Do you ever wonder what makes some speakers so successful? Have you ever been in awe of a speaker and pondered, “How did she do that?”
The answer is through a lot of work.
There are some people who are naturally gifted at speaking, but most of us have to work really hard at it.
My first speech was the stuff of horror movies. As a nerdy, awkward and shy teenager, I was forced to take a public speaking class in high school. My crush was in my class, too. No pressure, right?
My knees were knocking, my hands were sweaty, and I speed read my speech without eye contact. I sat down before I uttered the last word.
I got a C. It was clearly a pity C.
But, I got better through speaking more and observing the habits of successful speakers.
Habit 1: Have a clear goal for your presentation.
The headline of this post rips off Stephen Covey, and one of the most effective habits of presentations is inspired by him: “Begin with the end in mind.” Ask yourself, “What’s my presentation’s destination?” You need a clear goal for your presentation. You need one goal for what you want your audience to know, feel or do immediately after the presentation.
Here’s a tip: Summarize your goal in one declarative sentence. If it’s a run-on sentence, it’s time to revise.
Habit 2: Prepare early and often.
As soon as you know you will speak somewhere, it is time to start preparing.
But if you think preparation means opening PowerPoint or Word, think again.
Nancy Duarte recommends you storyboard your speech on Post-It notes. Brainstorm your points and sub-points, and write them on Post-Its. Then put them on a wall so you can easily reorganize your speech or toss the points that don’t fit your goal into the recycling bin.
You need to start this process early. Speech preparation is an iterative process.
Habit 3: Find stories everywhere.
Audiences love stories. They spice up bland, boring, data-driven presentations. Stories engage audience members and help them relate the content to their lives.
Successful speakers always look for stories, and they know stories don’t have to be extraordinary. The best ones come from ordinary experiences.
Friend and fellow Toastmaster Dennis O’Cain recently gave a speech about a time when his cable didn’t work and his smart phone broke down. That sounds boring, right?
It was anything but boring. He told the story with passion, drama and frustration. More important, there was an extraordinary lesson in this ordinary experience: Our lifelines to the world aren’t technology, but the people who love us.
Stories are everywhere, and successful speakers always look for them.
Habit 4: Involve your audience.
Audience members want interaction during presentations. They want to feel involved. Ask them questions that make them think. Use the word “you” a lot. Use your stories to relate to their worlds. No matter what your presentation topic, think strategically about how you can involve your audience more in your speech.
For the love of all good things, avoid the “me, me, me” introduction. No one cares about you. People care about how your information will serve them.
Habit 5: Always respect the time limit.
Stop going over the time limit. It’s disrespectful of your audience’s time and attention. Aim to end early when as prepare your speech. That way if there are questions during the presentation, you have time to answer them and still end on time.
Habit 6: Show up early.
Successful speakers show up to the venue early so they can test the technology and make sure everything is working. If it is not, you’ll have time to fix it or go to your plan B. (You should always have a plan B when it comes to technology.)
Another benefit of showing up early is the ability to check the emotional vibe of the room. Are people tired? Are they chatty and happy? What’s the energy like?
Showing up early also lets your work the room. Meet the audience members and make personal connections that allow you to engage with your audience on a deeper level when you are on the stage.
Habit 7: Practice your bootie off.
A clear goal + solid preparation + practice = presentation success.
You need to practice your presentation. Practice it out loud, in the car, on a boat or in a moat. Visualize your speech. Make time to practice and know you can’t wing it.
Successful speakers know speaking is hard work. There’s no shortcut to success. Get out there and speak. Share your message. Speak as often as you can.
Dr. Michelle Mazur is a public speaking coach and communication expert. She blogs at Relationally Speaking, where a version of this article originally appeared.