When you need to give an amazing presentation, it makes sense to model yourself on the very best speakers in the industry. After all, some presenters light up a room and keep the audience engaged, while some of the most passionate experts in any industry completely fail to maintain attention throughout a talk.
Here’s how you can make sure that you’re a compelling speaker and that your audience is waiting on your every word.
Be present in the room
When you’re giving your talk, where’s your mind? Are you focused on what’s happening right in front of you, or are you frantically trying to remember what’s on your next slide? If you stay present and attentive during your presentation, your audience will too.
Are all your sentences the same length? Does your tone basically stay the same on every sentence? When you’re practice, vary your sentence length. Speak quickly. Pause. Take a long breath, and then move forward with a dramatic sentence that ends in a specific point. Varied speech is more interesting to listen to.
Pause to breathe
Speakers are often told not to speak too fast, but that’s not actually the problem. Most humans process speech very quickly. What we’re really asking for is pauses and breaks in your sentences where we can take a breath with you. It makes it easier to listen and stay attentive. Pepper your talk with appropriate pauses.
Move your body (appropriately) while you talk. Your face should be animated, you should gesture, and you can walk around, if that feels comfortable to you. Your motion gives us something to see, which helps us stay focused and attentive.
Humans have been communicating stories as long as we’ve been able to talk. Sure, your talk may be about imparting a specific skill, but if you can frame it in terms of a story, with a beginning, middle, and end, your audience will more easily follow your topic and your point.
If you don’t think you’re a good speaker, neither will your audience. Leave your worries at the door. Instead of thinking about “What will happen if I screw this up,” think about “what will happen if I nail this?”
Give the audience a reason to care
Be specific. “This is going to change how you do business, save you time every day, improve your organizational skills, and revolutionize your management techniques.” When your audience knows how they’re going to use what they’re going to learn, they get excited, and retain more of your talk.
Show, don’t tell
This is classic writing advice that also applies to presentations! We mean two things by this; first, give your audience visual aids, if they work with your topic. The mind processes images more quickly than text. Second, give examples and explanations, rather than dry facts.
Tell the audience what you’re telling them
Start your talk or presentation with a five minute brief of what you’re going to cover. Think of this like the table of contents in your story. It might begin with “Today, we’re going to talk about the worst day of my life as a manager, and the tools I learned to turn it around. I’m going to show you how to implement this in your day to day life, to make your business a happier place to work.” Set the stage for your topic.
We’ve all heard amazing claims of astonishing things, so give the audience evidence to back up your claims. Tell them specifically how these amazing changes affected your business. Did the company grow by a particular percent? Did retention improve? Did sales climb? Did customer service become more efficient while getting better service scores? Show us that your strategies work.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
You will not throw together a fascinating talk two days before it’s going to happen. You need time to write, time to create any visual aids, and time to practice actually delivering the presentation itself. Create a timeline with a to-do list and stick to it.
Answer questions sparingly
Leaving time for questions at the end of a talk can be great, but super specific questions may be uninteresting to the rest of your audience, if they can’t be generalized. Consider taking questions in writing and following up with attendees after the talk itself.
Be open to your audience
When your body language is closed and reserved, your audience will understand that you don’t want to be present with them. When you keep your shoulders relaxed, your arms loose, and a neutral to happy expression on your face, your audience will believe you’re happy to be with them.
Many speakers spend a great deal of time on their introduction and end with a lackluster conclusion. The last thing your audience hears should be inspiring, interesting, or point them towards action. Invite them to contact you with stories of how they put this information to work in their daily work lives.
What tips would you offer to someone looking to make their presentation out of this world?