Many people who have to present tend to “think” too much. They think about where they should stand, how they should move, where they should look, and so on. These are all important aspects of presenting, but if you concentrate too deeply on each individual aspect you’ll miss the chance to “put it all together” for the audience. You’ll appear stiff and unnatural.
Think of a musician playing a song with “feeling” instead of just playing individual notes. The audience can hear and “feel” the difference. It’s no different with a presentation. Your words and movements should come naturally, as if speaking with an old friend.
This can only be achieved with practice. But you must practice correctly. And that means concentrating on being yourself and developing your own style. Practicing this way will allow you to become a more confident, and natural presenter.
Be careful when sending your presentation to someone for review. If they don’t have the same version of PowerPoint as you they may not be able to see certain animation effects you used in your presentation.
The latest versions of PowerPoint offer some new features, especially when creating animation effects. Although PowerPoint 2000 offered many animation options, versions 2002 and 2003 have gone further.
Starting with version 2002 PowerPoint allowed the use of “exits”, “motion paths”, and “transparency” to their custom animation features. So, not only can you animate an object’s entrance but you can also designate how it “exits” or leaves the screen.
You can also draw a motion path for objects to follow as they animate. For example, if you chose a “fly in from left” for an object it normally would come in from the left and stop at its pre-set position. But let’s say you wanted it to come in from the left and then “bounce” off the right side and then the left side before coming to rest. Well, you can customize its animation by adding points along the “path” you want it to follow before coming to rest. The transparency effect is interesting. You can find it in the “Emphasis” list of effects in the custom animation menu. It allows you to make the object transparent, so you can see through to any objects placed underneath. It’s also a great feature for making text more visible when placed over a photo.
Since these features are not available in version 2000 or earlier, the effects will be lost when viewed with those versions.
Gestures guide the eye of the audience to a place you want them to look. When gesturing to your visual support you should be aware of the underlying meaning to certain gestures. For example, one of the best gestures you can use is the “reaching out” gesture. The arm extended with the palm up is an honest, open, and friendly gesture. It’s the equivalent of the business handshake. It’s the “handshake” from the presenter to the audience. It’s used most often when questions are asked or answered.
But just as the “palm up” has meaning, so too does the back of the hand. In fact, it means just the opposite – dishonest, negative, and unfriendly. Showing the back of the hand usually occurs when varying your hand positions while gesturing to your visual support. Make sure when you change hand positions that the back of your hand doesn’t face the audience.
Thanks to the onslaught of technology and our need to constantly rush through everything, our grammar has gotten worse. Emails, text messages and other corporate communications are being sent without a thorough and professional proofreading, and using poor grammar in the workplace can have some negative impacts on your business.
It causes confusion.
If you use poor grammar in the workplace, you could end up confusing those people who need to read what you write or listen to what you say. Causing confusion will negatively impact your company’s productivity and require additional communications to clear up the confusion.
It makes you look unprofessional.
Poor grammar makes you look unprofessional. Nobody wants to do business with the company that has spelling and grammatical errors in their marketing materials, and no client wants to do business with the representative who doesn’t know the difference between their, there and they’re.
It hinders productivity.
Read full article on Every Marketing Thing
Good lighting is the key to a good presentation. The audience should see as much of the presenter’s face as possible. The goal is to create an UNEQUAL distribution of light, with most of the light on the presenter, some light over the audience for note-taking, and no light on the screen (other than from the projected image, of course).
In smaller venues, such as a conference room, incandescent lighting works best. Those “recessed” lights usually have a dimmer control. Avoid fluorescent lights whenever possible because those are the least flattering and least controlled, and they cast an equal amount of light around the room. When the light is equal, the audience might be distracted by wall hangings, furniture pieces, and worst of all, a clock! But, by creating an unequal distribution of light, you keep the audience’s eyes focused on you and minimize other distractions around the room.
For larger venues, portable or moveable lights can be used, but must be arranged in advance. You only need two lights to “cross-light” the presenter effectively. Two lights are needed because a single light from one side creates shadows on your face on the opposite side. But cross lighting allows light to reach you from each direction and eliminates any shadows, regardless of whether you stand in the rest or power position.
Most people feel nervous prior to giving a speech. This is human nature and indeed some degree of nerves is absolutely essential to remain alert and deliver the speech clearly. However nerves do become a problem if they are debilitating in any way. Thankfully, there are practical ways to overcome this which are outlined below.
