10 tips for successful public speaking

Tell stories to keep the attention of your audience.

I’ve been to approximately 100 conferences and corporate events in the past several years as I travel the world delivering keynotes and running seminars. I’ve heard a few great speeches. Sadly, most speeches I’ve heard are not very good and some are downright terrible.
I’ve collected some observations on what makes a good presentation and drawn from my own experience.

Most of us have an opportunity to speak in front of a group at some point, perhaps at your industry event, your company’s sales conference or to a local club.

Make the most of your opportunity. Here’s how:

1. Take it seriously. If 200 people are in a room and you speak for a half hour, you are taking up 100 hours of people’s time. I see many speakers “wing it” and it makes me feel sorry for the audience.

2. Know the conference organizer’s goals. When I speak, I work with organizers to accomplish three goals in equal proportion: education, entertainment, motivation. Since I am a paid speaker, I must deliver on all three so the conference organizer is happy he/she invited me. You need to know why you have been invited to be on the podium. How would the organizer define a successful presentation?

3. Tell stories. When someone says: “Let me tell you a story…,” you’re interested, right? When someone says: “Let me tell you about my company…,” is your reaction the same? It doesn’t sound like a way you want to spend your valuable time, does it? Stories are exciting. Most presentations are dry. Open with a story. Tell stories to illustrate your point. It’s fascinating to see an audience sit up and pay attention when you start to tell a story on the stage.

4. Nobody cares about your products (except you). Yes, it’s just like what I say about Web marketing. What people care about are themselves and ways to solve their problems. A speech is not about you. It is about your audience. You must resist the urge to hype your products and services. Even if you’re asked to speak about your company or your products, focus on your customers or the problems you solve.

5. Prepare and practice. Run through your presentation as many times as required so that you are completely comfortable with the material. You should know the presentation so well that you could do it without PowerPoint and without notes.

6. Don’t use PowerPoint as a teleprompter. Slides are great for showing images and charts. Consider showing a short video. Definitely do not use slides to show bulleted lists of text. Yawn! Way too many people just read what’s on their slides. Don’t do that! PowerPoint is not a speaker’s crutch. It is a way to illustrate your spoken point. By the way, some of the best speakers don’t use slides at all.

7. Arrive early. There is nothing worse than a presenter fumbling with technology on a stage. Everyone becomes uncomfortable and it is nearly impossible to overcome that bad first impression. You should plan to arrive at the venue with plenty of time to spare and go to the assigned room at least one hour before you are scheduled to speak.

You may need to arrive much earlier if there are sessions before yours because you will want to set up, test your equipment and stand on the stage to get a feel for the room. Use the microphone to hear your voice. Get as comfortable as possible with the venue before people arrive or when they are on a break. The conference organizer and the A/V people will love you for arriving early! When you are comfortable with logistics, you will deliver a better speech.

8. Bring an electronic copy of your presentation. I always carry my presentation on a memory stick and wear it around my neck from the moment I step out of my house until after I have presented. I wear it on the plane and in the hotel. I wear it out to dinner. You never know what may happen to your computer. (I spilled water on my computer in Brussels once and fried it!) Having that backup is comforting.

9. Don’t go long. When you build a speech and deliver it for the first time, it almost always runs long. Don’t go over time! It’s okay to end short because you can take a few questions, but running long wrecks the entire event schedule. Worse, you may get pulled off the stage. That looks awful.

10. Be aware of body language. My friend Nick Morgan, author of Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma says: “When words and body language are in conflict, body language wins every time.”

If you are nervous, it shows. If you don’t believe what you’re saying, it shows. If you aren’t having fun, it shows. Your audience will always react to your body language instead of your words.

David Meerman Scott is the author of World Wide Rave and blogs at WebInkNow.

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