Advice Unlimited

Polish Your Public Speaking Skills

Our industry is extremely network-focused, and events, seminars, and conferences will always be an integral part of how we interact and get business done. When you can be the speaker at these events, not just a participant, it establishes you (and your organization) as a thought leader, provides you an opportunity to present your perspective, knowledge and insights, and helps you establish credibility and build rapport with your customers, potential customers, and influencers. Many organizations are also using webinars more frequently; here, as well, basic public speaking practices will help you deliver a more engaging presentation and help you win your audience’s hearts and minds. Following are some suggestions to help you take best advantage of these speaking opportunities.

Know your Audience and Speak Directly to Them

Obvious, but critical – write your presentation with your audience in mind, using language, references, and examples that will resonate with them. Who are you talking to – customers? Partners?  Scientists? High school students? How much background do they have on your topic? Are you introducing a new concept or are you updating a group about a project in progress? Think about what your audience will be expecting from your speech. Be sure and deliver what they need from the presentation – and a bit more!

Display Mastery

The more you know, the more confident and effective you will be. It’s crucial to really know your material inside and out – this will allow you to be natural and comfortable with your delivery. Once you master your material, you’ll have a much easier time conveying your key points to your audience. It also helps to be passionate about your topic – your audience will be able to tell if you’re talking about something that you truly believe in.

Organize Logically and Clearly

Something that successful speeches all have in common is that they’re organized and have a clear message. A well-organized speech guides your audience from start to finish, laying the groundwork for the information to be presented, providing the key points, then summarizing clearly, and closing with a memorable finish. Set the stage, and finish with a punch. When your main points are arranged in a logical manner, listeners will be better able to follow your presentation. Fleshing out your points with relevant, supporting data (such as a personal experience or research findings) will help your audience understand and relate to your remarks. Make sure you leave enough time at the end to fully summarize your main points. If it’s an informative speech, the closing statement is sometimes referred to as the “residual message” – this is a final, broad, brief statement that sums up the main message you want your audience to remember. If it’s a persuasive speech, you should conclude with a call to action – end by telling your audience precisely what it is that you want them to do. Remember: the speaker is always in control of the presentation. Your audience is there because they want to hear what you have to say; take advantage of this opportunity by taking the time to plan and prepare an informative and entertaining presentation.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Public speaking is often cited as the one thing most people are afraid of. There’s good reason for that – it’s not easy to get up in front of a crowd and really hold their interest for a set period of time. Christopher Mortenson, an international Toastmasters winner, said that he practiced his winning speech 30 times before presenting it for the first time. When rehearsing, practice speaking to the room as if the audience was right there in front of you, and present out loud; reading over the presentation is fine, but that doesn’t replace a ‘real’ run-through. Practice using gestures when appropriate to intensify your points. The more you practice, the less jittery you’ll be in front of a live audience.   

When practicing, try to visualize yourself giving the best speech of your life. Steven D. Cohen, a Harvard University professor in the school of Oral Communication in the Workplace, believes that seeing yourself succeed is one of the most important factors to overcoming nerves. Remember that you were chosen to speak for a reason and that the audience is looking forward to hearing what you have to say.

Don’t Let Visual Aids Hinder the Speech

Visual aids are often great assets to speeches; many speakers rely on PowerPoints to help their audience follow along with the presentation. It’s important to keep the amount of information on each slide to a minimum, as too much text on the screen can get distracting, and use large fonts so they can be read from the back of the room. Also, integrating artwork, photos, even videos, can make the presentation livelier. But don’t ever read the slides, and don’t let the visual aids dominate – some of the best presentations I’ve enjoyed have been just a person talking – with passion, excitement, and a great message. 

Create a Moment of Awe

People want to be wowed. Don’t just follow the written script – be sensitive to your audience and when you feel they want more information or insights around a certain point, go for it! This is a common technique of Dr. Andrew Scott Crines, a professor at the University of Leeds in the UK. Build a moment in the speech that elicits a strong emotion and use it to illustrate your point. Great speeches can feel magical, grabbing the attention of the audience and energizing them. And the more frequently you speak, the more comfortable and confident you’ll become – while you also boost your credibility and that of your organization. 


2013. Advice Unlimited LLC.

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