Rationalize your nerves
First of all, silently and in advance of your speech, rationalise your thoughts. What are nerves? Nerves are simply a fight or flight response to danger. If you anticipate something you fear adrenaline will pump around your body causing you to feel anxiety. Although it may feel uncomfortable, nothing bad will happen to you. In fact look at your nerves as a positive thing as they will give you the energy to deliver your speech in an emotive, engaging and passionate way.
Prepare and Practice
The more familiar you are with something, the less uncomfortable it makes you feel. Think about your first day at work and think about how you feel at work now? The anxiety levels will have undoubtedly reduced the more familiar you are with your role, surroundings, colleagues etc. Apply this principle to your speech. First of all, know the subject of your speech inside out. Write the speech in the format it is to be delivered i.e. on PowerPoint or acetates. Prepare speaker notes that give you prompts on the title of the slide and its contents. If there are any names or statistics that you might find difficult to remember, include them on your speaker notes. These notes are not designed to be read from, but are designed to be held by the speaker and glanced at every so often to prompt the speaker and facilitate the flow of the presentation from beginning to end. They should be produced on small, discrete cards that can be hand held.
Action movies always outsell foreign art movies where people sit around and just talk. Every good story teller (a.k.a. journalists) wants to be able reveal action to his or her readers, viewers or listeners. So when you are being interviewed, you enhance your chances of being quoted when you use bold, action-oriented words.
Any word or phrase that suggests bold movement or action is enticing to the reporter’s ear. Bold, action-oriented words do not have to be negative or attacking. They can be positive, even loving. Of course, if you promise to “rip his lungs out through his nose,” chances are 99 to 1 that you will definitely be quoted.
The trick, as always, is to make sure you use action words only if they accurately bring to life your key message points.
You can wear the perfect suit, have great posture, and put on a winning smile, but you’ll still make a lousy impression to your speaking and media audiences if you use wimpy words and phrases. The following are words that get speakers into trouble:
“It seems to me…” (obviously it seems that way to you, you are the one talking!)
“I believe…” (again, we can see it is you)
“I think…” (see above)
“A bit” (exactly how much is that?)
“Like” (unless you really do like someone)
“You know?” (no, I don’t know)
“You know what I mean?” (if you have to ask, then you weren’t too articulate, were you?)
“You see?” (see what?)
“More or less” (so which is it?)
“Really” (You Really need a new intensifier if this is all you can come up with!)
“Hopefully” (better to say “I want this to happen.”)
“Pretty” (unless you are talking about someone who is good looking)
“Perhaps” (or perhaps not)
“Sort of” (sort of what?)
“Kind of” (this isn’t to kind)
“Maybe” (or maybe not)
“Fairly” (it’s not fair)
“Reasonably” (you don’t have reason)
“Quite” (speak loud)
“So” (so what)
“Rather” (I’d rather you not use this)
“Somewhat” (somewhat of what?)
“To some extent” (what to what extent?)
“To a certain extent” (same as above)
Do you have colleagues, friends or family who use more than their share of wimpy words and phrases? Then leave this column on their desk. (Hopefully, maybe, they will kind of, sort of, take the hint.)
I often stress to clients that the only way to get dramatically better as a speaker or media presenter is to critique a video of your speech or media interview, preferably right after it happened. Everyone thinks this is a good idea, and yet I estimate that fewer than 1% of my clients or the general population of people who speak actually do this.
“Why?” I ask.
“It takes time,” I am told.
Well, ya, but so what? It’s worth it if you want to improve and stay in top form.
Paul McGuinness has been manager of the band U2 since 1978. He told the New York Times (June 12, 2005) that one of their secrets to success is the following:
“You’ll never see the band emerge from the dressing room until at least half an hour after each show, and it’s not because they’re taking showers. We’ve developed a practice over the years where every night the five of us sit down and deconstruct the show.”
Wow, think about that. Here is a band made up of wildly successful, incredibly rich superstars who have millions of fans telling them they are wonderful in every way. Yet how do they spend 30 minutes after every show? Criticizing and critiquing every aspect of their performance.
That’s how you get good. That’s how you stay good.
If it works for musical performance it also works for speaking performances.
