For thousands of year’s people have been moved to do amazing things by one person’s ability to deliver a powerful presentation. What is the secret to such a moving speech? Is there a common element to the method or message that has made people famous?
Siddhartha Gautama or Buddha began his life as a prince and gave it up looking for something better; this would confuse most people if they knew his history. After meditation and enlightenment he went on to influence the people of his generation and all the generations to follow. Buddha is reported to have been 35 years old by the time he was prepared to take his message to the world.
Jesus came from more modest background with Joseph being a carpenter and for what we can assume is that Jesus assisted him. Somewhere around the age of 30 Jesus went into the wilderness to meditate and afterward he began his ministry. Without creating a religious debate we are told that he was constantly being surrounded by people who wanted to hear what he had to say and he at times spoke to crowds of thousands. Like Buddha he went on to influence the people of his generation and all the generations to follow.
If we crossover to the other side there is an infamous public speaker in Adolph Hitler. Hitler also came from a modest background and at one time even considered becoming a priest (imagine how that would have changed history). While Hitler did not purposely set out to meditate he certainly had time to think while in prison for high treason. Because there are so many records and accounts of his life we can be more certain of his ability to inspire large crowds with the spoken word. Again we have an example of someone who went on to influence the people of his generation and all the generations to follow.
I would like to include Anthony “Tony” Robbins as a contemporary speaker because of his ability to move and influence large groups of people who are willing to pay handsomely for attending his performances. Robbins was born Anthony J. Mahavorick in North Hollywood, California, on February 29, 1960. His surname was originally spelled 'Mohorovic' and he adopted the surname 'Robbins' from his stepfather. He too went on to influence the people of his generation and all the generations to follow.
Consider the fact that none of these men have a college education or used PowerPoint when making a presentation. So what do they have in common that made them so successful with the spoken word? Therein lays the key they focused on what they said, how they said it and to whom they delivered their message. They knew their audience; they knew and believed in their message. They started out small and they grew as their audiences grew in other words practice, practice and more practice.
Producing Power Presentations begins with creating, developing and practicing powerful speeches that may benefit from the sideshow of practical PowerPoint slides but more on that later. First we need to prepare a moving or persuasive speech that will capture and hold the attention of the audience.
Proper preparation prevents presentation problems!
Speech preparation is the most important element to a successful presentation, and also the best way to reduce nervousness and combat fear.
1. Select a speech topic
This may seem like an easy task, but there are infinite public speaking topics. How do you choose the right one? How do you select a topic which is a perfect fit between you and your audience? Your topic leads to your core message — the entire presentation aims to deliver this core message to your audience.
2. Create a speech outline
Your speech needs structure. Without structure, your audience will either wonder what your core message is or they will lose interest in you entirely. Sadly, this step is often skipped to “save time.” A planned outline is vital.
3. Write the speech
Speech writing is an iterative process which begins with your first draft. Writer’s block can handicap speakers at this stage. Once the first draft is created, speech writing involves iteratively massaging your speech into its most effective form. Keeping your ego in check, you are wise toedit mercilessly. Remember that speeches should be written for the ear; adopting figures of speech will keep your speech from sounding like an essay or legal document.
4. Apply gestures, staging, and vocal variety
At this stage, the words are ready, but that’s all you have — words. A presentation is not read by the audience; it is listened to and watched. Think in terms of performing instead of just speaking.
5. Practice and solicit feedback
Great speakers seem natural when they speak, almost as though they are speaking the words for the first time. Nothing could be more wrong. Rehearsing your speech makes you a master of the content. Soliciting feedback and acting on it gives you confidence that your presentation will be a success.
6. Self-Critique: Prepare for the next speech
Although listed as the final step in the process, it’s really the first step in preparing for your next speech. After you’ve delivered your speech, examine your performance objectively. This will solidify lessons learned as you prepare for your next speech challenge.
Selecting a Speech Topic
Selecting a speech topic sometimes feels like shooting an arrow in a random direction and hoping that it hits a target. If this is your approach, you are probably quite frustrated.
Your topic — and, more specifically, your core message — must be selected carefully. If it isn’t, then you won’t be able to effectively deliver the speech, and your audience won’t be interested or prepared to receive your message.
This begs the question: How do you choose a great speech topic?
What is your general purpose?
There are three basic types of speeches:
1.Speeches that Educate
e.g. a seminar about real estate investments; a course about leadership; a corporate briefing outlining the status of a pursuit
2.Speeches that Motivate
e.g. a candidate’s election speech; a fundraising pitch; a business proposal to investors
3.Speeches that Entertain
e.g. a story read to children; a dramatic tale; a humorous after-dinner speech
Decide which of these you want to accomplish as your general purpose. This decision will influence many decisions you make as you prepare for your speech, so it is important that you are clear on your overall motive.
