If you want to get ahead in most any field of human endeavor these days, you must learn to master the art and science of crafting and giving not just adequate… but dazzling presentations.
As professional and business speaker I’ve worked to forge my craft over the past thirty years. I’ve presented over 250 speeches, podcasts, seminars, breakout sessions and online presentations. I’ve learned enough over that time to be considered by some to be an expert. But, the truth is, I’m still learning and growing all the time. This is due to the simple fact that presentations are no longer limited to live audiences, but now include podcasts, webinars, and teleclasses.
Before I share the seven techniques as promised, there is one thing that any successful presenter must know before ever stepping in front of a microphone. Understand this and your talk, seminar or presentation will be a smash hit that people will be talking about for days after you finish. Or you can disregard it at your own peril…
Simply stated… you must have a single objective or desired outcome for your presentation. That’s it… not an enormous vocabulary, elegant phrasing or presidential bearing, but a specifically stated objective for your talk. Everything that you say in the presentation must be in support of this single idea. When I listen to speakers, I am flabbergasted at the number of them who just don’t do this. Unless you have this idea firmly planted in your mind, your audience never will either. (Studies show that people will forget 87% of what you say within just a few hours, so we must concentrate on owning that other 13%.) Examples of some stated outcomes might be:
- To motivate people to vote for a bond issue
- To raise $10,000 for your charity
- To convince prospects to use your product or services
- To build your client list
- To teach listeners how to do something specific
Ready for the seven secret techniques that will help you say “mission accomplished” at the end of your talk? Here they are:
1. Create and memorize a short opening statement. At the very beginning of your speech, you must first communicate why what you are about to share is important and why they should listen to you. To accomplish this, share an appropriate short story or recap or your own life experience. Resist attempts at levity or humor at this point unless you are a professional comedian… it is the sign of a rank beginner. If I were to use this article as the outline of a speech, the first three paragraphs above would be very close to my memorized opening.
The second reason to craft and memorize an opening is that it keeps you from opening with credibility killers like… “I’m not really a very good speaker” or “I really didn’t have time to prepare” or “I want to start by saying I’m really nervous”. It also gets you right into your presentation without all those ahs, umms and you knows that can torpedo an audience’s initial impression of you.
2. Know your topic inside out, upside down and backwards. When I present new material this means preparing for at least 4 hours for every one hour I speak. (This gets shorter if you do multiple presentations of the same material.) The more organized you are, the more effective and less nervous you’ll be. The better you prepare, the less likely you’ll make a mistake or get off track. And if you do get lost, you’ll be able to recover more quickly. Adequate preparation will give you increased confidence that will impress the audience right from the start. Another benefit of ironclad preparation is that you’ll be able to present faster… as good pacing is important to keeping your audience engaged. In coaching others to develop and deliver public presentations, I’ve learned that the root cause of most people’s fear of public speaking is most often simple lack of preparation.
3. Prepare a short written outline of your talk. Resist memorizing or reading the entire speech. Instead, use short words and key phrases in an outline format to list your key points. Take this outline with you to the podium or microphone. It will provide a roadmap for your talk and help ensure that you don’t get off track or leave out an important thought. Have at least three and no more than seven reasons or benefits that support your desired outcome. Place one of the two most compelling points you have at the beginning of your presentation and the other at the end of your list. A good rule of thumb is to allow at least six or seven minutes of presentation time for each key point.
4. Use compelling visuals or none at all. Use simple graphs, drawings, stories, dramatic images or personal experiences to support each of your main points. Avoid PowerPoint slides with too much text, boring numbers or hard to see spreadsheets whenever you can. It’s better to have nothing at all than something that is hard to read or detracts from you main message.
5. Don’t be afraid of a little silence… use it. If you lose track of what you’re saying or your mind goes blank, it can seem like an eternity. But in reality, it has probably only been a few seconds. Even if it’s longer, it’s likely your audience won’t mind a pause to consider what you’ve been saying. Often, if I’m face to face with a live audience, I’ll purposely take a few moments to survey the room and make eye contact with a few people to set the stage for my opening…. Nothing like silence to get people’s attention!
6. Craft and memorize a call to action for the end of your presentation. After a quick summary of your key points, a call to action tells your audience what you want them to do as a result of your presentation. For example, “You can see why the best choice in Tuesday’s election is to vote YES on the Liberty School District bond issue”. You can do a soft sell here or be bold and brash. It’s up to you.
7. Practice, practice, practice and practice some more. Rehearse your complete presentation several times until you “own it”. Do it for a few people you’re comfortable with and ask them for honest feedback. Record it and play it back. Time your presentation, as running over your allotted time is a sure way to lose an audience and aggravate your host. Finally, consider hiring a coach if you are still unsure of yourself at this point.
The next time you present, use at least three or more of these strategies… then get ready for the hearty round of applause you’ll richly deserve!