And it’s not like these rock stars had nothing better to do with their time. They are, after all, Rock Stars. In their early single years, doing a critique after the show meant turning away all of the groupies. Now that lead singer Bono is a major political figure in his own right, the time they take to critique their own performance presumably means Bono doesn’t get to return the US Treasury Secretary’s calls as quickly.
So don’t tell me you don’t have time to critique your won speeches; I’m not buying that argument anymore.
One sure way to be quoted by the press is to give specific, tangible examples that demonstrate your message point. Reporters are capable of describing phenomenon at the mile-high, abstract level. But if you can give a down-to-earth, real-life example, you increase your chances of being quoted in the story.
Reporters can talk about the firearms industry, but they will quote you talking about your Smith and Wesson revolver.
Journalists can write about the market’s sense on how interest rates will go up, but they will also quote you saying, “I’m 100% convinced Greenspan will increase rates by .25%.”
Abstraction is the enemy to every good journalist. When you can give a clear-cut example to a reporter, it can be an important element in making the story come alive and more understandable to the reader, viewer or listener. That’s why you will be quoted giving examples.
People fled the burning building at 12.15 AM.
The above sentence needs no quotes around d it.
“I awoke to the smell of burning plastic. I threw on my bathroom and ran down the fire escape.”
This is a much more vivid example and would be used as a quote.
Many novices at the media game make the mistake of trying to sound “smart” by speaking in an elevated, sophisticated, abstract manner. This approach is counterproductive and will result in you getting zero quotes or sound bites in a story.
To get ahead with the media, always give great example.
How do you guarantee that you get off on the right foot with an audience? By being introduced exactly the way you want to be. Don’t leave this to chance. If you don’t give your introducer the EXACT introduction you want, chances are, they will mention you as the president of a business you are no longer associated with or as the husband or wife to a spouse you are no longer married to.
Don’t leave your introduction up to chance! You don’t want to have to waste your first few minutes correcting your introducer.
Write out your introduction exactly the way you think it would be most interesting to the particular audience you are speaking to. However, here is the unique twist: Don’t write out the introduction word for word. Instead, write out the first few sentences word for word. But then, list your accomplishments and credentials in bullet point format. This will allow your introducer to speak in a more conversational manner. Because, as you know, nothing is more difficult than reading a script word for word with out sounding like a zombie. This way you make your introducer look better; and you look better in the process because it seems as though you haven’t shackled your introducer. Then end with a couple of sentences that you do want the introducer to read word for word. That way you have set yourself up for maximum approval as you begin.
There aren’t many big problems in life that can be solved by doing nothing, but fortunately, that is the solution for many speaker woes.
Do you find yourself saying too many uhs, ums, ers and you knows when you are giving a presentation? The solution is to do nothing, i.e., pause. By pausing throughout your presentation, you will correct many of your problems.
I remember when I was in first grade and it was time for an art class. What I didn’t like was that my teacher required me and the rest of the class to color every square inch of our piece of paper. We couldn’t just draw a cloud in the sky; we had to color the whole sky blue and all the grass green. Everything had to be covered.
Many adult speakers take the same attitude with their presentations. They feel as though every second they are standing they must cover up the air with some sound.
The speaker puts out a steady stream of ums, likes, you knows and other verbal parasites. All the words come out a jumbled mush. The speaker comes across inarticulate, unsure, and lacking in confidence.
Over the years, I have found out the hard way that it is not productive to ask people to focus on NOT saying uh or um. All this does is make the speakers even less confident and more jittery.
Instead, I get the speaker to focus on pausing more often. Pause after a thought, Pause when you are uncertain. Pause when you feel like saying uh or um. By specifically trying to pause more, the mind learns that it is OK not to be uttering sounds every second. Once you develop the habit of pausing when you give a presentation (we all automatically pause all of the time during normal conversation), you will enhance your image as a polished speaker.
…..so pause away.
That’s right, I stripped for my audience and they loved me for it—or at least they seemed to like me a little more. You may think that the demand for middle aged white men with middling physiques to strip in front of business audiences is quite weak. And you would be right.
But here’s the catch. I stopped stripping once I got to the same level as my audience. I was speaking to a group of Fortune 500 executives who were all well dressed, but were not wearing ties. I was in my standard suit-and-tie business getup.
So here’s the problem: while I don’t mind appearing a little dressier than my audience, I don’t like to appear a lot more dressed up than my audience. If they are thinking I’m a stuffed shirt, they are less likely to be focused on my message—and that’s a problem for everyone.