“Selecting a speech topic sometimes feels like shooting an arrow in a random direction and hoping that it hits a target.”
What is your core message?
Your core message is the central idea of your presentation. All other speech elements should support the core message.
Clarity: Aim to express your core message in a single sentence. If you cannot do this, you need more clarity. Passion: Your core message must be something you believe in. Knowledge: What do you know about this core message? Can you draw stories from personal experience? Have you researched the topic?
We like to believe that our entire presentation will be remembered. The reality is that the audience will retain only one or two points. Your speech should be designed to ensure that your audience remembers your core message.
How is this message related to the audience?
Your audience is not an innocent bystander who just happens to be in the room when you deliver your presentation. They are an integral part of the communication path. Great delivery by a speaker does not guarantee a successful speech; a successful speech is one where the audience receives the message.
Audience analysis is needed to determine which messages the audience is willing to receive from you:
What are the key audience demographic?
Are they technical or non-technical? Students? Elderly? Parents? Athletes? Business leaders? Predominantly male or female?
How is your audience related to you?
Is the audience filled with your peers? Subordinates? Superiors? Are you an outsider? Are you viewed as an expert? Are you unknown to them?
How large is the audience?
Is it small enough so that everyone will see sweat on your brow? Are you in a large theatre? Is the audience in the room, or is there a remote audience too? (Or a future video audience?)
What message does the audience want to receive?
This is just as important as asking what core message you want to deliver.
If you are passionate, but your audience doesn’t care, your presentation will fail. (They will tune out.) If you deliver what the audience desires, but you don’t care, your presentation will fail. (Your delivery will be flat.) If you attempt to speak on a topic where you have no expertise or experience to draw from, your presentation will fail. (Your content will be empty and shallow.) However, if you find a topic where you have both expertise and passion, and the audience is interested, you will succeed.
What is the scope of your presentation?
“We like to believe that our entire presentation will be remembered. The reality is that the audience will retain only one or two points.”
Before you proceed, you still need to determine the scope of your presentation. The scope is naturally influenced by elements discussed earlier:
Your general purpose Your core message The needs of your audience
There is one further key element to consider: what are the constraints on your presentation?
How much time is allowed?
Suppose your core message is “Live your dreams”. If you have two minutes, then the scope of your talk is probably going be one story illustrating that message. There’s no time for more. On the other hand, if you have four hours, then you may study biographical details of famous dreamers, discuss methods for aligning your life decisions with your dreams, or explore other avenues.
What is the context of your presentation?
There are dozens of factors that come into play which only you can know, but one of the most common is knowing whether or not others will be speaking at the same event on similar topics. If so, then your scope will generally be very narrow (and perhaps quite deep). If you are a keynote speaker and nobody else has touched on your domain, then you may choose to a broader, more shallow scope.
Don’t Skip the Speech Outline
Writing an outline is, unfortunately, a step that many skip. The most common excuse is simply “No time.” This is unfortunate because time spent on an outline is time well spent. It is necessary to ensure that you craft a coherent and focused presentation.
Writing a Speech Outline
An outline is a blueprint for your presentation.
It highlights the key logical elements. i.e. what points are being made to logically support the core message? It highlights the key structural elements. e.g. introduction, body, conclusion, stories, high-level concepts It links these elements together in a sequence, perhaps allocating very rough timings. It can also map out the transitions between elements, although this may be deferred to a later stage of preparation.
Basic Speech Outlines
“An outline is a blueprint for your presentation.”
The basic speech outline template for structural elements is:
1.Introduction 2.Body 3.Conclusion
Similarly, the basic speech outline template for logical elements is the familiar advice:
1.Tell them what you’re going to say 2.Tell them 3.Tell them what you’ve said
Put these together, and you have the start of a generic speech outline:
1.Introduction — Establish topic and core message; list supporting points 2.Body 2.1.Supporting Point One 2.2Supporting Point Two 2.3Supporting Point Three 3.Conclusion — Recap main points; summarize core message; call-to-action
It is surprising how well this simple 3-part outline template works for a wide range of speech topics. Incidentally, this same basic formula can be seen in novels, short stories, movies, plays, reports, business briefings, emails, memos, and many other forms of communication.
Variants or Examples of Speech Outlines
Example: Story-based Outline
Some people believe that stories are the best building blocks for speeches. For example, in The Story Factor (Annette Simmons), the author claims that storytelling is the key to business communications.
