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Try These Tips for Effective Presentations and Speeches

Strategies to Help You Get Your Point Across

I am not a great public speaker by nature. I had a bad lisp as a child and endured years of speech therapy. However, rising to executive level positions in business forced me to learn to be an effective speaker in board meetings, in pitching ideas to potential supporters and speaking in front of large audiences.

The number one key is to connect with your audience and be entertaining. This does not mean a stand-up comedy routine. But would you purposely attend a speech you knew was going to be boring? You can be serious and provide solid information, but that doesn’t mean your entire presentation has to be dry as toast. Even a eulogy can have humorous anecdotes about the deceased. In most cases, helping people have an enjoyable time while listening to you speak is more important than appearing as an expert on a topic.

Being able to speak well in front of others is a valuable career skill. But public speaking does not only mean getting up in front of a huge audience. Making a presentation to a small work group can be just as challenging. Following are overall tips for public speaking that can be applied to a variety of situations.

PREPARATION

Get experience
When attending the presentations of others, make note of what made a speech enjoyable for you to listen to (or why it bombed). One of the best ways to become a better speaker is join a group such as Toastmasters, a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. For practice, you could volunteer to speak within a setting you already feel comfortable, such as at church or a club you already belong to.

Study your audience
Before drafting your speech, consider who the message is intended for. Coworkers where you work is a much different audience than an auditorium full of strangers at a conference. Profile your listeners. This will help you determine your choice of words, level of information, organization pattern and motivational statement.

Create the framework for your speech
Write down the topic, general purpose, specific purpose, central idea and main points. Determine what action you want your audience to do immediately after hearing your speech. Do any research necessary before writing your speech.

Writing and outlining
Structure your material in three sections:

+ Grabber: In your opening, you want to grab audience attention within the first 30 seconds. If you cannot think of a relatable story, there are numerous books and online resources with great quotes, jokes and anecdotes. After the grabber, you want to indicate what you are going to talk about.

+ Middle: This is where the meat of your material is contained. You should know the subject matter and show your enthusiasm for it. Suggest the action you would like people to take regarding the subject. Don’t be afraid to break up information with personal experiences or humorous anecdotes to maintain audience interest.

+ Close: While wrapping up your material, reinforce the action you want people to take, i.e., support the charitable purpose, adopt your business idea or purchase your product. Leave them with a relatable, memorable quote.

Keep it short
It is okay to start with a long draft version of your presentation, then cut it down. People by nature have a short attention span. Keep speeches within 20 minutes, unless asked specifically to speak longer. Sometimes you might have a much shorter time to give a pitch to a roomful of potential clients or decision makers. You can follow the same pattern of short Grabber, Middle and Close in a one to five-minute pitch.

Practice, practice, practice
It is difficult to watch a video of yourself giving a presentation, but it also is one of the best ways to see flaws and make improvements. I recommend starting out reading the full draft of your speech in front of a mirror a few times. Then, practice with just an outline. When you are comfortable with the material, videotape yourself with your cell phone, then watch it. Believe me, you will be shocked the first time.

You might want to give your speech to a practice audience. This could be a couple of colleagues or family members, who will give you constructive criticism.

There are a range of apps to improve public speaking, putting you in a virtual room, counting umms and ahhs, and testing things such as voice quality

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PRE-SPEECH

Know the set-up
Having operated numerous venues, it always surprised me when speakers would arrive with last minute requests, especially to add technology such as, “Can you hook up my laptop to a projector and display an image large enough to be seen by the back of the room?”

Last minute additions will not only send the venue staff scrambling, you will not have time to practice and be familiar with the set-up. Make sure to communicate technology and other needs in advance and arrive early to ensure everything is in place, find out what type of microphone you will be using and how the audience is oriented.

Use nervousness to your advantage
Mark Twain said, “There are only two kinds of speakers in the world, the nervous and liars.”

All people feel some physiological reactions like pounding hearts and trembling hands. This does not mean you will have a poor performance. In fact, some nerves are good, causing an adrenaline rush that increases alertness. Practice slow and steady breathing to calm yourself, remember how well you prepared, and go over your notes one more time.

Visualize yourself successful. Take a meditative moment and see yourself speaking well and having people clap and ask questions at the end. This will put you is a positive frame of mind.

GIVING THE SPEECH

Smile
A smile not only gives a friendly appearance to the audience, people can hear a smile in your voice. Look as if the content matters to you, and you are happy to be there. Be yourself and let a bit of your personality come through. Your audience will have an easier time trusting what you have to say if they can see you as a real person.

Start with a strong “grabber”
Take hold of your audience from the start, opening their mind to your message. I often start with a joke- something from my childhood, an embarrassing anecdote about myself, or an incident related to the event.

When asked to emcee a charity fashion show, the costume designer had trussed me up in a very tight bustier on top of a floor length dress skirt. After greeting the audience, I said “I want to thank U.S. Steel for their support in making industrial strength snaps for my outfit.” The self-deprecating joke not only got everyone laughing, it relaxed and warmed them up to my talk, which I then rolled in to thanking the actual sponsors of the event.

An opening grabber does not have to be a joke, like this one from Unicef: “21 children die each minute, every day from preventable causes.” It’s short, memorable, and is a good starting point for the topic of the speech.

A short story can also be effective. The Duke of Cambridge opened a charity event about how his mother and father taught him about charity as a small boy. He was then able to reflect back on the lessons from that story throughout his speech.

Pauses.
Include three second pauses at key moments—just before key statements or just after a story— this really brings the audience into the speech and builds anticipation.

Watch for feedback and adapt to It.
The audience is the best indicator of how a speech is going. Observe reactions and adjust your message accordingly. In a smaller setting, you might see decision maker cross his arms on his chest—a sign of being uncomfortable or closed off to what was said. Stay flexible. Perhaps a point needs further explanation or a different tack entirely.

Don’t read your speech
Reading from a script will guarantee that you lose the attention of even the most devoted listeners. An outline on notecards is acceptable. Write on only one side, and make sure to number them.

Don’t apologize
What you think is a horrible gaff probably will not be remembered by the audience.

Use your voice and body effectively
Speak clearly and at a good volume, whether you are using a mic or not. Also be conscious of where your hands are—use gestures sparingly to make a point, then find a comfortable resting position. Don’t tap your foot or shake a leg.

Make eye contact
In a smaller room, pick three points, left, right and center, and make eye contact with people at these points throughout the speech. In a larger auditorium, you might not see a person’s eyes, but you should still shift your gaze to three points, with the center point being someone in the front row, so everyone feels included.

Use audiovisual aids sparingly
Visual aids should emphasize a point. Too many can break the relationship you’ve built with the audience.

Include a big finish
Wrap up your speech with a summary of what you told them, the action you would like them to take and a strong statement that your audience will remember.

Closing thoughts
Dale Carnegie said, “There are always three speeches for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave and the one you wish you gave.”

Good communication is never perfect, and nobody expects you to be perfect. But taking the time to prepare, including practicing, will help you deliver a more effective speech

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