1. Research attendees.
This seems obvious, but I promise you not enough speakers do this, or do it well enough. I’m not talking about knowing the kinds of people you’re talking to, like financial communicators or doctors. I’m talking about knowing the issues they grapple with, the concerns they have and the things they care about. Talk to even organizers about why they chose you as a speaker and what they can tell you about these aspects of the audience. Check in with people you know in the industry or field. The more you can know what’s driving attendees, the more you can create a presentation that resonates by addressing those factors. Learn how to integrate your audience into your messaging.
2. Dress comfortably.
May seem crazy, but if your feet hurt or your tie’s too tight, it’s going to distract you from your task. I don’t debut any attire at a speaking engagement. Tried and true wins the day. Get more tips on conference dressing from Lee Heyward.
3. Engage personally.
Whenever possible, I try to greet people at the door or chat with folks as they come in. For small groups, I ask everyone to introduce themselves. It’s hard to do this at an auditorium gig, so I try to attend breaks or socials prior to the talk to get to know some folks.
4. Earn attention.
You know from your own experience as an attendee that it’s hard to focus on a speaker who doesn’t get your attention. Start strong. Open with an anecdote that’s relatable to your audience. Lob a few awe-inspiring statistics out there. Display and discuss a compelling image. Hook them and then work that theme throughout your talk.
5. Build momentum.
Make sure your pacing and your content are building as you work through the presentation. Vary your tone and your speed to keep things conversational and engaging. Test the logic of your talk to make sure each concept builds on or connects to the next, and point out take-aways or key concepts to increase relevance. All this leads to a logical conclusion that leaves the audience with a clear sense of what to think, feel or do. Download the Content-Purpose-Audience® or What-Why-How® strategy to work out your logic.
6. Move around.
Standing behind the podium creates a barrier between you and the audience. You don’t have to be a walker like me—I traipse all over the stage or room to address as much of the audience as possible—but at least stand off to the side. Yes, it can feel vulnerable, but that works in your favor. You’re putting yourself out there and standing in the open shows you’re confident and accessible. Just be sure to tell the organizers that you want a wireless mic (if necessary).
7. Make inquiries.
Get the audience involved by asking questions, even if they’re rhetorical—often all you can do in with a huge group. I often ask questions like “How many of you have ever….” and ask for a show of hands. Anything that keeps attendees on their toes and interacting is helpful.
8. Don’t read.
Yes, we still need to remind speakers of this! Whether it’s your remarks or your slides, reading is boring. One executive I work with makes a list of key points in 20-point type to serve as her remarks. This gives her the structure and mental cues to manage a big speech, but keeps her talking rather than reading. I use a similar strategy for slides. I create a headline and choose a graphic that cue me on the topic (and serve as a take-away or concept for the audience) so I always know what to chat about. When I practice my talk, I look at each slide and review the most important thing the audience needs to know about this concept. Then I never forget that, even if I forget everything else! If you have access to presenter notes, keep those brief, too.
9. Be brief.
Don’t just accept the amount of talk time the organizers give you if you think it’s too long. Many of us can fill the time available, but that doesn’t mean we should. Work with the planners to choose a minimum amount of time you can talk. Then try to arrange for a Q+A session (with microphones for large groups). Nobody ever minds if you get them to break 5 minutes early.
Follow these tips to up your speaking game!