1.Attention grabbing opening which introduces the topic and core message 2.Tell a story. Make a point 3.Tell another story. Make another point. 4.Tell another story. Make another point 5.Memorable conclusion which ties together all three stories to support the core message.
Example: Scientific Conference Talk Outline
The outline for many scientific talks mirrors the scientific method:
1.Define the problem needing a solution 2.Describe the hypothesis which will explore one aspect of the problem 3.Describe the experiment performed to test the hypothesis 3.1.Detail 1 — schematic 3.2.Detail 2 — photograph 3.3.Detail 3 — description 4.Show the data collected and subsequent data analysis 4.1.Data analysis 1 — chart 4.2.Data analysis 2 — chart 4.3.Data analysis 3 — table 5.Draw conclusions relating back to the hypothesis
Suggest future actions
Example: Community Association Meeting Speech Outline
1.Story to introduce the symptom (e.g. vandalism) 2.Use facts and evidence to trace back to the core problem 2.1.Statistics 2.2.Reports 2.3.Interviews 3.Suggest a solution 3.1.Budget 3.2.Volunteers 3.3.Stakeholders
A strong call-to-action motivating the audience to join the cause
Example: Business Proposal to Investors
1.Be direct: “Invest $___ for %___ of the shares” 2.Story to illustrate the need for the product XYZ 3.Story to describe the vision of how product XYZ improves lives 4.Demo of product XYZ 4.1.Benefit #1 (focus on benefits, not features) 4.2.Benefit #2 4.3.Benefit #3 5.Invest now and make product XYZ possible 5.1.Story illustrating strength of the team 5.2.Market analysis 5.3.Financial projections 6.Repeat call-to-action: “Invest $___ for %___ of the shares”
Other Speech Outline Writing Tips
“When sequencing your outline points, try to avoid random order. Seek and extract the meaningful relationship.”
Note that all of these speech outline examples are appropriate for a short six to ten minute speech. Longer time windows will obviously allow for more detailed outlines.
You may be able to customize one of the generic speech outline formats for your speech; more likely, you will need to craft your own to fit your situation. A few other things to consider:
The granularity of your outline should be roughly one outline point per minute of speaking time, perhaps less for lengthy presentations. For presentations which are complemented with slides, your outline might include slide concepts, but no finer details. Remember that your presentation is much more than your set of slides. Your outline should reflect your speaking elements which the slides complement. When sequencing your outline points, try to avoid random order. Seek and extract the meaningful relationship. Chronological – e.g. a biographical speech Spatial – e.g. an entertaining travel speech Cause-effect – e.g. speech relating crime rate to drug use Low to high importance – e.g. reasons to exercise Broad vision to specific details – e.g. a management speech outlining new company direction Your outline is not the same as cue cards, but they are related (if you use cue cards). An outline contains high-level speech elements; cue cards might additionally contain selected speech details e.g. transition phrases, key words/phrases, key numbers, or punch lines.
Wrestling Writer’s Block to Write the First Draft
Writer’s block is debilitating.
Writer’s block is discouraging.
Writer’s block stops average speakers from becoming great speakers.
Don’t let it stop you!
How to Write the First Draft of a Speech
First, recognize the two most common causes for writer’s block, in the context of speech writing:
1.Lack of Direction: You lack clarity about what you want to say. 2.Large Ego: You believe the first draft must be a perfect speech.
The first cause — lack of direction — is easily avoidable if you are following the steps recommended above. With your core message as your target, and your outline providing a blueprint, writing the first draft is within grasp because you know which direction to head.
The second cause — large ego — manifests itself by causing you to edit every sentence the minute you’ve written it in the hopes of producing a perfect speech on the first try. Even worse, perhaps you are editing and striking sentences in your head! This slows the speechwriting process to a snail’s pace.
“Writer’s block stops average speakers from becoming great speakers.”
Realize that the first draft is not the final draft — it need not be perfect. You will probably hate the first draft. That’s good. Channel that hatred into aggressive editing… later. Your goal in this stage is to capture the main concepts and ideas, not to have them in deliverable form.
