However, I don’t believe I was born with a special gift to speak before crowds. This skill was developed by over 20-years of hard fought lessons. In order to prevent you from going through those same hurdles, I’ve outlined my top 10 list of effective public speaking tips. My hope is that these lessons help you down the road to ultimately become the best public speaker you can be.
1). Get to the venue early and check out the room.
I look for acoustics and stage movement obstacles, first. The worst thing that can happen is your audience can’t hear you or you trip off stage.
Note, I like to move around when speaking, and I’ve learned of techniques (called “blocking” in the theatre world). I’ve found that thinking of the rear of the stage as the baseline of a triangle (with the tip of the triangle being at the front row of the audience) and keeping my movement along the perimeter of that shape makes for effective use of the stage.
I’m not a fan of “windshield wiper” speakers who simply move from left to right. Instead, I encourage you to use the full depth of the stage and, whenever possible, walk into the audience and place your hand on a shoulder. This single technique has been the fastest driver for audience connection than anything I’ve ever done.
Also, make sure all the items you need are in reaching distance (water, handkerchief, vodka, etc). I’m particular about a handkerchief. Why? Nobody likes (or trusts) a sweaty presenter unless you’re 3.5hrs in to your bring’em to Jesus throw down at church on Easter Sunday…only then is it acceptable to be sweaty mess. Handkerchiefs present much better than towels or shredded pieces of toilet tissue.
Overall, you want to be comfortable and prepared and you want to look comfortable and prepared. If you’re not, the audience will never hear your message.
2). Talk to your audience in advance.
Hopefully you’ve had the ability to survey your audience, but if not, a simple chat with a few beforehand can be very helpful. This is hard for me personally because I’m an introvert and I like to have a few moments of solitude before I give a talk. But, it’s critical to identify the pain points of your audience.
Overall, you’re speaking to inform the audience on a specific topic. You can be the best orator in the world, but if you don’t provide value to the audience by helping to solve their problem, your speech will not be well received.
3). Have someone who most resonates with the audience introduce you.
I discovered this after reading Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Cialdini. The conventional thought is to have someone introduce you who is the most famous or decorated in the room. However, this method provides little benefit because, in most of those cases, that person is not one of the people but is instead, perceived to be above the people.
Bottom line, you want someone to introduce you who most of the crowd knows and likes. Why? Because you also want to be liked, and quickly. We are more prone to listen and be influenced by someone we like. And often we like those who are connected to people we like. That simple.
One more tip here: don’t have the greatest orator in the room bring you on. That’s like being on an online dating site and your profile photo is of you and your much better looking best friend – it’s going to be harder for you to stand out.
Overall, starting off strong is imperative, especially when you have limited time to speak and this is one way to do it.
4). Story tell, story tell, story tell.
This drives at the heart of what an excellent talk is all about. What you have to remember is that your experiences are unique – no one has ever had identical experiences, no one currently has, and no one ever will.
You also have points of view about your topic that are perfectly unique. Share those! Especially your pain points and your stories (your personal experiences with the topic). Collectively, these stories are your narrative!
Of course, the more knowledgable, passionate, and practiced (KPP) you are, the easier it will be for you share these stories and weave them together cohesively. The other benefit of that KPP will be a boost to your confidence! Having extreme confidence in a subject matter will allow you to talk extemporaneously (which is will also be perceived as a more effective speech).
Overall, remember that every bit of research suggests we resonate with stories more than anything else.
5). Observe audience body language and focus energy accordingly.
The second I step on stage, strategically, I try to quickly win over those I call the “head nodders.” These are the people who appear to be in agreement with you or your content early in the presentation. To secure this crew, I’ll point to them in agreement, repeat their sound bites, pull them on stage, etc. Essentially, I use their positive energy to go after my real targets, the audience “naysayers.” These are the people in the room who have their arms folded or are looking down on their phones while you’re speaking.
You see, this is where social psychology comes in because we’re all mostly influenced by “Groupthink” and one of the easiest ways to convert a naysayer is to make them feel they are the only one in the room who has a dissenting opinion. No one likes being the only one.
Once the audience appears to be with me en masse, a last technique I like to use on the naysayer is the “stare into your soul” move. When I come upon a pain point in one of my stories that either I or someone else has gone through, I position my body so I’m squared off with this naysayer audience member and then I directly look into their eyes and without moving position, tell my entire story – giving them my full energy.
