Archives For presentation

The goal of any speech or presentation is the same: change.

The only reason to give a talk is because you want to bring about some change in your audience. To change what they know or, more importantly, how they think. To change how they feel. And, perhaps most importantly of all, to change how they act.

The biggest mistake speakers make in preparing a speech or presentation is the failure to define its goal: what they want from the audience.

If you’re not trying to change the audience in some way, you’re wasting their time and yours.

Leaving people exactly as they are, in their habitual ways of believing, belonging, and behaving, may be — to your thinking — perfectly fine. If that’s the case, pat them on the back and send them on their way. Just don’t give them a speech.

You can’t make people change, of course. You can only create conditions, or expose people to ideas, images, emotions, and experiences that make it possible for them to change.

So the next time you have a speech to give, or you plan a presentation, ask yourself how you want the audience to change as a result of listening to you.

As the author of Real Leader’s Don’t Do PowerPoint (Crown Business), I am not suggesting that future Presidents should use PowerPoint in their State of the Union Addresses (SOTUs). I cringe at the thought. But recent developments and trends make me think that it will happen sooner or later.

I make that prediction based on my belief that the dominant style of public speaking has dramatically changed over the last fifty or sixty years, becoming increasingly casual.

The Reign of Oratory

John Kennedy SpeaksFor the longest time (over two millennium) public discourse was ruled by oratory, a formal style of speaking marked by an elegance of expression, a concern with lofty ideals and topics of great import, and dramatic delivery.

Oratory was a mainstay in ancient Greece. Philosophers and statesmen alike studied and practiced it. Romans continued to refine it and define its rules.

In the United States oratory held sway through the 1960’s. There are many examples or an oratorical style of speaking, including but not limited to:

There are fewer examples of oratory to be found through the next two decades.

By the 1980’s oratory was already being replaced by a plainer, simpler style of speaking.

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Woman confused by speech that lacks a central pointHow many times, after sitting through a speech, have you asked yourself “What was that about?” or simply thought “Huh?”

Having a point and being able to express it clearly isn’t the only skill required of speakers, but it is one of the most important skills.

If people can’t figure out what you’re talking about or what you’re getting at, they’ll stop listening to you. They’ll lose respect for you. And they won’ t do, think, or feel what you want them to.

This is the test of an effective speech: Can you say in one sentence (in 10 to 20  words) what it was about?

(There are, of course, other questions to ask, but only after you have first answered that question.)

Unfortunately, many presentations fail that most basic test. For example… Continue Reading…

Writing a speechYou don’t have to be a professional speechwriter to master effective strategies for creating a powerful speech.

You already know (more or less) what works in your day-to-day conversations: how to connect, make a point, gain buy-in, and answer questions. The secret to public speaking (it’s not really a secret) is knowing how to tweak those same communication strategies to improve your speeches.

Here are 10 speechwriter secrets that will improve your speeches and presentations.

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humor

I’m all for injecting humor into a speech, but experience has led me to conclude that telling jokes is a risky venture.

(Let me start by confessing that I love jokes, both hearing and telling them. And I enjoy the rare speakers who are able to tell jokes in a speech successfully. If you’re one of them, more power to you, and I encourage you to keep it up.)

Be Cautious about Telling Jokes in a Speech

One of the worst pieces of advice you can get about speaking is, “Start your speech with a joke.”

My advice is, “Never start a speech with a joke.”

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man rehearsing a speechRehearsing a speech out loud is one of the best ways to improve it — both its message and your delivery. 

Never, never, never (well, almost never) give a speech without first having spoken it out loud, either to yourself or to one other person. 

There are five ways that rehearsing your speech improves it.

First, by rehearsing your speech out loud, you discover how (or if) it holds together and whether it makes sense.

If you simply outline a speech and think it through (i.e. talk it through silently in your mind), it always makes sense…at least, to you. That’s because you supply all the background information and insights you’ve gained preparing the talk. You know what you mean, so you think you’re saying what you know. But when you force yourself to speak and  pay attention to the words coming out of your mouth, you become aware of the gaps or inconsistencies. And you can fix them.

Second, by rehearsing your speech out loud, you compose it — or recompose it — for the ear, not for the eye.

Written communication is different from oral communication, which needs to be simpler, to use shorter sentences and parallel construction, to be immediately comprehensible. It’s fine to begin with a written text. But talking it through helps turn the written word into the spoken word.

Third, by rehearsing your speech out loud, you pay greater attention to the sound of words.