Tips for Writing the First Draft
Writing the first draft used to be the most painful part of speech preparation for me. You can ease the pain with these mental tricks:
Set a deadline. If you know your core message and you have an outline, there’s no reason why you can’t produce a rough first draft in a single sitting. A deadline is motivational magic. Write in bullet form. Write in sentences if you can, but if sentences aren’t flowing from your mind, then start with key words or phrases in bullet form. Write out of sequence. You don’t need to write the blocks of your speech in the order they appear on the outline. Quite often, speakers get hung up on trying to write the perfect opening. If the opening isn’t coming to you, start with a section in the body of the speech. Don’t worry about transitions. If your first draft doesn’t flow from one outline point to the next, don’t worry. Those can be fixed later. Often, my first draft contains notes to myself like this: “[Whoa... need bridging between these ideas.]“ Don’t worry about words. Just get the ideas down using whatever words first come to you. You can edit for precision and better words later. Don’t worry about the length. It’s okay if your first draft is way too long. (It’s also okay if it is way too short, although most people don’t tend to have this problem.) This is an issue to solve in the editing phase.
My Speech has Slides. What is a Good First Draft?
Let me repeat:
“You will probably hate the first draft. That’s good. Channel that hatred into aggressive editing later.”
Don’t worry about slides in your first draft at all. Focus on drafting the oral component of your speech first. The slides, which are complementary and they can be designed later.
However, everyone has different habits, and if yours involve working on slides early in the process, then do what works for you. Keep these tips in mind:
Don’t get too detailed. A good first draft slide might include a few words (a “title”, or maybe a quotation) along with a sketch of a figure or some other visual component. Go low-tech. You can produce your entire first draft of slides on paper, or sticky notes, or on a whiteboard. There’s no need to use all the whiz bang features of PowerPoint. Avoid the temptation to perfect the slides. Don’t worry about detailed drawings, or colors, or font sizes, or any other design criteria. Leave that for the next iteration. Slides alone are not a first draft. Produce a first draft of the oral component of your speech along with the slides. Producing a parallel written speech will help you avoid the temptation to insert all those words onto slides. Audiences hate reading text-heavy slides.
Conventional wisdom says the best speeches are not written; they are rewritten. Yet, most speakers present content that falls between a first draft and no preparation at all.
Don’t be like most speakers.
Allow yourself the time to edit for focus, clarity, concision, continuity, variety, and impact. If you do, you will give your audience a performance that will dazzle them.
Editing a Speech — An Iterative Process
Once you have a first draft, you begin to see how the different elements from your outline work together to form your speech.
The next step is a highly iterative one. Just as you cannot expect the first draft to be the final draft, do not pressure yourself to get it perfect after one session of editing. Expect to make many passes through your speech, with each pass leaving the speech a little better than the previous version.
As you proceed, avoid falling in love with any particular component of the speech. Maybe you have the perfect story or a great slide, but be prepared to cut it out if your core message can be conveyed in a better way.
Use Binoculars and a Magnifying Glass
“Edit mercilessly. All elements of your speech — every point, every statistic, every anecdote, every story, every joke, every visual aid — must support your core message.”
When you edit your speech, you are doing two things in parallel:
Ensure that your paragraphs, sections, stories, and transitions combine to produce a well-organized speech that succeeds in delivering your core message. You only have one chance to deliver your message to your audience. It needs to be easy to follow to guarantee their attention throughout.
Edit your words, phrases, and sentences to find the precise combination of words that invoke emotions and create images in a memorable way. To make your audience remember your core message, you need to make them remember your words and the images you createdin their minds.
Accomplishing both tasks simultaneously is not easy. One approach is to focus primarily on macro-editing in your initial editing passes. When you are happy with how the overall speech is coming together, change your focus and begin micro-editing.
Six Power Principles for Speech Editing
1. Edit for Focus
Audience response you want to avoid:
“The presenter was all over the map. It was confusing.”
Edit mercilessly if you have written something in an earlier draft that strays from your core message. All elements of your speech — every point, every statistic, every anecdote, every story, every joke, every visual aid — must support your core message.
2. Edit for Clarity
Audience response you want to avoid:
“The talk was interesting, but I just didn’t get it.”
On a macro-level points in your outline should be sequenced in a way which mirrors the meaningful relationship. (e.g. chronological, spatial, cause-effect).
Ordering your speech logically is one of the best ways to ensure clarity. Start with one point, and build out from there, as if you were adding one Lego block to another over time.
On a micro-level, clarity is also important.
Can the sentences be clearer? Have you avoided any tongue-twisters? Is technical jargon eliminated? (Your audience analysis will guide you.)
3. Edit for Concision
“Avoid falling in love with any particular component of the speech. Be prepared to cut if your core message can be conveyed in a better way.”
Audience response you want to avoid:
“He just went on and on and on…”
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
For each element of your presentation, ask yourself “Is this essential?” If the answer is no; cut it!
