Six Tips for Public Speaking

I love it when a plan comes together. With apologies to Hannibal from the A-Team, I borrow the phrase to help explain one of the best parts of my job. Change is not always dramatic or speedy in communication coaching, but there are instances when something clicks or a theme emerges or a plan to increase engagement… wait for it… “comes together.” These moments are what make my job great.

Speaking challenges the coaching team at Jackson Spalding routinely addresses are probably familiar to you as a speaker or a member of an audience: the tremble of nerves, the dead eyes of no-energy, the confusion that comes from disorganized content. We help people work through all those things, but one thing we do that brings serious improvement is simplifying and streamlining content so that it is strategic and hyper-focused. Our success in building up speakers always grows from the foundation of good content. Great content trumps great delivery (although, the best speakers have a healthy dose of both).

The explosion in social/digital content in recent years means it’s more important than ever to be able to deliver a strong, engaging message. Here are six tips to help you improve:

  1. Start with your purpose. What do you want to achieve in your audience? Do you want them to buy something, think of you as a leader in the field, or simply be updated on a topic? Purpose helps define content.
  2. Know your audience. Who are they? What do they want to know or what could they most benefit from knowing? Understanding who’s listening and tailoring content to their needs is an essential part of an engaging presentation.
  3. Make it memorable. Build personal stories, examples, surprising facts or twists into your content. Stories are easy to remember and deliver. People love stories and learn from them as well. Facts prove assertions, and twists hold interest. All of these things boost engagement and will ensure your presentation stands out.
  4. Make it simple. We like to have our clients boil things down to one main point, and that point has to fit on one Post-it note (and not the big kind either!). Communicate one clear idea, and use all additional information and illustrations to reinforce that one idea.
  5. Concentrate on the beginning, the end and transitions. The middle part, the meat of your content, is usually easy. It’s mostly factual content, and that’s comfortable. The beginning, however, is the most important part of a presentation. It’s where people decide whether to tune in or tune out. It must be good, so take the time to make it so. The end is a close second in importance because it’s the last thing you are leaving with your audience. It’s the closer, the takeaway. Don’t give up on a critical moment. And finally, transitions are key moments within a presentation that either keep people with you or lose them. Smooth transitions deepen engagement and connect the dots.
  6. Practice. This might be old news, but the reason you hear it so often is because it works. Practice makes you less reliant on notes or slides or outlines, which helps you appear more confident and competent. Practice is critical to success.

Try using a few of these tips. If you frequently speak in public, focus on one or two at a time, adding more as you feel more confident. Use any opportunity to practice. Do you have a weekly meeting? Approach it as a formal presentation. Your colleagues may look at you funny, but the more you put these tips into practice, the better you will become and the faster you’ll be joining the A-Team of public speaking.