I’ve actually gone up to 4 minutes with that one-on-one focused approach and it’s always effective. The eyes are truly the window to the soul and if you can lock in on someone, it further helps to establish trust with them. Every audience will include people who begin disliking you or your ideas (reasons for this vary but could be as simple as the colors of your attire). Focus on the low hanging fruit first and then go after the hard to reach.
6). Always include Q&A (and if so, do more Q&A than anything).
I totally ripped this off from Gary Vaynerchuk…thanks Gary Vee! Just like the key to social media is engagement, a good Q&A session live replicates all the upsides of this. In fact, Gary Vee has an entire show centered around this, called Ask Gary Vee. Allowing your audience to interact with you as the speaker or subject matter expert helps you to further establish trust and likeability. Why?
When audience members feel as though you can answer most any question “off script” and address individualized pain points, you also establish authority and influence by speaking not only in theory, but demonstrating your expertise in practice.
7). Slides and props are often unnecessary.
I see too many people hide behind their slides or extravagant stage props (magic tricks, custom lighting, etc). Now, sometimes, a few complementary components can be a value add but the best speeches ever recorded in history (as well as the most effective I’ve seen) only included a mic.
As a matter of fact, I’ve begun to notice an interesting theme. The fewer slides, text on a slide or accompanying props typically suggests a more experienced speaker. The idea behind this tip is to reduce your slides and props to allow your narrative to be the focal point.
8). Know that even Bill Clinton has a tough time with audiences after they’ve eaten.
First off, I consider former President Bill Clinton to be the best living orator in the world, so I’m not throwing shade. I’ve seen him speak on a few occasions and I noticed once (after a dinner) that the crowd’s reaction was tempered relative to his typical reactions…and when I felt like nodding off, too, I realized what the real issue was!
There is no worse time to give a presentation than after lunch, second to that is after dinner, and right behind that is after breakfast. Bottom line is people become tired after they eat. You can be waxing poetic perfectly, but you’re no match for “the -itis.” So, avoid speaking after meals at all costs!
9). Shake as many hands afterward as possible (and get feedback!).
Oprah once told me (I know, that was totally a name drop but it got your attention, didn’t it?) that after every interview she’s done, no matter how powerful the interviewee, they ALL asked the same thing: “how did I do?”
It’s natural to be curious about your performance. Getting feedback is the key to helping you perfect your delivery. After a presentation, I attempt to stay in the room as long as possible and talk to as many of the audience members I can. When I do, I shake their hand, thank them for sitting in and simply ask “What did you takeaway?” It’s such a simple yet powerful question. It removes any pressure from them and allows the person to simply tell you how they feel. Listen!
This technique can be done online as well. I call it a “digital hand shaking.” Just go to Twitter or other social networks after the event (typically audience members or event organizers have used hashtags to identify the event). Once you identify a comment, engage with the user. Thank them for attending and do the same as you would in person: ask what they took away. Answer any questions they have.
There is a theory called Recency effect that suggests much of our opinions are formed by the last interaction we have. When some people leave your presentation, they may be on the fence about your performance. However, after a handshake or a few quick tweet exchanges, it’s more plausible they’ll place your presentation in the favorable category.
10). Speak often!
According to Myers Briggs, I am a bonified introvert. I don’t naturally tell stories. There are even some basic words I have a hard time pronouncing (a little secret there).
Bottom line, I’m not characteristically the “right” person to excel on a stage. The most effective method I’ve used to train myself is to speak often (and to diverse crowds). I speak publicly no less than 4 times per month (and even though I preferred to be paid now, I take free speaking gigs all the time if it means it’s going to be a more challenging crowd). The only way to become a great public speaker is to speak your way to it .
During my time as a public speaker, I’ve learned that it’s not only a powerful way to demonstrate expertise, it’s also a great way to network with both target clients, customers, audience and other influencers. I get so much out of speaking publicly because it’s another way for me to help people by providing them with knowledge or unique perspective on a subject I’m well-versed in, whether it’s through personal stories or in business. I strongly encourage anyone desiring to increase confidence and influence to get out there and start speaking!
Are there any fellow public speakers out there? What other lessons have you learned that have made you a better public speaker?
Posted on: Oct 26, 2014