Eliminate entire points or stories if the core message is conveyed without them. Eliminate sentences if the paragraph reads fine without them. Eliminate words which do not add meaning to the sentences. Replace long words with short words that convey the same meaning.
e.g. use rather than utilize
4. Edit for Continuity
Audience response you want to avoid:
“She lost me after the fourth slide.”
Transition words, phrases, and sentences — bridging — are necessary to make your speech flow. Your aim is to avoid abrupt transitions where you can lose audience members. One point should feed naturally into the next. Sidebars and other diversions are the enemy.
5. Edit for Variety
“For each element of your presentation, ask if it is essential. If the answer is no, cut it.”
Audience response you want to avoid:
“It was boring.”
Audiences like variety. It makes the speech more enjoyable, and it also helps you appeal to different types of thinkers.
Here are just a few ways to inject variety into a presentation:
Move around the stage. Use a prop, slides, or other visual aids Break up long, serious stretches of a speech with humor. Engage the audience with a rhetorical question or an activity. Balance theory with practical statistics. Balance stories with logical arguments.
Note: Some of these are delivery techniques rather than writing techniques.
6. Edit for Impact and Beauty
Audience response you want to avoid:
“Nothing really stood out.”
There are many closely related techniques to make a speech memorable, including:
Surprise the audience. Create vivid images. Appeal to the senses. Craft truly memorable lines. Use analogies, similes, and metaphors. Employ rhetorical devices throughout.
Several of these techniques are addressed in the next article of the Speech Preparation Series.
Your speech can be focused, clear, and concise and still lack vitality. If your speech is void of rhetorical devices, it is like a painting void of color.
On all technical points, a black and white sketch might clearly be a woman smiling, or group of men having a meal, but without color, it’s not the Mona Lisa or The Last Supper.
Writing for Impact and Beauty
The study of rhetoric provides speechwriters with numerous rhetorical devices. When you use these devices, your presentations will be more impactful (easier to remember) as well as more beautiful (more pleasurable to listen to).
Of the very large number of rhetorical devices, we’ll investigate three types:
1.Devices which involve sounds (often with repetition)
e.g. alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia
2.Devices which involve repetition of words, phrases, or ideas (often with parallelism)
3.Devices which change the usual meaning of words
e.g. metaphors, similes
Rhetorical Devices: Sound
Sound-based rhetorical devices add a poetic melody to speeches. Not surprisingly, the net effect is that speeches are more pleasurable to listen to. Three of the most common forms are:
alliteration — repetition of the same sound at the beginning of nearby words
e.g. “what my wife wanted”, “her husband has had”
assonance — repetition of the same vowel sound in nearby words
e.g. “how now brown cow”
onomatopoeia — a word which imitates the sound of itself
e.g. “buzz”, “whoosh”, “meow”
Rhetorical Devices: Repetition of Words or Ideas
“On all technical points, a black and white sketch might clearly be a woman smiling, or group of men having a meal, but without color, it’s not the Mona Lisa orThe Last Supper.”
Two common forms involve repetition in successive clauses or sentences.
anaphora — repetition of a word or phrase at the start of successive clauses or sentences e.g. Winston Churchill:
“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, [... many more ...] We shall never surrender.”
epistrophe — repetition of a word or phrase at the end of successive clauses or sentences
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny compared to what lies within us.”
Repetition is a powerful technique used in other ways as well.
Repetition is commonly used for emphasis. Repeating a word or phrase in different parts of the speech helps the audience make connections as if you were sewing your speech elements together with a thread.
Rhetorical Devices which change word meanings
Three common rhetorical devices by which words can take on new meanings are:
Personification — giving human qualities to abstract ideas, inanimate objects, plants, or animals
e.g. “The trees called out to me.”
Metaphor — a comparison of two seemingly unlike things
e.g. “Life is a highway.”
Simile — same as metaphor, but using either “like” or “as”
e.g. “Life is like a box of chocolates.”
These rhetorical devices, along with related concepts such as symbolism and analogies, are often the essence of storytelling as an effective means of communication.
“Rhetorical devices in a business context are powerful.”
It’s true that your business colleagues may look at you funny if you deliver your next project status report sounding like Martin Luther King. While you may want to limit your use of these techniques a bit, don’t discount them entirely. For example:
Metaphors and analogies are excellent tools for explaining new concepts or new visions for your company. Repetition in a set of slides can be used to emphasize key results or recommendations. Devices like alliteration can be employed for slogans, mantras, etc.
Choreograph Your Speech with Staging, Gestures, and Vocal Variety
Your speech preparation is going well. You started with your core message, wrapped it in a speech outline, extracted your first draft, edited your speech, and added impact with rhetorical devices. You’re ready to deliver, right?
