As a long-time public speaker and presenter to large groups of people all over the world, I often have people say how lucky I am that public speaking “comes so easily to me”.
Well, as the famous South African golfer Gary Player said: ‘The harder I practice, the luckier I get!’
So, even though advice on public speaking is commonplace, I thought I would share what I have learned about presenting powerfully. And I am not only talking about formal speeches. Most of us have many platforms where getting a message across is important: a staff meeting, a client presentation, a farewell speech.
Here are a few things I learned, which I practice ’til this day:
- Prepare every word. With so many years’ experience of public speaking, it’s true that I can stand up and ‘wing’ a passably good speech. But mostly, I don’t! I prepare every word of a major presentation, typing the whole thing out. On the day itself, I may well ad lib big chunks. I go where my mind takes me, and to the audience it may look as though a 60-minute presentation was done without a single note. But I have the security of knowing I can refer back to the full transcript. It is my ‘safety device’, and it’s a key psychological aid.
- Plan your key points. Your presentation needs structure. Work out what it is you really want to get across to your audience. It may only be two or three key points. Make those clear and communicate them hard and often.
- Tell stories. People love true stories. Anecdotes that support your key points. Make sure they are true, relevant and sometimes funny. I include them all the time, and years after the presentation, people remember the story.
- Don’t tell pre-planned jokes. Unless you are Jerry Seinfeld, don’t do it. It’s a rare skill to tell a joke well, and almost always they fall flat and are not quite appropriate anyway. Humour is good, but it’s best when it’s off-the-cuff, and self-deprecating.
- Rehearse like crazy. I admit it. I rehearse my speeches, aloud and many times. I time them, so I know I won’t be rushing to meet the allotted time for the presentation. In earlier days, my long-suffering wife would be asked to hear every speech before ‘D-day’. And her feedback was noted and changes made. I practise the punchlines of pithy stories and I make sure the words flow. Maybe these days I don’t put as much into rehearsing as I did before, as I have 25 years’ experience of public speaking now, but I still rehearse every speech at least once – all the way through.