It’s perfectly legitimate, for example, to use “eschew” in a written piece, but I would never say it aloud in front of an audience. And I have a hard time getting my tongue around certain sound certain phrases. (I made a fool of myself once trying to say “fluent French.”) It’s better to find these things out before we have to say them from the stage.

Fourth, by rehearsing your speech out loud, you simplify it.

You eliminate extraneous material, simply because you forget it. If you can’t remember what you’ve prepared after practicing it a number of times, referring to your notes as needed, how can you expect your audience to remember any of it, given that they’ll only hear it once? Sometimes you need to have a text or a detailed outline to refer to. But even then it should be so clearly and simply structured that you can remember its main point and how one section flows into another. 

And finally, by rehearsing your speech out loud, you learn how to deliver it. You master its pacing, when to speed up or slow down, when to pause, when to increase or decrease your volume. And you learn which gestures come naturally to you, spurred by the thoughts you’re expressing.

If your speech is important enough to prepare for (to research, think through, and write out), it’s important enough to rehearse. Practice your speech out loud and you’ll improve its impact tremendously.

(In a future post I’ll tell you how I rehearse my speeches, but for now let me just suggest that you stand up and walk around while you practice speaking out loud.)

For suggestions on overcoming the fear of speaking, check out How to Develop Confidence.

Leaders SpeakWhy do Leaders Speak?

1. Leaders speak to influence and inspire audiences.
Leaders aren’t primarily concerned with communicating information. They speak to promote a vision, a direction, or a passion. They want to change not just what people know, but how people think and feel and act.

2. Leaders speak when a lot is at stake.
In times of crisis, change, or opportunity — when expectations are high and the consequences may be momentous — people turn to leaders for words of insight, reassurance, or direction. Leaders speak to make a difference, and unsettled times are when their words can have the greatest impact.

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IDEA MAN iStock_000017496132Large

A great talk of any sort — a speech or presentation — requires preparation. No surprise there. It takes time and effort to plan and craft an effective presentation.

I’ve written about strategies and techniques for preparing a presentation elsewhere. Check out How to Prepare a Presentation or How to Plan a Speech or How to Plan a Technical Presentation or even How to Plan an Oral Proposal.

But that type of preparation — the kind you undertake in hours, days, or weeks before your presentation — is just one phase or, more accurately, the final phase of speech preparation.

There are actually three phases of speech preparation:

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woman presentingMost TED Talks are technical presentations. They educate audiences — often in an entertaining way — about scientific or technological breakthroughs. (TED stands for technology, entertainment, design.)

But most technical presentations are not like TED Talks. How can they be?

In business people simply don’t have the time, expertise, coaching, or resources ($$$) that are required to create and rehearse a technical presentation that’s on par with the TED conference presentations.

So how can people in the trenches give a successful technical presentation?

Here are 7 Tips That Working Professionals Can Use to Create Successful Technical Presentations

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workshops for technical presentationsToo many workshops and training programs titled “Improving Technical Presentations” or “More Effective Technical Presentations” place too much emphasis on trying to improve participants’ delivery skills.

Don’t get me wrong. Many technical presenters do have poor delivery skills, and those poor delivery skills harm their ability to win over an audience.

It’s just that, in my experience, focusing on delivery skills — on improving how technical presenters look and sound — is the wrong place to start and one of the least important skills to focus on. 

There are other, more important, skills to teach, including, but not limited to:

  • Get participants to rethink the very purpose of a technical presentation.
    Why are you making a presentation in the first place? What do you want to accomplish? What do you want your audience to know about and to do with the material you’re presenting?
  • Teach them how to clarify complex material without dumbing it down.
    What is your thesis? State it upfront and supply enough — just enough — evidence to explain, illustrate, and substantiate that thesis.
  • Show them how to structure a clear, logical, and persuasive presentation.
    What’s the simplest, clearest way to structure your material? Is it logical? Is it persuasive?
  • Teach them how to create PowerPoint slides that actually help them convey their ideas.
    How can you use PowerPoint to illustrate your main points? Ignore most advice you’ve heard about using PowerPoint, which simply does not apply to technical presentations.
  • Show them how to rehearse a presentation.
    You can benefit from talking through your presentation in advance a few times, if you do it the right way
  • Help them develop confidence.

Help technical experts — smart people who know what they’re talking about — learn how to create and rehearse a clear, focused, and effective presentation. Increase their confidence in front of an audience. And watch their delivery skills improve dramatically, with very little direct attention given to the issue.

By the way, here are my tips for developing confidence speaking.

What do you think?

 

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