7 terrific speaking tactics—from the moment you hit your mark

Lackluster openings and lumping the audience into a glob are symptoms of a bad presentation. Ignite a spark before you utter a sound, and keep rolling with this advice.


Want to inject some “magic” into your presentation?

An illusionist once took me and some friends aside after his performance for a massive youth group in Hong Kong and demonstrated how he fostered an immediate connection with his audience:

There are usually two small pieces of tape on the stage in an “X” or “T” formation where you’re supposed to stand—it’s centered, and the lights focus on that point. It’s called your “mark.”

“I always position myself in the back corner of the stage,” Steve Varro said. “When the curtain opens, I walk in a curved line—center and forward—to hit my mark. You want to move forward to greet your audience. It creates intimacy.”

We’ve all seen speeches that begin with a speaker being caught off guard, hustling up from the audience, moving away from them to get in position. As Varro explained, it’s more effective to position yourself strategically so you’re moving forward to hit your mark—whether it be tape on the stage, your place behind a lectern or a spot on the ground at a groundbreaking ceremony.

Also, when first addressing your audience, stay on your mark for a bit to focus and command their attention. Too many speakers wander from the start and never let up.

Speeches are crucial for instilling confidence throughout internal and external audiences, as well as boosting sales. Plus, research has shown that an executive’s presentation skills can directly affect a company’s share price.

Here are more tips for delivering a strong presentation:

1. Always have an introduction. Having someone introduce the speaker serves as a call to order and focuses the audience’s attention, whether it’s a formal speech, a workshop or a short greeting by an executive kicking off a casual event. Even the most high-profile speech in the nation has a short introduction: “Mister Speaker, the president of the United States.”

2. Have a strong opening. You can certainly do better than, “Uh, good morning. Let me see if I can get these slides to work.” Work on a strong ending, too. The audience will remember how they felt about your opening and closing.

3. Don’t apologize. We’ve all heard people stand up and say, “Well, I’m sorry I’m not much of a public speaker.” Lame, lame, lame. They’re either displaying false modesty or pointing out what will soon become obvious. Both are poor. Just speak from the heart, and let your presentation stand on its own. The audience will decide how good you were and what to take with them.

4. In another country, learn a few local phrases, not just “hello.” If you frequently present in other countries, no one is going to expect you to be fluent in every language. If you’re good, you will be in demand, and someone will interpret for you in the local language. I suggest opening with a few sentences in the host country’s language, which can build rapport—if it’s done in a sincere, non-patronizing manner.

5. Address “you,” not “you guys.” Don’t lump the entire audience into a mass by saying “you guys” or “everyone here.” Audience members are individuals, so address each person as such. Do this by saying “you.” Try, “Have you ever noticed…?” or, “Suppose you were going to….”

6. Treat “uh” as a profanity. “Uhs,” “ummms,” and other fillers drain your speech’s potency. Many people unknowingly say “uh” far more than they realize—as much or more than every 15 to 20 seconds throughout a presentation. To stop using “uh” in your presentations—eliminate it from your everyday life first. Have your friends or family call you out when you say it, or attend a local meeting of Toastmasters; the sergeant-at-arms takes notes and cheerfully informs the group of fillers at the end.

7. Deliver a speech, not a slide presentation. If you took away the slides, would it still be a good speech? Would John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not…” speech have been improved with a giant question mark on a screen with a red line through it? Would Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech still bring goosebumps if he had turned around to read bullet points? (If you haven’t already done so, check out The Gettysburg Address PowerPoint Presentation.) It’s fine to use slides, but don’t go overboard. Face the audience instead of the screen. You may even choose to show a blank slide periodically so the audience focuses back on you.

We may not always get such an enthusiastic welcome, but if we demonstrate that we took time to understand our audience, they’re more likely to receive and retain our message.

A version of this post first appeared on the SnappConner blog.

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