So what did I do? At the exact moment that I put up a new PowerPoint slide and everyone was looking at the screen on one side of the room, I quickly (and I mean very quickly) took off my tie and unbuttoned my top button on my shirt. When everyone turned back to watch me speak a few seconds later, I was all of a sudden more like they were. We had less of a barrier between us and now we had more in common.
Every speaker should strive to attain repertoire with audiences. It takes more than dressing the same as audience members, but that can be a good first step.
Other times I might take a jacket off right before or even during a speech. Now, I never do this in a showy way, but always in a moment when no one is looking.
That way I can strive to have more in common with my audience.
Why is that desirable? Because the more your audience can relate to you, the more they will listen to you without filters or screens.
So if you want to maximize your impression in front of any audience, be prepared to dress up or down at a moment’s notice.
Of all of the elements of the PR magician’s black bag of tricks, none is more mysterious than the crafting of the sound bite or quote. (A sound bite is the quote you get on TV or radio newscasts, a quote in a text publication is when you see actual quotation marks around words, followed by your name. I use the term sound bite and quote interchangeably)
The world is divided into two groups. Those who instinctively know how to turn any abstract message point into a sound bite and those who don’t. For those who know, it is as easy as breathing or laughing. These people often find themselves in marketing and communications fields. They have liberal arts degrees and they are creative.
For those who don’t know how to make something quotable, it as mysterious as trying to speak in tongues. These people have engineering and business degrees.
They are logical, rational, linear thinkers. They view themselves as systems thinkers.
Fortunately, I have created a system that will allow these logical, rational, linear thinkers to turn any message point into a sound bite that is irresistible to even the most hard-bitten journalist. The system is called A BEACH PRO, which is an acronym that stands for analogy, bold action words, emotions, examples, absolutes, attacks, clichés, humor, pop culture references, rhetorical questions, and opposition quotes.
Nearly every quote you read in newspapers and trade publications contains one or more of these above eleven elements. Nearly every sound bite you see on TV or radio has one or more of these eleven elements. Once you understand that reporters require these structural elements in their stories, it becomes incredibly easy to get the exact quotes you want in a story.
It is important to realize that reporters need quotes for their stories. Quotes are one of the essential building blocks of a good story. Quotes are needed to make the story more interesting, more understandable, and more memorable—reporters need you!
You should never go into an interview without knowing in advance the exact and precise quotes you want to see in tomorrow’s news paper or tonight’s newscast.
Note: this is not the same as knowing your general message points; sound bites are much more specific than that.
If you ever go into an interview without knowing what quotes you want to see, you have already failed miserably. If you are providing PR consultation to an executive who is about to be interviewed, and you haven’t supplied the client with specific sound bites, you are guilty of malpractice.
If you are within 100 yards of a TV camera, assume that it is on and pointing at you. It sounds like obvious advice, but many supposedly media savvy people forget this.
•During the first presidential debate of 2004, President Bush winced, pouted and puckered, every time Senator Kerry disagreed with him. The agreed upon rules said no reaction shots would be used of a candidate who was not speaking. But the rules were broken and Bush suffered by looking peevish.
•In 1992, while Bill Clinton was speaking, President George H. W. Bush was caught glancing at his watch, as if he couldn’t wait for the whole d#@n thing to be done. This was not a positive image builder.
•In 1960, Vice President Nixon was repeatedly shown to be frowning and scowling while Senator Kennedy was speaking. TV viewers thought Nixon lost, in part, for the dour look.
But it’s not just presidential big shots who make these blunders. Every day on CNN, CNBC, and Bloomberg TV I see CEOs and other top business leaders get introduced with great fanfare by the anchors of these networks. But then, a funny thing happens. While the network anchor or host is introducing the guest, the on-camera shot switches to the guest WHILE THE ANCHOR/HOST IS STILL TALKING. The guest/business executive erroneously assumes he/she is not on the air yet.
Therefore, the person is sitting there with a blank look. This, of course, looks ridiculous. A blank look on ‘TV makes everyone appear to be bored, boring, listless, dull and unattractive.
