Mastering the Art of Public Speaking [Part 1- Preparing your Messages]

When giving a presentation or speech, your goal is to come across as comfortable, confident, relaxed, and authoritative, right? You want your audience to understand you, remember your message, and take your desired actions. That’s what you’ll learn today; mastering the art of public speaking for your next presentation or speech.

Let’s start!

Know What You Want the Audience to Do

Before you start preparing your speech or the first slide of your presentation, take a breath, calm down, sit back, and ask yourself, “What do you want your audience to do?” For example, if you’re going on a job interview and presenting to a prospective employer, then you want your employer to do is to give you the job. If you are running for office, you want the audience to give you a vote or money. If you’re speaking to a new business p, you want them to hire you or sign a contract.

This may sound basic, but I see people of varying degrees of success, skills, and seniority making the same mistake countless times. Their first inclination is to just start gathering information. They go around gathering information and data, and it just gets stacked higher and higher. You don’t want to do this.

The first thing you have to do is figure out what you want your audience to do and write it down. You need clarity on that because if you don’t know what you want them to do, you can’t convince them to do it.

Identify Your Messages

Think of the best speaker or presenter you’ve seen in your business, your line of work, or your industry. Now think of every message you remember from their speech and write it down. You don’t have to think of their style or accent; just focus on the messages. Can you remember anything? Maybe, you can’t remember anything at all! That’s a question I’ve been asking my clients all over the world, and typically quite often people say, “T.J., everyone’s boring in my industry. I don’t remember anything.” Or they’ll occasionally say, “Yeah, T.J., I remember this one speaker. I remember this idea.” Sometimes it’s three ideas from the greatest speaker they’ve seen. Every three months or so, someone will remember four ideas. However, all the years I’ve asked this question, guess how many times someone has remembered more than five ideas from the best speaker they’ve ever heard in their industry? Never!

The point here is that nobody will remember you if you don’t have interesting messages, so you need to work on this. You’ve to narrow down what you want your audience to do. In order to do so, you’ve to ask yourself about all the messages you could tell your audience. Then think about five or fewer of the most important ones. You are not being asked to be the Wikipedia for your audience; they can use their cell phone for this. You have to use your judgment and figure out what your audience needs to know to make a decision and take your desired action.

Most people make the fundamental mistake of trying to convey too many facts, numbers, or data points, and make it boring. Your audience doesn’t have to know everything about what you do in your job. Rather, you should focus on the ideas that are most interesting, relevant, important, and useful to your audience.

What you’ve got to do is brainstorm every possible message you could say in a presentation or a speech, and then eliminate anything that doesn’t make it to the top five. If you have a message that’s just a boring fact, and the audience isn’t going to find it interesting or useful, get rid of it. You can always give that in a handout, but it’s not something you have to spend your time speaking about.

Know What Messages will Work

How do you know what messages will be interesting to your audience? Well, here’s a radical idea for you, ask people. I love Google and the Internet and all that, but sometimes just going up to people and asking them what issues are of greatest interest to them can be the most helpful.

I can remember that many years ago, I was working with a political candidate who was running for supervisor of elections in a county in Florida. This was after a whole situation where voting machines didn’t work. The current supervisor of the election was going to be voted out of office, and people were upset their vote didn’t count. So, all of a sudden, about ten candidates are running for this position. My candidate had about the least money of any of the candidates. All of the candidates were running around town saying, “Democracy is paramount. Your vote is essential, and I have a law degree.” They had nice suits and ties on. They looked professional and sounded like statesmen. My candidate had to figure out a way of cutting through this. I asked myself, “What could we have done that’s different from other people?” I just went around and asked voters, “What are you looking for in a supervisor of elections?” Everyone said that they wanted the machines to work. I then asked my candidate to visit the factory where they make the voting machines, and we got the machines fixed.  This didn’t cost any money. We didn’t have money for extensive polling, but I asked my candidate to focus on three clear, simple messages. I told him to ask his audience to vote for him, and he’ll make sure the machines work, and their vote will count. My candidate won the general election, and now actually many decades later, he’s still in office because of just asking people what they cared about and narrowing it down.

So whatever you do, it’s not enough to just tell people all your credentials. Whether you’re trying to get a new piece of business, a new consulting investment, or being hired for a job, you’ve got to focus on what the person or people you’re presenting to care about.

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