by Topher Morrison, author of “The Book on Public Speaking“
If you’re a small business owner or entrepreneur, chances are you have had to face the microphone and give a speech at one time or another. Maybe it was a keynote, or perhaps a more formal lecture. Chances are if you haven’t been in this position yet, your time will come eventually.
In fact, most successful entrepreneurs will tell you that knowing how to deliver a solid presentation is a skill they wouldn’t go without because no matter the topic, how you deliver that speech is a direct reflection of your company. Do it well and you’ll have a line of potential new customers waiting to speak with you afterwards. Do it poorly and it can actually hurt your business.
Although public speaking is one of the most common phobias and is often accompanied by dread and worry, relax, because you can learn to deliver an entertaining and educational presentation that holds the audience’s attention. The old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ also holds true.
These are my personal, tried and true tips to improve your public speaking skills:
1. Intrigue the audience with a story.
Craft presentations with attention-grabbing elements. Only dabble with humorous elements if jokes are a natural gift. Timing and knowledge of your audience are crucial. An intriguing story is a guarantee, but a joke is risky. Skip the prelude to your speech and jump right into the good stuff. Rambling quickly loses your audience.
2. Entertain to educate.
When it comes to public speaking, the lowest paid speakers inform, while the highest paid entertain. Individuals engage with an entertaining presenter rather than a fact-filled presentation. Material is best absorbed when it resonates with the audience. Relevance is the key to entertaining and insightful presentations.
3. Start strong.
Develop your introduction in advance, and give it to the event organizers. Avoid awkward transitions with precise preparation. Also, don’t forget to bring a hard copy on the big day. Include credentials to be read and a request for applause upon your entrance. This buffer grabs the audience’s attention and allows you to control the room. Crickets and a cold open are a difficult start.
4. A centerpiece creates peace.
It may not sound like much, but a beautiful floral arrangement can brighten up the entire space. Flowers encourage uplifting and positive thoughts from the audience. The presentation environment sets the mood for how the audience receives your talk.
5. Talk with your body.
It does not always matter what you say, but how you say it. Body language is reflected through power positions. An emotional response is evoked from the audience with a simple gesture. The bond built between you and your audience is rooted in trust. That trust is developed through your energy and nonverbal methods of communication during your presentation.
6. Gauge your energy.
Think beyond your brand as business cards and a website. How you portray yourself is a direct reflection of your brand. Be enthusiastic without being spastic and be confident without being cocky. Your interactions should be spatially appropriate. Utilize that childhood concept of your ‘bubble’. Use distinctions of personal space for various interactions. As a professional speaker, communicate intimately while also projecting to the backrow. Engage your audience through your energy level to foster connection.
7. Use the stage to sell – for the long and short-term.
Don’t get upset if you miss a sale. Some sales are more longitudinal than immediate. Producing worth, bonding with your audience, and deliberately operating your business, builds a strong foundation for future sales. Everyone has their reasons for not purchasing. Make a genuine connection now to make a sale later.
8. Be spontaneous but succinct.
Understanding spontaneity comes from understanding your presentation. Make your presentation look the most natural by rehearsing your material often. Perfect delivery is achieved through mastery of an act. The most successful comedians appear to ‘wing it,’ when they really perform their content thousands of times.
9. Avoid asking insultingly obvious questions.
During presentations, some speakers ask the audience to raise their hands for blatantly obvious questions. It reflects a desperate need for participation, and often annoys the audience. If you already know what you are going to say, regardless of how many people raise their hands, then the question is unnecessary. Stick to questions that intrigue the audience and have no predetermined answers. This can be a helpful participation tool if used correctly.
10. Be original by being you.
Everyone has their own style and essence. Try not to walk, talk, and look like, the professional speakers you admire. Chances are if you admire them, so do many others. Take notes from your favorite techniques, and incorporate them in your own way. If you aim to imitate, authenticity is compromised. Utilize the greats and be creative to reflect your own style and personhood.
Public speaking is an art form like any other. The art is recognized through connection to the audience, and an entertaining yet informative presentation. Seek to teach your audience in a way that is original and authentic to yourself and your brand.
Topher Morrison is author of “The Book on Public Speaking“, a professor of practice at the University of Tampa and has been a professional speaker and speech coach for more than 30 years.