Everyone has sat through painstakingly long public speaking presentations given by colleagues and peers that seemed to serve no purpose and lacked any kind of organization. Remember how you felt last time you went to an event where the speaker never looked up from his/her notes, never made eye contact or changed the tone or inflection of his/her voice, and never took notice of the audience’s disinterest in his/her topic?
How you wanted to leave but couldn’t, so you stayed there bored out of your mind staring at the clock, slowly drifting off to sleep, thinking about what you were going to do this weekend, or what you could be doing right now if you weren’t at this event that just wouldn’t seem to end.
Now think back to some of the more engaging talks you’ve been to, where the speaker was lively, knowledgeable, and interesting. Where time flew by and before you knew it, the event was ending, so you stayed to chat with some of the attendees about the wonderful time you had and all the stuff you learned. What characterizes a good speaker?
And ultimately, how can you give an engaging public speaking presentation that will captivate your audience? Here are some tips that may help:
1 – Have a Clear Central Message
When giving a talk, make sure you have a clear and concise central message that you can repeat throughout your talk. This message should be built around both your personal objective for giving the talk (to present info, to educate, to convince the audience of a point of view, to motivate the audience to make a call to action, etc), and the audience’s fundamental question “What’s in it for me?” This central message should be the main point upon which all supporting points refer. Remember, odds are that come the next day or week, people will only remember 5- 10% of what you said, regardless of how good you were, so make sure that percent counts.
2 – You Have 60 Seconds to Grab the Audience’s Attention
Sixty seconds isn’t a lot of time, but it’s enough for the audience to judge whether or not you are worth their time and attention. Therefore, start off strong and full of energy. Tell the audience why you are speaking and what they will learn from listening to your talk. This includes explaining your central message – don’t save it for the end, as you never know who will be listening then. You can also open with an unusual story or analogy that will stick with the audience, but keep it relevant to your central message. Some people like to start with humor, but use your discretion concerning whether that would be appropriate with your audience.
Many people feel nervous or anxious when they are about to make a speech in front of a large audience. Keep in mind, you were asked to speak because you have knowledge that the audience doesn’t have, but is interested in. You most likely know more about your topic than anyone in the room. You also hopefully have prepared well in advance for your talk and have had the opportunity to practice beforehand, which should be reassuring. When you’re ready to speak, take a deep breath, walk out in front of your audience, and channel your nervousness into energy to start off with a bang.
Why the emphasis on energy? Energy can be translated into enthusiasm for your topic. It shows that you strongly believe in what you are saying, and adds an aspect of your personality to your topic. It demonstrates the strong passion you have for your topic and sparks interest in the audience to learn more about why this is such a wonderful idea. The two most important places for energy and enthusiasm in your talk are your beginning and your closing. You’ll want to tone down the middle section, or you may wear out both you and your audience. Keep it mixed, but always start off with as much energy as possible and remember that first impressions do matter!
3 – Know and Observe Your Audience
Having a general idea of your target audience’s demographics, psychographics, expectations, and knowledge of the topic will help you put together a meaningful and relevant presentation. Once you have a general idea of who you will be speaking to, you can research what types of things they would be most interested in hearing. If you know members of your audience, ask them what they would like to be addressed or how they feel on certain issues you will be mentioning. If you ask early enough in the planning stage, you can incorporate those ideas into your talk.
On the day of the event, greeting people as they come in may help if you are feeling a bit nervous beforehand. Meeting members of your audience not only helps you to create a more casual atmosphere, but also personalizes the audience’s experience with you.
During your talk, keep a close watch on what the audience is doing. Make frequent eye contact with several of the audience members, use gestures when appropriate to emphasize certain points, and in general, let your personality shine though. When making eye contact, try to be consistent. Find a pair of eyes and make a point. Pause briefly, and then find another pair of eyes and make another point. Never, ever read directly from your notes or visuals. That’s the quickest way to lose the audience’s attention. They didn’t come to hear you read your talk. They could have just as well read something similar on the Internet, paid for a book or cd, or requested the event notes and handouts. They came to see you, so treat your audience as you would your clients and give them your full attention.
If you look like you are losing your audience (they are no longer making eye contact or nodding in agreement), ask an open-ended question (one that requires more than a one or two word response) and take responses from your audience. Don’t just wait a few seconds and move on, but give it a bit of time, repeat the question if you have to, state a possible answer, and pose the question to the audience again. This time, they should be more responsive. Remember, though, this is not a Q/A session, so keep the responses focused on the question you asked.
4 – Organize Your Topic
To effectively convey and/or convince your central message to your audience, you will need to organize your topic in a logical fashion. This should include your central message and three or so supporting points. Keep it to about three, though, as you don’t want to overwhelm your audience. Start with your central message and follow up with your three supporting points, making sure to summarize and remind the audience of your central message between each point.
5 – The Closing
Like the opening, the closing should be full of energy and possibly even motivate people to take a call to action. You should again repeat your central message – the more you repeat it, the more likely your audience will remember it.
6 – The Q/A Section
You should try to save 10-15 minutes or so for a Q/A session after your presentation. Specifically address the amount of time you are allotting to the session at the beginning. Whenever a speaker asks a question, repeat it loudly enough so everyone can hear, and rephrase it in your own words to demonstrate your understanding of what the speaker is asking. When you answer the question, make direct eye contact with the inquirer and then extend that eye contact to different members of the audience. Repeat this process throughout the session, and finish the session by repeating your central message.
7 – Feedback
Once your presentation is finished, ask the audience to evaluate you and provide feedback for your talk. You can do this by creating a quick survey and collecting it as your audience leaves. Provide a few basic questions as to how relevant or valuable they found the talk on a scale of 1-5, ask what they thought the key point of the talk was, and any questions they may still have. This is an excellent way to gain insight about which areas the audience felt were very good and which areas that you may need to work on for next time. It also demonstrates the effectiveness of how well you communicated your central message.