Get into your subject, get your subject into yourself, and get your subject into the heart of your audience.
Your Biggest Fear Could be Your Greatest Opportunity
Do you feel comfortable speaking in public? If you do, then you are one of a small percentage of people who thrive in public speaking situations. For most people, public speaking is one of their greatest fears. For some it’s even greater than the fear of death itself.
I guess speaking in public is kind of risky. It’s risky because you’re opening yourself up to judgment, rejection and criticism. Who knows what people might think of you? Who knows what they might say? You might actually end up humiliating yourself in front of everyone — and that for most people probably feels worse than death.
When we fear something we tell ourselves all these horrible stories about what will happen. And of course most of these stories end up being worst-case scenarios that probably have no basis in reality. However, our critical voice and paranoia get the better of us and we eventually end up sabotaging our own progress.
Things however don’t necessarily need to be this way. They don’t need to be as you imagine them to be. Just maybe people will talk fondly of you and will compliment you on your efforts, knowledge, presence and expertise — irrelevant of your mistakes and errors. Our vulnerabilities make us human. And that is of course what helps us connect with those around us.
Just maybe the fear of public speaking isn’t as great of a fear as you imagine it to be. Just maybe it can turn into one of life’s greatest opportunities.
Knowing how to speak in public puts you in a position of power and authority. It helps you to position yourself as an expert in your field, which of course allows you to become an influential force for change and transformation.
Those who feel comfortable and understand how to speak in public are the game changers in our society. They are the people who move communities and societies into action through the words they speak and through the ideas they share. As a result they are often some of the highest paid individuals in the world.
Consider for a moment the thousands of people who have shared their thoughts and ideas through TED Talks over the years. These people are transforming lives through their words and challenging people to think in new and revolutionary ways. Their willingness to speak in public on important issues is providing them with an opportunity to make their mark on the world. And their opportunity can also become your opportunity as long as you are willing to develop yourself as a public speaker.
What follows is a breakdown of what it takes to become a proficient public speaker. We will first take a look at how to prepare yourself for a talk or presentations. We will then discuss what to do during your talk or presentation that will help you impact your audience in a positive way. And finally we will explore how to adjust your approach to different types of audiences.
What to do Before Your Speech or Presentation
The success of a talk or presentation always has its foundations in the preparation phase before you jump onto that stage with zest and enthusiasm.
When we watch people on stage giving a speech or presentation we marvel at how easy and effortless it all seems. It’s as though they have a natural God-given gift or ability. However, what we don’t see is the hours, days, weeks and sometimes even months of preparation that goes on beforehand. That is essentially where the magic happens.
For the purpose of our discussion, let’s breakdown four key elements that go into the preparation phase before a speech or presentation.
Finding Your Purpose
Your first objective is to find your purpose. This essentially translates into a concrete goal that you set in place for your speech or presentation. Ask yourself:
What topic am I going to be presenting or talking about?
What is the major theme of my speech or presentation?
What is my goal for this speech or presentation? Is it to persuade, to educate, to inspire, to entertain, or to move people to action?
What is my underlying purpose?
What will be my main message? What’s the purpose of that message?
What laws of persuasion could I utilize that could help support my goals and purpose?
Understanding your goals and purpose helps lay down the foundations for the structure of your speech or presentation. However, that structure is also heavily influenced by the audience you will be presenting to.
Understanding Your Audience
Every speech or presentation you give must be specifically tailored to the audience you are delivering it to. In other words, you must fully understand your audience, their needs, values and motives. In order to that, ask yourself the following questions:
Who is my audience? What is their purpose for attending?
What expectations do they have of me and of the presentation?
What is the demographic background of this audience?
What interests do they have that might be relevant to the topic I will be presenting?
What knowledge do they already have about this topic?
What don’t they know that they would like to know? Why is that important?
How will I gain my audience’s trust and attention?
How will I establish credibility with my audience?
Do I want my audience to do something specific, or to feel a certain way about something?
The more you know about your audience the easier it will be to structure your speech or presentation in a way that will appeal to their interests.
Planning Your Speech or Presentation
Now that you have a clear understanding of who your audience is, your next step is to plan your speech or presentation.
How you structure things of course depends on your purpose, audience and the topic you will be presenting. In most instances it can be helpful to use the Rule of 3. This effectively means:
- Tell your audience what you will tell them.
- Tell them everything you want to tell them.