Wrong. You only have words on paper, and your audience doesn’t want to read your speech.
Your audience wants to see and hear your presentation. You will dazzle them by complementing your speech with staging, gestures, and vocal variety.
Power Presentations are Performed.
Vocal Variety: The Four P’s
Monotone delivery puts your audience to sleep, no matter how riveting your content. On the other hand, an energetic and varied voice will be music to their ears.
Vocal variety covers the 4 P’s:
1.Power (or volume) 2.Pitch 3.Pace 4.Pauses
Power refers to the volume you project. At a minimum, be sure that your entire audience can easily hear you without straining.
Turning your voice volume up or downadds interest. Use both variations when they match the emotion you want to convey. For example, speaking loud might be used to convey excitement. Speaking soft might convey sadness. Use a microphone to amplify your voice in large rooms. Eliminate outside noises, if you can. If you can’t, consider moving the audience closer to you, or moving into the audience.
“Monotone delivery puts your audience to sleep, no matter how riveting your content.”
Pitch is the frequency of the sound you emit. To some extent, you are born with your voice pitch, whether it be soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, or baritone. However, if your speech contains dialogue for several characters, varying your pitch is an excellent way to distinguish between them.
Pace is your speaking rate, and varying it throughout the speech adds great interest. There are many effects that a variable pace can generate, but the most basic are:
Speed up to heighten the emotion in a dramatic story. Slow down when delivering key phrases.
The most common pace problem is speaking too fast for the audience to absorb the material. There are two underlying reasons for this:
Lack of editing leaves too much content and too little time. The resulting pace is far too fast for the audience to absorb. Nervousness also contributes to a rapid speaking rate.
“Failure to use gestures will lead your audience to watch the inside of their eyeballs.”
Pauses are magical. On the lips of master speakers, pauses can be used for a multitude of purposes.
Short pauses can signal the end of a clause or sentence. Your audience needs these because they can’t read the punctuation in your text. Longer pauses signal the transition between major points or stories. Experienced speakers will often take a drink of water, ready a prop, or consult notes at these times. Pauses before and after key points are wonderful buffers. The preceding pause signals to the audience that you are about to say something important. The following pause gives the audience time to reflect on what you just said and internalize it. Pauses can also be used to enhance audience interaction (e.g. ask a rhetorical question, and then wait).
Example: Steve Jobs demonstrates a powerful pause in his Stanford Commencement speech.
Gestures / Body Language
Hundreds of gestures are available to help complement your words. Gestures throughout your speech make you interesting to watch. If you are interesting to watch, then your audience will be more attentive to your message. Failure to use gestures will lead your audience to watch the inside of their eyeballs.
Rather than attempting to itemize hundreds of different gestures, I’ll highlight a few general principles:
Your body will naturally want to move as you speak. Don’t inhibit these natural gestures as they convey a sense that you are comfortable and confident in your message. Mix in deliberate gestures to coincide with key points. Mimic the actions of your speech (e.g. throwing a ball), or convey concepts through recognizable symbols (e.g. convey “censorship” by covering your mouth). Use a variety of gestures. Don’t use the same one over and over and over again.
Increase the size of your gestures to match the size of the room. When presenting to three of your co-workers at a table, your gestures can be small (e.g. hand gestures that start at the wrist). When presenting to a packed auditorium, your gestures should be large (e.g. full-body gestures originating from the shoulders) Don’t neglect the power of facial gestures. Your audience will feed off the facial gestures you make.
“Great speakers move around the speaking area with purpose.”
Staging your speech means utilizing the 3-dimensional space around you in the most effective way possible.
Novice speakers will chain themselves to the lectern or stand in one spot on the middle of the stage. Intermediate speakers will meander randomly around the speaking area. Body movement appeals to the audience and keeps attention. Great speakers move around the speaking area with purpose. Every time they take a few steps, they are doing so with a distinct purpose in mind.
Like gestures, there are innumerable ways to stage your speech, but here are a few general principles:
The simplest act of staging is to prepare the speaking area before you begin. Move the lectern to the side. Move obstacles away, or at least be aware of them. Make sure every person in the audience has a clear sight line to you (or your slides). Simple acts like this show the audience that you’ve thought of everything. If you are using props or other visual aids, plan where they will be before and after you use them. When they are not being used, you want them out of sight. Just as long pauses can signal the transition between major points, so can considerable movement within the speaking area. You can map specific locations in the speaking area to be virtual locations for certain stories of your speech. Then, when you refer back to these stories, a simple gesture back to that area of the speaking area is valuable to help the audience make the connection. In very large rooms, be sure to balance your position on the left, center, and right of the speaking area. Not every speech allows for it, but don’t forget about the forward/backward direction as well as up/down. If you can meaningfully bring in these directions, it will make a powerful statement. For example, consider what climbing on a chair might allow you to do within your speech.
