Giving a speech–at a sales meeting, an association event, or a general convention–is a great opportunity and a scary proposition.
You have one chance to promote your idea and to build your credibility.
Successful public speakers have mastered a set of practices and made them into habits they consistently use to make the most of every presentation.
1. They Obsess Over Preparation
Great speakers make what they do in front of an audience look effortless. You might be tempted to call them “naturals.” But here’s their secret: they’ve worked long and hard to get ready for their moment.
Know your audience. Establish your goal–what you want the audience to do as a result of listening to you. Create your message, refine it, simplify it. And then practice it out loud at least twice, preferably three times.
2. They Show Up Early
The venue–the room where you’ll be speaking, the layout, the lighting, the microphone–can support or sabotage your best efforts.
Don’t leave things to chance. Show up early. Check things out. Test the mic, if you’ll be using one. Make sure your computer and projector are working, if you’ll be using PowerPoint. Expect to make some changes to the room or to your speech.
Then work the crowd. Introduce yourself, shake hands, and talk to people before your presentation begins.
3. They Have a Story to Tell
By story, I mean two things. First, a story is the overall arc of your speech, from its starting point, through a series of complications (or objections), to a resolution. And second, a story is a narrative of a particular person encountering and overcoming obstacles in order to achieve a desired goal.
Successful speakers tell both kinds of stories.
4. They Respect Their Audiences
You may not always agree with your audiences. You may, after all, want to change what they’re thinking or feeling or doing. And you may not like them, in the sense that you wouldn’t want to have them over for dinner.
But if you can’t respect them and want what’s best for them, you shouldn’t be speaking to them.
5. They Are People Worth Listening To
Who you are as a person–your experience, knowledge, outlook, values, personality, reputation, style–shapes how the audience hears and how much they trust what you say.
Of course your message is important. It has to be focused, insightful, relevant. But you are equally important. You have to be trustworthy, likeable, and knowledgeable.
Don’t hide in the shadows off to the side of the stage. Don’t cede center stage to a slide show. Don’t hide behind a mask of objectivity. Be yourself.
6. They Make Mistakes
The only way to avoid making mistakes is to avoid trying anything new, to do what you’ve always done, to grow stale.
Making mistakes isn’t the worst thing that can happen. Letting your fears constrain you is far worse.
If you prepare, if you care about your audience, and if craft a message that will benefit them, go for it. Each time you speak, try something different, something new. Then, if it works or if it tanks, learn from it.
7. They Make a Difference
The purpose of a speech isn’t to present as much information as possible. It’s to make a difference in people’s lives. It’s to give the audience information, ideas, or insights that will help them solve a problem, achieve a goal, or realize a dream that matters to them.
Giving a speech is a great opportunity. Make the most of it.