I’ve spent too many hours sitting through mediocre presentations in my lifetime, so I’ve been giving this topic some serious thought.
Public speaking is nerve wracking. It takes a lot of work, and whether you’re new or experienced, the feeling doesn’t dissipate. I’ve only done a handful of speaking engagements so I’m far from an expert on the topic. My goal today is to explore what makes an outstanding speaker, and how we can prepare to become one. Being mediocre just isn’t an option.
I’m in the final stages of preparation for my talk at the Spokane Marcom Association to discuss marketing technology and the role it plays in our profession. When the invitation arrived in my inbox earlier this summer, it made my day: I was honored, of course.
As the day approached, I then began to wonder why I do this to myself. Sunday night I went to sleep with that nauseating feeling in the pit of my stomach – the idea that I have nothing new to share with this audience, and I should quickly create a family emergency and cancel right away. Or… maybe I could just not show up? Yes, not showing up actually crossed my mind!
Fortunately, I woke up from that bad nightmare and realized it just needs some work and a lot of practice, and as luck would have it, I had five whole days to pull it together.
Nine Ways to Become an Outstanding Public Speaker
- Identify the premise of the discussion. Jill Foster offered me great advice. If the host/hostess of the meeting suddenly told me I had 90 seconds rather than 45 minutes to talk, what would I say?
- Create the outline. Define the problem or obstacle, explain the why and the what, and show a resolution.
- Write the whole thing out in stream of consciousness. This helps me. I imagine many of you don’t agree. From there, I can edit and re-order the sections as needed.
- Edit heavily and break it back down into speaker notes. You don’t want to have it written out word for word. The delivery will end up sounding canned.
- Determine how you’ll start with an impact. The beginning is critical. You want to do something to capture attention right away, break the ice, and set the stage for the next 45 minutes. I kept getting stuck here because I was trying to do this first. It was much easier to do after the entire outline was created. I brainstormed with my husband during a dog walk one morning and he had a great idea for a screengrab of a funny review that would illustrate my premise well. All of a sudden, pieces were falling into place.
- Create slides using as many visuals as possible and little text. I am officially in love with Keynote. The more and more I worked with it, the more features I discovered. It has gorgeous, professional templates. It is very easy to use, and guides allow you to line the graphics up beautifully, along with drag and drop images. You can “rehearse slideshow” and it shows you a big timer as well as the next slides in the screen. ALSO, you can download Keynote Remote app on your iPhone and use it as a remote control clicker so you don’t have to carry around another device. The phone displays the speaker notes as well as the slide so you don’t have to look over your shoulder to see where you are.
- Then, Sunday night arrived along with the previously mentioned panic attack.
- Polish it. Monday morning, fresh as a bug with a cup of coffee, I looked at my talk, smoothed out the transitions and worked on the storyline. Be sure there are takeaways and provide a clear resolution at the end. (I did this with an image of hugging polar bears. Who doesn’t love that?)
- Practice delivery. Give yourself plenty of time to do this. Practice out loud. If you can, get an audience. I had two dogs, and you can see above the effect my presentation had on them. If you can find humans to keep awake, do that – even better. Video record it so you can see your body language and facial expressions. Time it, and keep practicing until you know that baby inside and out.
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I LOVE to speak to groups! Yes, I know that’s odd, because many people find it to be quite uncomfortable and, in your words, nauseating:) Don’t get me wrong: after many years of speaking to large groups, I still get butterflies just prior. But butterflies are different than crashing waves of nausea and, like I tell athletes, if your energy isn’t up with a bit of the butterflies prior to performing, you’re not ready.
I’ll underscore your points of starting with impact (we make/get a first impression within the first 10 seconds, with over 90% of it being visual), prepping behind the scenes by speaking out loud/clearing your voice and taking a few deep cleansing breaths and SMILING before you walk onstage, and remembering to SLOW DOWN any tendency to talk at 100 mph.
Practice, practice, practice…out loud. Videotape yourself to watch your body language and facial expressions (or have someone watch and give feedback). Keep distracting movement to a minimum (I once, many years ago, apparently was swinging one foot as I sat on an elevated chair during a presentation, only to have someone tell me well after the presentation concluded that it had been disconcerting.)
Relax. Breathe. Smile. Speak as if you’re speaking to a bunch of people you already know and love. Cheers! Kaarina
I’m going to my first Toastmasters meeting tonight. Nothing replaces good preparation and practice, but, like anything else, doing more of it consistently breeds familiarity and confidence. Here’s the ironic part: I was a speech major in college. But, as I said, if you don’t use the instrument, you forget how to play.
Lisa Gerber says
One thing that struck me with Bill Clinton’s DNC speech is the way he walked on the stage. He looked completely relaxed and in his element – literally soaking up the attention. I’m going to channel that energy as I step up.
And I completely agree with your points about nerves vs nausea. The nausea was because the presentation sucked. If I had to give it on Sunday, it would have been a flop. Now I just have nerves. 🙂 Which is important, isn’t it? Thanks for taking the time! I bet you are excellent at speaking to groups!
Lisa Gerber says
@BobReed Oh! Let me know what you think of Toastmasters. Patrick went to Dale Carnegie years ago and he swears by it, and how it helped him professionally.
I once asked a social media superstar if he was nervous before he went on stage. He said no. When I told him I still get nervous, he said, “When you’ve done as many speaking engagements as I’ve done, you’ll stop being nervous.”
Well, I’ve now done as many as him and I STILL get nervous. It’s what helps me bring my A game. So nerves are good. So is the feeling of, “Crap, why did I agree to do this?” It means you’ll be on your A game.
Good luck tomorrow!
Can’t wait to see you speak after reading this. I’ll feel like the one person in the crowd with the inside scoop. 🙂
I had a client that I helped with presentations, and I sure wish he would have listened to the part about as little text as possible.
Lisa Gerber says
@ginidietrich Totally agree – the nerves make us better. The nausea over the weekend wasn’t so good, but it made me presentation a hell of a lot better than it was. 🙂
and thank you.
Lisa Gerber says
@barrettrossie I don’t want everyone reading my slides! I want them listening! LISTENING!! 🙂
Oh, and please don’t tell anyone I considered no-showing. 🙂 Can you imagine?
@ginidietrich I’m with you Gini. And considering nervousness heightens our senses, I embrace it…if that makes sense.
Look forward to hearing how it went Lisa!!!
Lisa Gerber says
@Marcus_Sheridan @ginidietrich Thanks, Marcus! Overall it went well. I have a lot of room for improvement and know what needs to be done.
You can practice the heck out of these things out loud to your dogs, your friends, your spouse, but when it comes time to stand up in front of the room, the brain just operates differently and that’s where the deliver might lose some of it’s natural-ness, or in my case, I left out some transitions where I wanted tie back to the message I opened with.
The only way to overcome that is to keep practicing in front of that room of strangers. I watch you speak and engage the room, and it’s awesome – but that’s not something others can copy. That is your style and it works well for you. The challenge for every speaker is to find that style of delivery that works for them. And the answer can’t always be, “just be yourself” because if I did that, everyone would think I’m on Zoloft or something. I’m way too mellow. 🙂