough question, you can win yourself a bit of time with the 4R’s: Reflect back the question to check understanding (and even to nuance it into something more simple); Respect the question (“Great question, thank you”); Respond to the question; Review that it answers the question
- Finally, if you don’t know the answer – hell, you don’t know the answer and that’s ok. Be honest – better that than respond with rubbish. And come back to the asker over coffee/ offline.
Day 8 : throw a tennis ball to let go of your slides
I know, I know, I know – it can be super difficult to let go of those slides when you are presenting – they provide a crutch when things get complicated.
But if you simply read off the slides, you are going to come across as someone ill prepared who knows nothing about the subject – and we KNOW that’s not the reality!!
So, one exercise I get my clients to do when they are rehearsing – and you can do this with a friend – is to throw a tennis ball back and forth while they are rehearsing. Its almost like one side of the brain is catching and throwing the ball, and the other side is getting on with and telling the speech.
It’s a great way for you to see that you know your stuff, and don’t need to read anything off the screen 😉
Day 9 : Don’t underestimate the overall package
Ok, ok, ok we know Steve Jobs used to get on stage in jeans and a polo neck – but hell that was Steve Jobs. No matter how sh!t hot we are on stage, if we rock up in jeans or something sloppy the audience will see that and not you.
Do make a bit of an effort dude!
When I have a kick ass speech to give, or gig as an MC, I bring out the 3 inch heels – and for those who know me, you know this adds to 6 foot to start things. It’s a great way to make an impression on stage, because I know that I get my swagger and confidence on when I am wearing them.
But, ladies, don’t get caught out by high bar stools or low armchairs on stage if you are appearing in a panel – where your decision of skirt/ dress, or heels, can be more important than you think … don’t be afraid to ask your moderator what you will have to sit on !
Day 10: Look after yourself
Take it from someone who regularly has back to back speaking gigs (like last week: in the space of the same week, I gave a two day workshop, appeared as MC for an awards ceremony the next day, and then delivered a two hour workshop on the final day) you have got to look after yourself when you are speaking.
Drink lots of water and keep hydrated, eat plenty of slow release food such as bananas rather than chocolate, and make sure you take plenty of breaks to rest up.
Being on stage is a whole bunch of fun, and you got to enjoy it, but it can be a sting in your tail if you then need to rest up for a full day afterwards.
Well, that’s all for now with these ten tips on Public Speaking – lots more on other subjects to come soon 🙂