How to Deliver a World-Class Speech
I am one who believes that everyone has something in their life that others look at and say, "Dude, how do you DO that!" Single moms raise three or four kids alone while holding down a job. Social workers dedicate their lives to the well-being of others. For me, it’s watching friends commute into Boston an hour each way every day. I mean, seriously, Dudes, how do you do that?
Part of my job is to give speeches. When people find out they have to do that, they just cringe with fear. I love it. I have a blast, even if I’ve given that speech 100 times (when I met Joan Rivers years ago, she told me how important it was to deliver it fresh every time). The only time I feel the nerves is while delivering a first-time presentation. That is, material that I’ve not done before. I am always worried that I will run out of time before I run out of slides.
Okay, enough intro. Let’s fulfill the stated promise of this blog. Here are some tips for delivering a world-class speech:
- Know your material—You should be able to deliver your presentation without reading the slides bullet point by bullet point (aka "Death by Powerpoint"). Nothing calms the nerves like subject matter expertise.
- Make nice beforehand—Make sure to get out in the audience and glad-hand. Shake hands and kiss babies like you were running for mayor. Engage in conversation relative to the presentation topic. Ask what they want to know. Store this in your short-term memory. Make sure you learn names, too.
- Smile—What happens if you smile while presenting? People smile back. Nice to present to friendly people, don’t you think?
- Read your audience—There is a phenomena in public speaking called the Attention Hammock. At the beginning and end of the speech, you have their full attention, in the middle, they slip away. Draw it out and it looks like a hammock. If eyes are starting to shut, don’t panic. Tell a story. It doesn’t even need to be on-point. Change the volume of your voice (silence works just as well as shouting). Every time you do, attention spans are restored.
- Over-emphasize certain points—When you get to the part where you really, really want people to listen, say something like, "If you get nothing else out of my presentation, get this..." or "This is one of the major takeaways of the material, so listen up!"
- Speak in outline form—Major point, supporting point, supporting point, supporting point. Major point, supporting point, supporting point, supporting point.
- Personalize it—Remember that pre-speech work you did? Don’t forget to work it in: "Christine, you and I were talking about this earlier..." or "Andy, remember I was going to answer your question? Well, here you go..."
- Walk and talk—Don’t stand in one place. Move around and you will give people something to look at. Stay static and their eyes will move around anyway.
- Questions—Stop and check in: "Are there any questions so far?" Don’t let things get off track and definitely don’t let someone hijack your presentation, but field questions on-the-fly. It gives people a mental break.
- Ten fingers—Before the presentation starts, ask someone to keep time for you. Have him or her flash 10 fingers twice when there are 20 minutes left and once more when there are 10. It gives you the chance to pace your material so that you are not bombing through the last 10 slides because you’ve run out of time.
- Q&A—Depending on the size of the audience, always repeat or rephrase questions so that everyone can hear it. If you don’t know the answer, say so. If the question is off topic, take it offline.
- Afterward—People will want to come up and share stories. That’s awesome. However, there might be three or four people who want to give you business and if "Chatty Cathy" is going to command the conversation for so long, they’ll leave. For some reason, the first one to reach you is always the one who just wants to talk. You’ll need to quickly "process" that guy and get to the others.
Many moons ago, my friend John called me from his office in New York. He was delivering a pitch to a company who was considering writing his firm (a financial planning company) a check for $13,000,000. John and I ran the youth group together at church. He called me the morning of the pitch and told me what was about to happen and asked for my advice. I gave him a VERY brief version of this blog. One thing that stuck was meeting one person in the audience beforehand. Every time he got nervous, he went back to her and smiled. She smiled back and his calm was restored.