Imagine you’ve just finished a big speech and you can’t wait to get on Twitter to see what the audience is saying about your performance.
The hashtags say it all: “#worstspeechever,” “#justkillmenow,” and “#epicfail.”
The worst part? Those are the kindest tweets. The others involve words your mother told you to never use.
If you’ve received such reviews, you’re not alone. Some of the brightest, most intelligent professionals are also the kind of public speakers that make others want to run for the exits the minute they spot them behind the podium or loading a PowerPoint.
Giving a great speech is not that difficult if you avoid the common presentation traps that ensnare many professionals. If you want a public talk to enhance your career and not kill it, then you should:
1. Stop channeling your high school debate team.
Those oration lessons you learned from the speech teacher? Forget them. You want to focus on having a conversation with your audience. Study how talk show hosts like Oprah Winfrey or Katie Couric lay out a problem and include their audience by telling stories about a problem and then outlining solutions. At the same time, they’re always willing to share a bit about themselves so that the audience feels like they have a relationship with them. Remember that audiences these days expect to be entertained while also being informed.
2. Stop depending on technology.
Could you give your speech if your PowerPoint crashed? If you cannot, then you’re not prepared to give a speech. You should be able to convey a compelling message without technical aids, so ensure you’re familiar enough with the subject you can talk without such prompts and still make it interesting.
3. Quit being robotic.
President Barack Obama has been criticized for being an unemotional speaker, while First Lady Michelle Obama gets high marks for her energy, emotion and eye contact. This should reinforce the lesson that no one can expect an audience’s attention if they don’t earn it.
4. Avoid just sticking to the facts.
Just because you’re talking about widgets doesn’t mean you can’t connect with the subject. Think about why those widgets are important to your audience. Will the new widgets make factories more productive, and perhaps save hundreds of jobs? Let the audience see that you understand why it’s important to them.
5. Ditch the shoes that pinch.
If you’re in a pair of shoes that are killing your feet, it shows. Any personal distraction – hair that falls in your face, jewelry that clangs about and a too-tight shirt convey uncomfortable body language. Always try on the clothes and shoes the night before a big speech, even if you’re worn it before (you could have put on a few pounds since last time). You need to feel so comfortable that it feels natural to move around and gesture without fearing you’re going to pop a button or develop a foot cramp. Your relaxed body language is critical if you want your audience to feel comfortable with you.
6. Forget the stale rhetoric.
If you’ve used an anecdote or saying in one speech, you need to choose something else the next time. You never know when an audience member has heard you before. At the same time, avoid picking up anecdotes from the Internet or public speaking books, as the audience is likely to have heard it before.
7. Embrace silence.
You’ve been asked to speak, so speak you must. But that doesn’t mean you should try to pack as much information as possible into your allotted time. Don’t be worried about taking a pause, especially after a significant piece of information. Let the audience digest it, then move onto your next point. If you lose your place for a moment, don’t try to fill it with “ums” or “ahs” or “so.” A pause also can be effective in delivering a humorous message – just watch a few videos of stand-up comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and you’ll get the idea.
8. Keep your iPhone out of reach.
Walk away from that smartphone before any speech. Turn it off, hide it under your chair or bury it in a coat pocket. Instead of holding onto it like a security blanket or using it to check last-minute emails, take the time before a speech to mingle with audience members. A smile, handshake and “so happy you could make it” will help you establish rapport with audience members and get them more engaged from the first words of your speech. It’s especially important to reach out to those sitting near the front, since you want to make eye contact with them.
Many professionals believe they can give a speech because they have a deep knowledge of their subject. The problem is that they’re not prepared to share that insight in a way that’s entertaining and informative. The result is that they alienate the audience and lose a golden opportunity to ramp up their professional standing.
That’s why it’s worth investing in a public speaking class. Even a weekend seminar can be worthwhile in helping you hone your presentation skills so that Twitter is abuzz over your abilities – not your goofs.
What are some suggestions you have for public speakers?
Photo Credit © The Center for Social Confidence