- Summarize what you have just told them.
The Rule of 3 also applies to the main points you will discuss within each subtopic area. This is important because people typically remember best when given information in groups of three. With this in mind, structure your talk or presentation into three distinct parts — including sub-parts that are also divided into three sub-sections.
Once you have your topic organized and written out, figure out how you will present each section and identify why that section is relevant to your audience. Everything within your talk or presentation must have a purpose and objective. And that purpose must be very clear in order to help you present your topic in an optimal way.
Now, while structuring your speech, consider how you will build anticipation and keep your audience interested throughout the presentation. The key of course to keeping your audience interested is to stimulate their senses. One example might be to use visuals throughout your presentation. This will help keep your audience engaged.
In general, your audience will be far more engaged when their senses are entertained. With this in mind, make sure to infuse a little playfulness and humor into your presentation using jokes, cartoons, memes, role playing, etc. However, be very careful that your humor doesn’t make your audience lose sight of your main message and key ideas.
Also take care not to provide too much information too quickly. This will only overwhelm your audience and you will quickly lose their interest and attention.
Your final step is to allocate specific time slots for presenting each section and sub-section. This is especially important when you have a fixed time-frame for giving your presentation.
Having planned and prepared your speech, it’s now time to look at the possible obstacles you might face while giving your talk or presentation.
Consider for instance the following scenarios:
- The emotions your audience may feel throughout the presentation and how that might impact their thoughts and perspectives.
- The difficulty your audience might have with connecting with you on a personal level while you’re giving your presentation.
- The struggles your audience might have with the material you are presenting.
- Environmental factors that could prevent your audience from staying focused and engrossed in your message.
- Personal mistakes and technical errors that could negatively impact your ability to get your message across to your audience in the way you initially intended.
These are just some of the obstacles you might face throughout your presentation. Taking them into account and then building contingency plans can help you to stay on track when things don’t quite go as you had originally planned.
Practice, Practice and Practice
Having prepared yourself thoroughly, it’s now time to practice.
It is often said that practice makes perfect. You don’t necessarily need to be perfect, however you do need to over-practice to a point where you feel comfortable enough to handle any scenario that might come your way.
While practicing, pay particular attention to your voice and the words you speak. You should for instance come across as being articulate and intelligent. That is after all the only way you will gain your audience’s respect and admiration. Moreover, how you talk and present must position you as an authority on your chosen topic.
While practicing your speech or presentation, focus on speaking with a pleasing low pitch with clarity and conviction. Also vary the pace and volume of your words but be sure to use short sentences. For instance, speak faster and louder to create excitement, or slower and softer to entice more thoughtful awareness. Also use carefully planned pauses throughout your speech to create a little suspense and interest.
The final key is of course to just keep practicing. Practice until you develop a high degree of comfort with your material where you are able to present it under different conditions and circumstances.
What to do During Your Speech or Presentation
Having practiced and prepared yourself thoroughly, it’s now time to give your speech or presentation. Within this section let’s explore how to make an impact with your message to move your audience to action.
Specifically we will take a look at three key areas including:
- Delivering your persuasive message.
- Telling engaging stories.
- Re-engaging with your audience
You might of course be thinking that the purpose of your speech or presentation may not be to persuade, but rather to educate or inspire. However, even while we’re educating and inspiring our audience, we are at the same time persuading them to “buy into” our message. Therefore there are elements of persuasion in everything you do. Those elements of persuasion even extend to the fact that you want your audience to respect you as an authority figure on your chosen topic. Given this, it’s absolutely critical that the elements of persuasion are incorporated into every speech and presentation you give.
Okay great. How does all this make you feel? Do you still feel nervous about moving forward? If you do, then I would recommend you have a read of How to Control Your Nerves. Alternatively, if the pressure of the situation is getting the better of you, then please have a read on How to Stay Calm Under Pressure. These two articles I hope will help to settle your nerves and refocus you on delivering a great speech or presentation.
Delivering Your Persuasive Message
Persuasion is all about using subtle forms of influence. I’ve discussed these topics in great length before. Specifically please have a read of How to Become a Person of Influence, and The Psychology of Persuasion.
For the purpose or our discussion here, let’s take a look at a five step process you can use to deliver a persuasive message within a speech or presentation.
Step 1: Create Interest
Your first objective when delivering a persuasive message is to generate some interest that gets your audience fascinated and intrigued about something you’re about to share with them.