If you are in a TV studio or near a camera, assume that it is on. Then, you should act in such a way that you don’t mind your image being shown to viewers, especially when you aren’t talking. If you want to appear consistently as someone who is confident, relaxed, optimistic and pleasant, then you must not be seen frowning, scrunching up your face, scowling, or picking up your nose. For the best results, you should consistently smile, look pleasant, and listen attentively to whoever is speaking.
Don’t assume the camera is off until you have left the TV studio building.
From education to brain function to inspiring messages to techno-possibilities, this list represents quite a breadth of topics.
- Sir Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity (2006): 13,409,417 views
- Jill Bolte Taylor‘s stroke of insight (2008): 10,409,851
- Pranav Mistry on the thrilling potential of SixthSense (2009): 9,223,263
- David Gallo‘s underwater astonishments (2007): 7,879,541
- Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry demo SixthSense (2009): 7,467,580
- Tony Robbins asks Why we do what we do (2006): 6,879,488
- Simon Sinek on how great leaders inspire action (2010): 6,050,294
- Steve Jobs on how to live before you die (2005): 5,444,022
- Hans Rosling shows the best stats you’ve ever seen (2006): 4,966,643
- Brene Brown talks about the power of vulnerability (2010): 4,763,038
- Daniel Pink on the surprising science of motivation (2009): 4,706,241
- Arthur Benjamin does mathemagic (2005): 4,658,425
- Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing your genius (2009): 4,538,037
- Dan Gilbert asks: Why are we happy? (2004): 4,269,082
- Stephen Hawking asks big questions about the universe (2008): 4,153,105
- Jeff Han demos his breakthrough multi-touchscreen (2006): 3,891,251
- Johnny Lee shows Wii Remote hacks for educators (2008): 3,869,417
- Keith Barry does brain magic (2004): 3,847,893
- Mary Roach 10 things you didn’t know about orgasm (2009): 3,810,630
- Vijay Kumar demos robots that fly like birds (2012): 3,535,340
Why do all public speaking trainers stress the need to tell stories in public presentations? Is it just because we were all C- students with liberal arts degrees who couldn’t get into Business School and we cower at the sight of any number higher than 10? (OK, that may be part of it)
The real reason we stress stories is that all of our in-the-field research shows that most people don’t buy into facts if they are inconsistent with the stories they believe. We all like to believe that we are rational human beings and that only other people are irrational, but the fact is we all have a tendency to believe facts that fit into our worldview.
It is easy to make fun of people who follow a cult leader who predicts the world is going to end on a certain date. But when that date passes and the world still exists, these followers only redouble their faith in their leader’s wisdom.
But this happens to a lesser extent every day in the business world. If your employees have the following story in their head “Our company doesn’t care about its employees, it only cares about short-term profits,” then no amount of 401K tinkering or Friday afternoons off in the summer will change that fundamental story in their heads.
On the other hand, if your customers believe that your company has a passion and commitment for the highest health and quality standards, even the occasional rat-found-in-the-soup won’t hurt your long-term image. Facts do matter. But facts are forgotten quickly, whereas stories linger in the memory.
Furthermore, facts that don’t jive with an audience member’s story about who you are and what you are all about are almost instantly discarded and forgotten. This is why any executive who truly wants to communicate a new set of ideas or numbers must develop a narrative story to put the facts together in a way that makes sense. Your stories must create reality but also be consistent with your audience members’ preconceived notions of reality.
Otherwise, your facts will fall flat.
If you are about to give an opening night performance in a one-man show on Broadway to three thousand people who have each paid $120 per ticket, it’s understandable that you have a few butterflies in your stomach. Expectations are high. Very High! Your audience expects you to be brilliant, flawless, entertaining and funny. Anything less than perfection will be cursed as a disaster and a rip-off.
Fortunately, most of us face lower expectations when we give presentations to people. The skilled speaker uses these lowered expectations to his or her advantage. Not because he or she uses this as an excuse to prepare poorly, but just to develop a proper mindset for every speaking occasion.
Last night I made my debut on Broadway. I was the male lead—the groom, in the international sensation “Cookin’.” Was I supremely confident and totally comfortable when I first entered the stage and uttered my first line?
Actually I was comfortable and confident.
Is this because I have total confidence in my acting abilities and a sense that long and hard rehearsals had paid off?
No, not at all. I hadn’t rehearsed and I have never been in any play, not even in high school.
In truth, I was plucked randomly out of the audience and brought up to the stage.
I had no lines to utter except for “tastes good!” after drinking the wedding soup.
