So you have decided it is time to improve your public speaking skills, now what? There are 19,700 books on public speaking listed on Amazon and gazillions of live workshops conducted around the world. What do you really need to know?
I’ve trained more than 10,000 people from six continents over the last 30 years, and here is what I have found created the best results in the least amount of time.
1.Narrow your presentation, no matter how long, to just five key points. Most speakers make the mistake of doing a data-dump and overwhelming their audience with too much info. The result: nothing is remembered. If you doubt me on this, try to remember a recent speaker you heard where you also remember more than five key points.
- Illustrate each key point with a story. All professional speakers use stories. All mediocre and average speakers say “I’d love to tell stories, but there is no time,” or “I’m not a good story teller.” Nonsense; a story is simply you recounting a real conversation you had with a real colleague, customer or partner, about a real problem, where you were, how you felt about it and how it was resolved. The single biggest difference between great speakers and everyone else is that great speakers consistently use a story to illustrate each key point; others don’t.
- If you use PowerPoint or other visual aids, use images, not text. The most effective PowerPoint presentations use one image per slide and try to convey one idea per slide. If you have lots of text, email it to audience members or hand it out, but don’t project it on a screen while speaking to people.
- Practice your presentation on video until you are happy with how you are coming across. Please note that this tip isn’t simply “practice.” Practicing a boring data dump doesn’t help. And this tip isn’t simply “practice on video.” If you practice on video one and reviewed it, you can actually make yourself more nervous and fearful about the upcoming real speech. The lesson is to practice on your speech on video repeatedly until you like every aspect of your style and substance. If you look at a video of yourself and you think you are boring and monotone, guess what? You are. Frankly, this is why people come to my live in-person workshops because most folks are not disciplined enough to watch themselves repeatedly and make small improvements each time.
- Test your presentation. The notion of public speaking being a so-called “soft-skill” is ridiculous. It is just as easy to quantify the effectiveness of a speech as it is any aspect of accounting or engineering. If you have a presentation to deliver to 40 colleagues or clients on Thursday, then practice your speech in front of one or two colleagues during lunch on Tuesday. Afterward, ask your colleagues what they remembered and what they think you want them to do. If they remember all your message points and your slides, you have evidence your speech was effective. If they say things like “you seemed confident,” or “good speech,” it means you need to further refine, practice and test your speech.