Photo of Alex Hunter by http://www.alexdesigns.com/. Used with permission.
I’ve been lucky enough to make public speaking part of my career. It’s something I love doing and enjoy every second of, but that’s not the case for everybody. For many of you, the thought of standing up on stage fills you with vomit-inducing fear.
But I can’t stress enough how important it is to be able to clearly articulate your thoughts to an audience in an engaging manner, whether it’s a handful of your co-workers or 2000 people at a tech conference.
If you’re trying to get a project green lit, pitch your idea to investors, relay your experience to a group of bright eyed young developers, or rally your employees, keep the following few tips in mind.
Again and again and again. So you know every detail of your talk, all the slides and the order in which they appear. Practice in front of a mirror or even video yourself. This is the best way to find potential tripping points, inconsistencies, and also gives you a chance to weed out the crap jokes.
But more importantly, it will make you so comfortable with the content that you won’t need notes or prompts and you’ll appear conversational but knowledgeable.
2: Don’t repeat what is written on your slides
It’s painful when a speaker reads verbatim what is written on each slide. Give your audience some credit, they’re going to be pretty good readers so you don’t need to help them out. Your job is to give context and detail to the one or two lines (at the most) on a slide. Or in some instances, vice versa; I often use slides to add a quick parenthetical note to something I’m saying to the audience.
3: Don’t overload your slides
Further to the last bullet, nothing is uglier or less appealing than a slide with 15 bullet points and a graph. It’s confusing, cluttered, hard to understand and of no value to anyone as a presentation aid. In my recent keynotes, over 80% of my slides only have one line OR graphic/chart on them.
Sure it’s more clicking for me but this isn’t about me, it’s about the audience, and simple slides help you guide the narrative in a clear, concise way.
4: Make eye contact
This may sound like a no brainer but so many speakers spend their time looking at their feet, at their slides, at their notes – anywhere but the audience. If you don’t make eye contact with the people you’re talking to you end up looking like you’re talking to yourself, just like the guy you avoid sitting next to on public transport.
5: Know your audience
I spoke at a two-day tech conference recently and was scheduled to speak on the second day. This turned out to be a huge advantage for me because I spent the whole first day following the (substantial) Twitter traffic surrounding the event and I noticed some interesting trends in the audience reactions to speakers and their content.
As a result, I spent several hours that night retooling my presentation to better suit the audience – I like to think my keynote went down well the next day.
6: Move around
As a speaker, I loathe standing behind a podium when I speak – it feels like I’m preaching down from the pulpit and as far as I’m concerned public speaking is about conversation not lecturing. Also, a podium is physical barrier between you and the audience making it much harder to connect with them psychologically.
So wherever possible get out from behind that podium or lectern, get out on stage, move around, gesticulate and really CONNECT with your audience.
7: Don’t read the script
Reading word for word from a prepared script is the fastest way to put your audience to sleep. It’s also lazy. Don’t do it. It’s perfectly ok to have some notes jotted down which you glance at from time to time but anything beyond that is a disservice to your audience and to you as a speaker.
8: Slow down
It’s really easy to rush through your content and speak very quickly, especially if you’re nervous. It’s much easier for an audience to engage with your content if your delivery falls into a natural rhythm. Try to pace yourself and remember to punctuate your speech with pauses to emphasise key points.
9: Make ’em laugh
Humor is my most powerful tool when I’m giving a presentation. I almost always try to get a laugh within the first 60 seconds of a talk. It relieves the collective tension in the room almost immediately and helps ease the transition into the bulk of the content.*
10: Be passionate and energetic
I learned this from the best, Mr. Gary Vaynerchuk, whose energy on stage is completely captivating. Look, chances are if you’re standing up in front of people giving a talk, you know what you’re on about – and if you know what you’re on about, you’re probably passionate about the subject.
So make sure you project that passion during your presentation! Raise your voice when it makes sense, be effusive, throw your hands up in the air when you’re making a point! That type of energy is totally infectious and your audience will appreciate the effort.
*A note on swearing during presentations. Those of you who have seen my Future of Web App keynotes might have noticed that I punctuate my talks with some occasional swearing. This is a calculated risk on my part and certainly not something I do whenever I speak at conferences.
Hell, if you did at work you’d probably be fired so I strongly suggest you suss out your audience before you drop F-bombs during your Quarterly Sales Review with the Board of Directors.
That’s the theory, here’s the real thing
Ed: The following video is of Alex’s presentation from Future of Web Apps London 2009.
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