5 Things Every Great Public Speaker Knows

Since the last post was about the “why” of public speaking (Hint: You must be comfortable in front of groups if you aspire to lead), this one is about the “how.” We’ve all sat through various speakers in our careers . Some great. Others…not so much. What do the great ones have in common?

1. ) They Understand Their Audience. Exceptional presenters take the time to research their audience before every gig. What does the crowd expect or need to know about your subject? Recently, I attended a keynote by Michael Watkins, author of Your First 90 Days. Dr. Watkins’ book is about transitions in leadership and he had conducted an online survey of the audience in advance. As such, he knew approximately how many people in the room were new leaders, how many were managing a business turnaround, how many were trying to maintain prime market share, etc. His presentation was laser-focused – and he was rewarded with a very engaged audience.

2.) They Begin With the End in Mind. As mentioned in the last post, your audience is going to forget 90% of your presentation the moment they leave the room. As such, what do you want them to remember? Make that point at the beginning of your speech and hit it again and again.

3.) They Keep it Concise.  This refers to both the length of the presentation (Have you ever heard anyone complain because the speaker didn’t talk enough?) and the main point you want to drive home. Note: If you can’t summarize your main point in six words or less, you are not ready to speak! For presentations to college students and young professionals,  I usually talk for about 45 minutes to an hour, but every bullet weaves through the same core message, i.e. success is your choice. The tactics may be different (minding your –ilities, et. al.) but each point ties back to that central idea.

4.) They Incorporate Stories, Examples, Research, and/or Props. The right examples can make even the most difficult concepts look easy. After I gave this very lesson to our interns at Dixon Hughes, I was thrilled to see that one of them used an accurate (and funny) demonstration to explain the basics of clean coal technology. He had the room completely engrossed because he explained a very technical subject in a simple way using nothing more than a few pieces of paper and some imagination. Stories are also good for keeping an audience interested. I may tune out if you give me a list of reasons why I should donate to the YWCA, but I’ll never forget the image of the domestic violence victim who used their programs to turn her life around. See the difference? Also, when it comes to research in speaking and persuasion, I have three words for you: Measurement eliminates argument.

5.) They Practice, Practice, Practice. A good rule of thumb is to spend one hour of practice for every MINUTE of your presentation. So if you have 30 minutes to speak, plan on putting in at least 30 hours of practice time – not including the time it takes you to research and develop the presentation itself. Sadly, there are no shortcuts to greatness. Good luck!

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