Practicing your speech is essential, but I’d be foolish to suggest that practice alone will result in a “that was the best speech I’ve ever heard” response from your audience. So, while practice won’t necessarily make you perfect you will reap many benefits from practicing your speech at least a couple times:
Discover awkward phrases and tongue-twisters that you did not notice when writing and editing. Speaking the words out loud exposes flaws that reading does not.
Gauge your energy level. Does delivering this speech fire you up? Or are you bored with it? Gauge your timing. Once you get more experienced, you will learn how many words can fit in a 10-minute time slot. Reduce nervousness. Rehearsing even one time will improve your confidence in your material.
“Rehearsing even one time will improve your confidence in your material.”
You might practice for 60 hours. You might practice for 60 minutes. Either way, here are a few tips that will help you achieve maximum benefit from time spent rehearsing:
Re-create the speech setting
Reading your speech at a desk (or from your computer screen) is not optimal unless you are preparing for a webcast. Try to duplicate the speech setting as much as you can.
Practice in the room where you’ll be speaking. Stand up. You get more realistic voice projection. Rehearse with props and visual aids. Arrange an audience. Practicing with an audience is better than practicing without one… even if it is not your target audience. Consider what you will wear when your speech will be delivered. Will it add complications? Inhibit gestures or movement in any way? Take notes
Don’t hesitate to stop yourself in the middle of your rehearsal to jot down ideas as they come to you. Capture internal feelings immediately.
Try out different voices, gestures, or staging. This is especially important for your opening, conclusion, and any other key points. Give yourself confidence knowing that these lines will be delivered precisely as you intended.
You can easily do this yourself, but it helps if someone else can time you.
Insert planned pauses, and insert delays when you expect laughter or some other audience response. This may feel funny, but an accurate timing estimate will tell you if you need to do more editing. Use all that you learn to edit your speech and make it better.
“After the rehearsal, actively solicit feedback. Make it clear that you want honest opinions about what could be improved.”
Practicing your speech is good.
Practicing your speech with an audience is better.
Practicing your speech with someone who will give you honest feedback is best.
Practicing with an audience gives you valuable feedback:
Is your humor drawing smiles and laughs or is it missing completely? Are you keeping the audience’s attention throughout? Are you receiving positive feedback in the form of nodding heads and smiles, or is a blank stare the most common expression?
After the rehearsal, actively solicit feedback. Make it clear that you want honest opinions about what could be improved. A dozen “Good speech!” comments may boost your ego, but it won’t boost the quality of your speech. To reap feedback that will improve your speech, ask open-ended questions like these:
What was your favorite element in the speech? Why? What would you like to see improved? How can I improve my speech for next time?
This is far better than asking yes/no questions such as “Did you like it?”
If the presentation is important to you, and you don’t have a test audience that provides you with valuable feedback, hire a coach!
Audio recordings help you gauge many delivery qualities, including speaking pace, pitch, and pauses.
Assess which phrases sound “good” and which are awkward to listen to. Listen for um’s, ah’s, and other filler words. Notice if and when you stumbled. Time the overall speech (which would be easy to do with a watch), as well as individual segments of the speech (which you cannot do unless you stop and start numerous times).
A video recording of yourself speaking is an incredibly powerful tool. All of your habits — both good and bad — are captured. In addition to the audio assessments mentioned in the previous section, you can also learn:
Are your gestures working? Are your gestures synchronized well with your words? Are your gestures varied, or are they monotonous? Are you smiling? Are you fidgeting, or displaying any other distracting mannerisms? Does your body sway from side to side? Eye contact is difficult to assess if the recording was made without a full audience, but you should be able to tell at least if your eyes are up, or down at your toes. If you are using visual aids, are your transitions smooth? If you are using a prop, was it handled smoothly?
Why Critique Your Presentation Skills?
Great speakers realize that presentation skills are not easily mastered in one or two or ten speeches. Speaking skills are improved incrementally one speech at a time.
To realize these incremental improvements, it is essential to periodically review your skills. Some people prefer to do this review once a week or once a month; I recommend that you review your skills after every speech, especially if you are a novice speaker just dipping your toes into the public speaking pool.
Critiquing Your Own Speech
It only takes a few minutes to review a speech, and the best time to do it is the same day that you delivered it. Your delivery is still fresh in your mind, as is your preparation for the speech.