One of the best ways to do this is to share an interesting fact or story with your audience that leaves an open-loop where they desire to know more. You could even pose a question that gets them thinking about their life or circumstances in a way they have never thought about before.
Step 2: State the Problem
Once you have their interest, it’s now time to reveal a problem or dilemma that relates back to the question you asked earlier. For maximum impact, it’s important that this problem you highlight has a set of specific and direct consequences that affect your audience members.
At this time, state the problem and make sure that your audience becomes aware of the consequences that result from having this problem. The key here is to create a little pain and discomfort that makes your audience members feel a little uneasy about their life or circumstances.
Step 3: Offer Evidence
At this stage it’s important that you provide you audience members with sufficient evidence, examples, stats and personal stories that help them understand the dire consequences of this problem they are facing.
Your objective here is to also convince your audience that they are not in this alone. Inform them that this is actually a problem that many people face each day. Moreover, it’s a problem that has a simple solution that they can readily use to help improve their life and circumstances.
Step 4: Solve the Problem
It’s now time to reveal a solution to this problem. The way to do this is to build anticipation and excitement that a solution exists. Then of course provide them with an outline of what this solution looks like and how it will help to improve their lives.
It’s however important not only to supply a solution, but to also provide your audience with a plan of action that can help them to apply that solution/idea into their life. With this in mind, share with your audience the tools, knowledge and support that you have on hand that will help bring that solution to life.
Step 5: Call to Action
The final step is a call to action. This is all about asking your audience to do something very specific. It could for instance be to purchase something, to join a cause or group, to get on board with an idea, or to do something that is aligned with solving the problem/dilemma you mentioned above.
The key to success with this five step persuasion process is to win your audience over both intellectually and emotionally. Use stats and hard facts to win people over intellectually. Use metaphors, stories and testimonials to win them over emotionally. That is in essence the key to triggering deep levels of influence and persuasion within your speech or presentation.
Telling an Engaging Story
Storytelling has been around since the dawn of time. Over thousands of years it has evolved from campfire tales, to books, to songs, and even progressed into movies. Stories are everywhere. In fact, they are on billboards, on television screens, and on radio advertisements. And they impact us on so many different levels both emotionally and intellectually.
Stories win our hearts and minds, and this is why they are so incredibly powerful and persuasive when used within presentations and speeches. They help to simplify complex ideas and allow your audience the opportunity to integrate themselves into the story.
When including stories in your talks and presentations there are however several guidelines that are important to keep in mind. These guidelines include:
- Share personal stories that your audience can relate with.
- Share stories about people that share your audiences’ values, beliefs and struggles.
- Include facts and stats within your stories to engage the rational parts of the brain. At the same time include touching emotional moments that get to the heart of the issues you are highlighting.
- When sharing stories, involve all five senses to get your audience fully engaged within the story on multiple levels.
- Use metaphors and parables to simplify your message.
- Use “us”, “you”, and “we” statements to make the story more personal.
- Use the 1st person perspective when sharing stories in order to make your audience feel as though they are part of the story.
Telling stories does however take practice. You must practice on making your stories engaging and fun. It can even be helpful to use visuals or props to provide your audience with examples that can help stimulate their imaginations.
Be wary though to pay particular attention to how your audience responds to the stories you tell them. If at any time you are losing their interest, you must quickly adjust your approach and re-engage them once again.
Re-Engaging with Your Audience
Your audience will typically lose interest in what you’re saying for numerous personal reasons. However, in most instances it simply comes down to the fact that you haven’t connected with them on a personal level. In other words, your story, speech or presentation just isn’t relevant enough to their life or circumstances.
In order to immediately re-engage with your audience you need to get them more involved. What this essentially means is that you must capture their attention in some way that brings them back into your speech or story.
One of the best ways to do this is to ask your audience questions. Ask them questions about their life and circumstances, then integrate their answers into your story, speech or presentation. If for any reason this doesn’t work, then get your audience involved by asking some members to join you on stage. Then interview them or ask them to do something for you that strengthens the core message you are trying to get across.
In the end, the key to re-engaging with your audience is to shift gears and do something different and unexpected that draws your audience closer and piques their curiosity and interest.
Handling Different Types of Audiences
If you give a lot of speeches and presentations, you will no doubt face a variety of audiences that will challenge you in numerous ways.