So I don’t deserve any roses or even pats on the backs. Still, for many people, the idea of going up on stage in front of hundreds of strangers in the middle of a theatrical performance is a terrifying idea.
Why wasn’t I terrified? I’m certainly no braver than anyone else. In fact, I have an extremely low threshold for pain.
The real reason I wasn’t terrified is that I was able to gauge accurately the expectations the audience had for me. In this case, all I had to do was stand there, play a dorky guy, wear a silly hat, do as I was told, and let professional actors make fun of me. I realized that my being on stage wasn’t about me; it was just an opportunity for the actors to display their talents. This, I correctly deduced, would be a part well suited for my talents. It made sense for me to relax, so I did.
Too often, in the business world, we forget that our role is to make other people look good. We forget that it isn’t the end of the world if we look silly for a few moments. In fact, you can gain credibility with some people if you show you don’t mind looking silly occasionally.
Why was I picked out of hundreds to be on stage? Was it because I looked like the next Hamlet? Sadly, no. I was selected simply because I gave the actors direct eye contact when they came down my row and then I smiled and looked like I was having a good time, which I was. Everyone else was staring down at the floor thinking to themselves “please, God, don’t let them pick me.”
Of course, it doesn’t really matter if you ever go up on stage to participate in some silly theatrical show. But what does matter is that you can confidently “take the stage” at a moment’s notice, anytime you do have an opportunity to add a message or just a spark to any meeting or gathering you are attending.
So get ready to break a leg!
Just as a great Jazz artist who performs nightly can go into a riff for extended sets, so too can great speakers “riff” for lengthy periods of time.
Warning! This is not for the faint-hearted.
In general, I advocate that all speakers have a well-thought out beginning, middle, and end, complete with a handful of major points and well-developed stories to go with each point. But there are times when you can go without.
Note: this is not the same as “winging it.”
I always speak from notes (albeit in a way that no one sees my notes) and I have a set structure for my presentations or training sessions. But one day I was hosting an event for the National Speakers Association New York Chapter and I was asked to be the substitute speaker WITH ONLY FIVE MINUTES ADVANCE NOTICE.
Normally, that would be no problem. I could simply go into my hour presentation on how to communicate with the media. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t work, because I had just given that presentation to the group only a couple of months earlier.
But I also have an hour-long presentation I do on how to give an effective presentation. But this was inappropriate because my audience was made up of professional speakers.
So what did I talk about? I spent the next hour talking about business tips and strategies I had learned over the last few years from fellow members of the speaker association. I literally didn’t have time to write an outline or structure a plan. I simply got up and talked.
The results? Feedback was as positive as any I have received for any presentation in my career.
Is this because I am a natural born, silver-tongued speaker? Not at all. Thought I never stuttered, I was an extremely shy child of few words.
My speech went well because I give speeches at least three times a week and I now have good speaking habits that have been acquired through constant repetition.
Here are the things that I did during my riff that will also work for you if you ever have to speak with absolutely no time to prepare.
1. I was comfortable and confident. Why did I start the speech in this condition? Because I speak so often in that state, I wasn’t able to get into any other physical or emotional state.
2. I used a speech grammar. Even though I was thinking of new material that I was going to say as I said it, I still used my “old” manner of speaking. That is, I would make one point, give an example and then tell a story about it using conversations with real people to make the point more memorable.
3. I interacted with my audience constantly. If I forgot what to say next, or I just wanted to see if I was making sense, I would ask questions of specific audience members. I encourage all of my trainees to plan to do this anytime they are speaking in front of relatively small audiences. But the truth is it doesn’t require a lot of planning, as long as you do it.
4. I moved in a normal manner. I constantly walked around the room, stopped, started, got closer to some audience members, and then the others. This created great variety for the audience and created the aura of great confidence.
5. I didn’t think on my feet. That’s right, I didn’t think of entirely new ideas to share with my audience. In stead, I simply recalled what I considered to be interesting conversations I had already had in the past with various members of this association and then I recounted the ones that I thought would be useful, interesting and relevant to the whole group. (Remember—thinking creatively in the spotlight is hard, remembering interesting conversations from the past is easy)
6. I actively encouraged questions throughout the presentation. Granted, you can’t do this if you are speaking to more than 500 people, but in a small group this is an excellent way to keep people engaged and involved. Plus, the questions helped me pad out my material to an hour (since I had no planned material at the start).
