9 ways to improve your speaking skills

You know the standard presentation tips and tricks. You’re good; you can get by. Here’s how to take your delivery to the next level.

Over the past few years, I’ve spoken at a lot of events. Beyond just speaking, I am sharing the stage with many different types of speakers and speaking styles. It’s in the nuances that you learn how the masters do it.

If you’re just getting started with presenting to audiences or if you’re looking to up your game, here are some key points that will take you from being an everyday speaker to being a star that people want to see.

1. Limit the technology. All too often I see people with laptops, PowerPoint, DVDs, cued CDs, props and more. Kill it. You don’t need it. If you use slides that can augment what you’re saying, great, but you don’t need it and you should not rely on it. People are coming to learn from you. Know your content to the point that even if your slides don’t load or the video doesn’t play, it won’t matter.

Expecting the AV technician to get/know all of your cues and the intricacies of your presentation puts too much reliance on the technology (and on the AV guy). On top of that, asking from the stage for videos or music to play kills your story and flow. It’s like when an actor calls for a line. Also, having a lot of gear makes the organizers nervous (something could go wrong!) and can make the speaker seem high maintenance.

2. Kill the Internet. Whether it’s a hard-line connection or wireless connection, going live to an Internet connection is a bad move. Don’t do it. If you really need to play something from the Web (like a video), use an online video downloading program and embed the video into your presentation. If you want to show a website, do a screen capture beforehand and embed it into your presentation.

3. Don’t switch screens. A lot of speakers download the videos but wind up toggling between their presentation and the media player. Don’t do this, either. It kills the momentum. If your presentation software does not allow you to embed video, switch to one that does.

4. Invest in a remote. Too many speakers rely on advancing their slides from the keyboard or they rely on the AV team to supply a remote or advance the slides for them.

Invest in your own remote presenter. I’m a fan of the Logitech Professional Presenter R800. It gives you up to 100 feet of distance (which is a lot), but also has built-in digital timer that gives you a silent vibration when you have five minutes left and when your time is up (which is helpful if you present for different lengths of time). If you want something a little less discreet, try the Honeywell Power Presenter. This one is very small and has the basic buttons.

The key to owning your own remote is that you will be comfortable with it. When you are, your slide transitions become that much more seamless and professional.

5. Don’t point. Many people who use a remote presenter (their own or someone else’s) tend to point it at their laptops, the screen or the confidence monitor on the floor. Pointing the remote at anything is useless. It not only looks silly, but draws the audiences’ attention away from you and towards the technology. Pressing the buttons harder doesn’t help either. The remote is not a gun. Don’t point it.

6. No inside baseball. Don’t talk about your technical challenges. Don’t talk about the bad audio. Don’t talk about anything that has to do with the production or presentation of your talk. Focus on two things: the audience and the content. Talking about anything else is a distraction and not important to the audience.

7. Stand your ground. It’s fine to pace. It’s fine to stand still. Whatever you do, make sure to stand your ground. Don’t close up; be open. One of the best ways to “stand your ground,” is to go to the middle and front of the stage as soon as you are introduced and do (at least) your first five minutes just standing there. Much like a comedian, actor or musician, you should come out of the gates, be strong and own your content.

8. No notes. No reading. The best tip I have? Know your content. Having notes and reading a speech are boring and a little inauthentic. Many people will comment that some of the great presidents have read their speeches from teleprompters. I get it, but I wouldn’t do that if I could avoid it.

Do your best to know your content. If you can’t, just remember your who, what, when, where, why and how questions. Ask yourself each question in your mind, and then answer them aloud to the audience. Here’s how this can work. Your topic is Twitter for business. Here’s how you can speak about it without notes and reading.

Ask yourself these questions in your mind, and then answer them aloud: Who should care about Twitter for business? What do I need to know about Twitter before jumping in for my business? When is it best for a business to use Twitter? Where is the best place to learn more about Twitter for business? Why should any business care about being on Twitter? How can my business get started?

If all else fails, use those questions as your framework or model. Whatever you say will be better (and more interesting) than reading something you wrote a few days ago. Remember, speaking is not reading.

9. Clip-on mic. Holding a microphone in your hand is an art form. I’ve never been able to master it and have rarely seen someone pull it off well. It’s better to have your hands free. Get a clip-on microphone (also known as a lavaliere mic). If you don’t own your own, ask the event organizer to arrange one for you a few weeks prior to your presentation.

Mitch Joel is president of Twist Image, an award-winning Digital Marketing and Communications agency. In 2008, Mitch was named Canada’s Most Influential Male in Social Media, one of the top 100 online marketers in the world, and was awarded the highly prestigious Canada’s Top 40 Under 40. His first book, “Six Pixels of Separation” (published by Grand Central Publishing – Hachette Book Group), named after his successful Blog and Podcast is a business and marketing best-seller.

This post originally ran on his blog, http://www.twistimage.com/blog

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