Within this final section let’s quickly explore four different audience types you might face and how to effectively adapt your speech or presentation.
The Supportive Audience
The supportive audience is an audience that supports all your viewpoints and ideas. Everything you say and do they enthusiastically agree with. This audience is also highly knowledgeable about the topic you are presenting.
When dealing with this audience it’s important to keep fueling their enthusiasm. You need to get them emotionally invested in your message. This is of course heavily reliant on having a strong purpose and vision in place that your audience values and believes in.
These are the people that can essentially help you start a movement. They are your biggest supporters and fans, however in order to keep them on your side it’s important that you take the time to inoculate them against opposing arguments to your theories and ideas. That way they will stay loyal no matter what alternative theories or ideas they are expose to.
The Uninformed Audience
The uninformed audience knows next to nothing about the topic you are presenting. This of course doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested in learning about what you have to share. They might very well be highly interested, however you need to work hard to pique their interest in order to get them engaged.
In order to generate interest, provide this audience with practical examples that support your theories and ideas. Also engage them by asking questions that help them relate this topic back to their life and circumstances.
Finally, you must also come across as being a credible authority figure on this topic. They must see you as a credible source of information about your chosen topic as well as an expert in your field in order to trust your viewpoints and ideas.
The Hostile Audience
The hostile audience doesn’t see eye-to-eye with you. They are interested and passionate about the topic you are presenting, but have different viewpoints, theories and ideas.
The key to winning this audience over is to find shared values and beliefs. They might not buy into everything you are say, but they do share some mutual interests. Find these mutual interests and work on developing some common ground before moving forward with sharing your own ideas and theories.
With the hostile audience, it’s also important that you stay very humble and respectful. Yes, you might have more experience and knowledge within the topic area you are presenting, however make your audience sense the fact that you are open-minded and willing to adopt new ideas and methods of thinking.
If at any time you are struggling with a very hostile audience, focus your efforts on presenting concrete facts and evidence mixed-in with a little humor. This should somewhat settle down their hostilities.
The Indifferent Audience
The indifferent audience is probably the toughest to deal with because they have next-no-passion for the topic you are presenting.
In order to win this audience over you need to engage them and get them excited about your subject matter. One of the best ways to do this is through storytelling.
Tell engaging stories that are relevant to each person’s life. However, these stories must not only be relevant, but must also get your audience excited about the possibilities. Only in this way will you win them over.
There is also the possibility that your audience will be a mix of one or more of these audience types. If that’s the case, then it can be helpful to intermix each of these strategies into your talk or presentation in order to win people over as a whole.
In the end though, it’s hard to go wrong when you’re telling stories and supporting those stories with a little humor, facts, stats, case studies and testimonials that are relevant to people’s lives. Stories have kept people engaged and interested for thousands of years. Use them effectively and they will help you to become a more engaging and persuasive public speaker and presenter.
As a final thought, I want to leave you with a fantastic public speaking resource that could essentially become your one-stop source for everything you may ever want to know about public speaking. The website is called Six Minutes. On the website you will find a wide variety of articles on how to become a better speaker and presenter. Also highly recommended is to join a Toastmaster’s Club in your area. Toastmasters is a place where a great many professional public speakers and presenters began their journey. Well worth checking out.
Time to Assimilate these Concepts
Did you gain value from this article? Would you like to keep these concepts at the forefront of your mind? If so, then you might like to download the accompanying mind map reference poster to your iPad, tablet or computer. The map presents you with a quick overview of this article. It’s designed specifically to help improve your memory and recall of this information so that you can better integrate these concepts into your daily thoughts, habits and actions. Your purchase will also go a long way towards supporting the further development of these maps.
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Gain More Knowledge…
Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:
- 3 Ways to Step Up Your Public Speaking Skills @ Huffington Post
- 5 Foolproof Ways to Boost Your Public Speaking Skills @ Entrepreneur
- 9 Public Speaking Lessons from the World’s Greatest TED Talks @ Forbes
- 20 Public Speaking Tips of the Best TED Talks @ Inc.
- Are You Good at Public Speaking? @ Fast Company
- Becoming a Better at Public Speaking @ Mind Tools
- How to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills @ Time
- Improve Your Public Speaking with a More Effective Mindset @ HBR
- Not a Confident Speaker? Sharpen Your Skills with this Step-by-Step Guide @ Inc.
- Six Ways to be an Amazing Public Presenter @ Forbes