Ten Top Tips for Public Speaking
We are all public speakers. Whether it’s show and tell at school, being put on the spot at work to “just say a few words” or facing a sea of expectant faces from a stage. Here are ten top tips to help you.
Tip #1 – Preparation
Whether you’re presenting to your team, prospective clients or at a conference, learn as much as you can about your audience’s needs before you start crafting your talk.
What can you tell them that they want to know? How can you use your time to make a positive difference to them? Which problems do they have right now that you have an answer to?
It’s well worth the preparation. Audiences know when a stock presentation is trotted out in front of them and will thank you for taking the time to tailor your talk to their needs and show that you know what’s important to them.
And if they like what they hear they might ask you back (always a good thing, especially if you’re talking to your team).
Tip #2 – Enthusiasm
You’ve been asked to speak at an event. You have your topic to talk about. Great!
How are you going to present that? What lights you up and what fires you up? The enthusiasm you bring to your talk ignites your message long after you’ve left the stage and long after any conference.
Enthusiasm is contagious.
Pass yours on.
Tip #3 – Energy
Your talk starts before you’ve even said a word or made a sound. The energy you bring into a room introduces you as much as any host can.
It’s well worth getting into a happy place before you start to present. This might be in your car, a bathroom stall or simply finding a quiet corner of a conference hall. Some deep breathes, a simple visualisation, or a short body scan meditation can all help to relax you.
Taking time to reframe, refresh and replenish your energy levels is highly recommended so make sure that you protect the time to do this before you’re speaking. When you’re up there and your audience is looking at you, you want them to be as much of your focus as you are theirs.
Tip #4 – Journey
When you present to an audience you lead them on a journey.
Journeys have ups and downs, times when things slot into place, other times when it feels like swimming through syrup, moments of bliss and unexpected experiences that show you life from a different angle.
What journey can you share? How did you learn from it? Which series of doors can you take your audience through?
Tip #5 – Pauses
Content is king in your presentation and spending time getting this right can’t be underestimated.
But what about your delivery? Do you use pauses? And do you know how to use pauses effectively?
Pauses are your friend and used correctly, your audience will love you for it.
Here are 3 ways you can use them:
1. At the beginning (I know this sounds a bit counterintuitive but trust me).
2. When you’re introducing something big, new or scary to your audience. And if what you’re saying is big, new AND scary, you’ve guessed it, get ready to use more pauses.
3. When you want to emphasise something. Pauses act like a great big highlighter in a sea of words.
For more on pauses read here.
Tip #6 – Clarity
“If you can’t explain it simply you don’t understand it well enough” Albert Einstein.
Your aim is to use words that clearly and simply communicate.
The language you use is important. Are the people in your audience experts or novices? What kind of language do they use? Will they understand you if you use jargon or will it confuse them?
Match the language you use with the language the audience understands.
The clearer and simpler you can be, the easier it is for your people to get your message and, importantly, remember it.
Tip #7 – Motivating
“Speech is power: Speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel” Ralph Waldo Emerson.
When you speak it’s your chance to move your audience into action. You want them to do something, think a different way or go in a new direction.
This article shows you how to motivate your audience in 5 simple steps:
1. Make a Song and Dance
2. Poke the Bear
3. Be the Hero
4. Devil’s Advocate
5. Save the Day
Tip #8 – Editing
If you can’t explain your message in a sentence you won’t be able to say it in an hour. Make your message as clear as it can be. Like writing, planning a talk involves editing, editing and editing.
The polished version you have at the end only comes after this process, meaning you need to do this work to get a message that sings and shines!
The talented artist Dale Chihuly is a master of glass-making. He makes the most magical worlds with his creations. Each of his sculptures is an arrangement of many pieces of beautiful glass artfully arranged. Check out the piece below.
Just as Dale arranges his sculpture piece by piece, aim to build your presentation up section by section and arrange your words in a way that creates the effect you are after.
Tip #9 – Story-telling
Story-telling is big business these days but then stories have always been huge in our societies, whether we’re browsing through Netflix for a plot that grabs us or we’re flicking through the pages of a novel.
We hear stories from a very early age. We’re drawn in by the drama, the excitement and the urge to know what happens next.
Using story and metaphor in your talks is a powerful tool to connect with your audience, get your message across and have them wanting to know what happens next.
Even if you’re communicating data and numbers there is always a story behind them.
Think about the next talk you’re going to give. Who is your audience? Think about their culture, their sector, their challenges and their successes.
What stories and metaphors will they understand and appreciate? How can you use metaphor to connect with them?
To get you thinking here’s a little story called Take a Walk on the Wild Side: a tale about learning to cross the road and change management…
Tip #10 – Laughter
Babies do it 400 times a day and people over 35 do it 15 times a day.
Research shows that when you make people laugh they are more likely to lower their defences and also more likely to listen to the serious things you say. So the next time you’re speaking in public think how you can involve humour.
It could be something visual or you could tell a humorous story.
For two masters of public speaking who use humour extremely well check out Ken Robinson’s talk, How Schools Kill Creativity (I know, doesn’t exactly sound laugh a minute but trust me) and Sean Achor’s talk, The Happy Secret to Better Work.
So, there you have it: preparation, enthusiasm, energy, journey, pauses, clarity, motivating, editing, story-telling and laughter.
Use these ten areas as scaffolding to build your next talk around, engage with you audience and deliver a presentation that you’re proud of.