When critiquing your own speech, you can apply many of the same criteria that you would when critiquing someone else’s speech.
Overall, were you satisfied with your final speech? If not, why not? Did you achieve your objective? Was your core message received by the audience? Were you confident during your delivery? Were you more nervous or less nervous than previous speeches? What audience feedback did you receive during or after delivery of the speech? What strengths were mentioned? What weaknesses were revealed? What did you think of your delivery? Did you have any stumbles? Were they caused by nervousness, or was there another cause? How long did you speak? Was this shorter or longer than you had planned? If you were under time, this may be an indication that your speaking rate was a bit fast. If you were over time, this may be an indication that you should have cut more material. Did you try any new techniques, either in the preparation phase or in your delivery? If so, what did you think? What lessons can you extract?
Depending on the context of the speech, a few other questions include:
Was your pre-speech audience analysis accurate? If not, what did you learn about this audience that you could apply to the speech to make it better? If you led a Q&A session during the presentation, how did it go? From the types of questions asked, did it seem like your audience “got” the message? If you obtained an audio recording, what did you learn from listening to it? Was your voice clear throughout? Did you have any distracting habits? (e.g. um’s, ah’s, trailing off at the end of sentences) If you obtained a video recording, what did you learn from watching it? How was your posture and eye contact? Were your gestures varied and timed well? Did you have any distracting habits? If you were going to deliver the same speech to the same audience, what would you do differently?
25 Skills for Producing Powerful Presentations:
1.Research a topic – Good speakers stick to what they know. Great speakers research what they need to convey their message. 2.Focus – Help your audience grasp your message by focusing on your message. Stories, humour, or other “sidebars” should connect to the core idea. Anything that doesn’t needs to be edited out. 3.Organize ideas logically – A well-organized presentation can be absorbed with minimal mental strain. Bridging is key. 4.Employ quotations, facts, and statistics – Don’t include these for the sake of including them, but do use them appropriately to complement your ideas. 5.Master metaphors – Metaphors enhance the understandability of the message in a way that direct language often cannot. 6.Tell a story – Everyone loves a story. Points wrapped up in a story are more memorable, too! 7.Start strong and close stronger – The body of your presentation should be strong too, but your audience will remember your first and last words (if, indeed, they remember anything at all). 8.Incorporate humour – Knowing when to use humour is essential. So is developing the comedic timing to deliver it with greatest effect. 9.Vary vocal pace, tone, and volume – A monotone voice is like fingernails on the chalkboard. 10.Punctuate words with gestures – Gestures should complement your words in harmony. Tell them how big the fish was, and show them with your arms. 11.Utilize 3-dimensional space – Chaining yourself to the lectern limits the energy and passion you can exhibit. Lose the notes, and lose the chain. 12.Complement words with visual aids – Visual aids should aid the message; they should not be the message. 13.Analyze your audience – Deliver the message they want (or need) to hear. 14.Connect with the audience – Eye contact is only the first step. Aim to have the audience conclude “This speaker is just like me!” The sooner, the better. 15.Interact with the audience – Ask questions (and care about the answers). Solicit volunteers. Make your presentation a dialogue. 16.Conduct a Q&A session – Not every speaking opportunity affords a Q&A session, but understand how to lead one productively. Use the Q&A to solidify the impression that you are an expert, not (just) a speaker. 17.Lead a discussion – Again, not every speaking opportunity affords time for a discussion, but know how to engage the audience productively. 18.Obey time constraints – Maybe you have 2 minutes. Maybe you have 45. Either way, customize your presentation to fit the time allowed, and respect your audience by not going over time. 19.Craft an introduction – Set the context and make sure the audience is ready to go, whether the introduction is for you or for someone else. 20.Exhibit confidence and poise – These qualities are sometimes difficult for a speaker to attain, but easy for an audience to sense. 21.Handle unexpected issues smoothly – Maybe the lights will go out. Maybe the projector is dead. Have a plan to handle every situation. 22.Be coherent when speaking off the cuff – Impromptu speaking (before, after, or during a presentation) leaves a lasting impression too. Doing it well tells the audience that you are personable, and that you are an expert who knows their stuff beyond the slides and prepared speech. 23.Seek and utilize feedback – Understand that no presentation or presenter (yes, even you!) is perfect. Aim for continuous improvement, and understand that the best way to improve is to solicit candid feedback from as many people as you can. 24.Listen critically and analyze other speakers – Study the strengths and weakness of other speakers. 25.Act and speak ethically – Since public speaking fears are so common, realize the tremendous power of influence that you hold. Use this power responsibly.