RESEARCH YOUR AUDIENCE It amazes me how some speakers will show up for a speaking engagement and really not know anything about the audience they are speaking to. Many speakers just get lazy and feel that their message is so important that anyone would want to hear it. They couldn’t be more wrong. Your core message may be about the same for everyone, but knowing your audience will allow you to slant the information so that the audience feels it was prepared just for them. They will relate much better to the information and think much more highly of you for creating something specifically for them. Of course, in many cases you were only slanting your information, but I won’t tell if you won’t.
PRACTICE The only way to look polished while speaking is to practice. This is one skill you cannot delegate to anyone else. It is you that is on stage with the microphone and it is you who will look either great or terrible. You are sadly mistaken and egotistical if you think the PowerPoint slides that either you or someone else created will make you a dynamic speaker. There are specific techniques used to practice that don’t take much time and make you look extremely polished. One of these techniques is called bits. You practice a short piece of material over and over again. You don’t practice it word for word, but just talk your way through it. This way you won’t blank out when a distraction happens while you are on stage.
TAKE CARE OF HECKLERS The following is my famous asterisk technique; I use it to make sure hecklers don’t interrupt my presentation. I get people in the group to identify potential troublemakers BEFORE I get to the event. I phone these people and interview them to give them the attention they are craving. I then mention their names during the speech. This virtually eliminates the chance they will give me a hard time because I am praising one of their opinions. This works really well but don’t mention their names exclusively or the rest of the audience that knows these people are trouble may think that you are just as bad. Mention a wide variety of people in the audience. Just make sure the bad ones are included which normally keeps them at bay.
USE EMOTIONAL LANGUAGE Boring old facts rarely move people to action. Learning to use words that evoke emotions in people will make a much greater impact when you speak. There are many emotions you can trigger in the audience just by your choice of words. Happiness, anger, sadness, nostalgia are just a few. Knowing your purpose for being in front of the group helps you to pick which emotions you want to tap. When your purpose is known, choosing words to get the desired emotional response is much easier. For instance, if you wanted to take someone back to a childhood experience you might say, “Do you remember when someone did something bad at school and the teacher smacked the yardstick on her desk?” The word Phrase “smacked the yardstick” would evoke an emotional response that many adults can relate to. A younger group may not relate to this phrase since corporal punishment has all but disappeared from schools. You must pick the words that would mean something to your audience.
REVEAL YOURSELF Often people have trouble implementing this idea because they like to remain aloof and private. This will hurt their chances of making a good connection with people in the audience. You certainly don’t have to reveal your deepest darkest secrets when on stage, but you certainly could tell someone how much you like horses, or how you love to cook . . .anything that will give them a glimpse into the real you will give you a better chance of connecting with them and getting them to listen to you.
USE PROPS A prop is worth a thousand words. People can really anchor a thought in their minds when it is connected to an object that relates to the point you are trying to make. You could use large, small, funny or serious props. Always relate the prop to the point you are trying to make and make sure the audience can see it. Sometimes you’ll want to hide the prop so people don’t wonder what it is until you are ready to present it.
USE HUMOR Even Shakespeare used humor in the middle of the tragedies he wrote. Humor is a powerful and effective tool that gives the audience’s mind a chance to breath in the face of heavy material. It also makes you more likable and fun to listen to. Humor is also much more likely to make your information more memorable. You don’t have to be a stand up comedian to use humor in speeches and presentations, and you don’t have to tell jokes either. There are many ways to add humor that don’t require any skill at all. You can show funny visuals, tell stories, or read from books or periodicals. Just like with props, make sue your humor relates to the point you are trying to make and you will be much more successful. Each issue of “Great Speaking” has about 20 pieces of humor you can use during speeches.
MOVE ‘EM TO ACTION If you are going to bother taking up people’s time to speak to them, don’t you think it would be a good idea to get them to do something positive because of your presentation? Even if they do something negative, it’s still better than doing nothing because they will at least get a chance to learn something from their mistake. Regardless of the size of your ego, the reality is that you are there for them, not the other way around. I’m all for you building up your reputation, but if you go into your speech thinking it’s all for you, it will show and you probably won’t do as well as you would have had you concentrated on the needs of the audience more.
BRING SOLUTIONS One of the best ways to make sure the audience loves you is to bring solutions to their problems. If you have done a thorough job of researching your audience, you already know what their problems are. It’s your job to bring ideas for them to try. In modern day thinking this is what motivational speaking is all about. No longer is it good enough to get people all fired up where they are bouncing off the walls without a clue as to what they will do with this new found excitement and motivation. Modern professional motivational speakers bring solutions and a plan of action to achieve them. Now those are motivating.
PAY ATTENTION TO LOGISTICS The best preparation, practice, and audience research could be ruined if you forget to pay attention to all the details surrounding a presentation. You want to know what is happening before you speak, and what is happening after you speak: How are the people seated? Are they at round tables where half of them are facing away from you, or are there no tables at all? What kind of microphone is appropriate? How big is the screen in the room? Will the people be drinking alcohol? What is the lighting like? All these items and many more affect the overall effectiveness of a presentation. The same exact words delivered with significantly different logistics could be received in entirely different ways. You could even go from a fantastic evaluation to a bomb just because of the way people are seated. It’s up to you to know the differences and how they affect a presentation.