7. I was fearless during question time. Is this because I am omnipotent? Hardly. It’s just that I subscribe to the theory that all questions are easy: either I know the answer in which case I give it, or I don’t know they answer and I tell my audience “I don’t know” and then give my best guess on where they can find the answer. Novice speakers and even very good ones become noticeably nervous and embarrassed when asked questions they don’t know the answer to. You can’t control what you don’t know, but you can control how you feel about what you don’t know.
8. I acted like I was having a good time and I never apologized. In truth, I could have done a better job if I had had a day or two to prepare my speech, but I didn’t waste my audience’s time by reminding them of that fact. I did not articulate in any manner that I was annoyed or felt put upon by not having received advance notice. (in truth, I was happy because I am always looking for opportunities to speak and hone my craft) I tried to follow a rule that I give all of my clients which is: never talk about your speech, never apologize, never call attention to any inadequacy—simply give great interesting content.
9. I beat the audience’s expectations. The president of the organization mentioned before and after my speech that I was doing this with literally no notice, so the audience had low expectations. But note, I relied on someone else to set the low expectations; I didn’t try to do it myself.
10. I spoke with passion. I purposely haven’t bored you with any of the details of my speech because unless you are a professional speaker, they wouldn’t interest you. But I specifically only made points and told stories that I really cared about deeply and that I thought were critically important to my audience.
Of course I made some mistakes in this speech that I wouldn’t ordinarily make (I didn’t have a strong finish—and I added more stuff after I had already sat down—both medium-sized blunders). However, my passion for my subject helped overwhelm the mistakes I made. Passion for your subject will always make you more interesting and likeable to your audience because most speakers seem bored and are consequently boring to their audiences.
So there you have the secrets on how to give a great spontaneous speech. Please note that I am not advocating that you go out of your way to fail to prepare for speeches. But if you are called upon with literally no notice, there isn’t any reason why you can’t do a great job. Every one of the skills I used above are just that, skills. They aren’t rare genetic talents; they are simply habits that can be acquired by anyone who chooses to do so.
Nothing is better than when you can make a live audience break up with laughter while you are giving a speech. Of course, nothing is worse than attempting humor, everyone knows it, and you fail.
Many beginning and intermediate speakers feel like they have to have some humor in their speech, especially at the beginning, or their speech will be a failure.
Not so. You can be a great speaker, and never, ever get laughs.
If you are going to attempt humor, there are several guidelines you should follow.
- Don’t tell jokes. “Joke” telling is a tough skill to master. Something most
standup comics work on nightly for years before they master proper technique. If you tell a joke, don’t act like you know it is a joke—and make sure you have a personal connection to it.
- Never telegraph a joke or humorous anecdote. Don’t say, “I’d like to tell you
a humorous story about…” Simply tell the story. Your audience will decide whether or not it’s humorous. If you announce you are trying to tell something funny, you eliminate the element of surprise, which is crucial to much humor. Plus, you immediately increase your audience’s expectations. When you pronounce that a story is going to be funny, a certain percentage of your audience is going to think, “Well, I’ll be the judge of whether or not it’s funny.”
- Don’t start your speech with a funny story of joke. Many in your audience will
expect you to tell a joke at the beginning. It’s OK to plan to use a humorous story, but place it in the middle or near the end.
- Don’t tell well-known humorous stories or anecdotes. Everyone has heard the
one about the boat that thought the lighthouse was another boat. Don’t tell it again. All of your humor needs to seem to be a natural part of who you are and what you do. Otherwise, you will seem like a second-rate comic who just got kicked out of the Catskills.
- Don’t tell humor that isn’t specific to some point you are trying to make. If
you are telling a funny story just to be funny, the stakes become much higher. At a subconscious level, your audience is now comparing you to other professional comics like Jerry Seinfeld. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to compete with Jerry Seinfeld. That is not a battle you or I will win.
The best way to use humor in a speech is to simply tell a real life story where something funny happened to you. You know it is funny because when you relayed the incident to fiends and family, they laughed hard. Now, when you tell it in front of a large audience, you are likely to get a laugh. And if you don’t, it won’t seem like you flopped, because you were simply telling a story to make your point. You won’t seem like you were trying too hard, therefore it wasn’t a flop.
Go break a leg!