Drop the mic: how to be an inspiring speaker

Most of us hate public speaking, but for managers, it’s obviously an important skill to have. When you’re an inspiring speaker, it’s easier to sell your ideas internally, rally your team around a plan, talk to customers, present at external conferences, or simply give your team a status update without being super boring.

So how can you brush up on your presentation skills and be an inspiring speaker? Here are five public speaking tips to think about:

1. Defining your goal

Before you create your presentation, it’s important to define a goal. You want to do this up front so that you can cut out any information that doesn’t directly support your goal. Removing unnecessary distractions keeps your talk focused and intentional.

A good starting point for defining your goal is to think about your audience. What is the change in mindset and behavior you want to instill? Consider how you’ll take them from where they are now to where you want them to be. Once you’ve defined the before-and-after change you want to see, build your presentation outline around that journey.

In the book, Resonate, communications expert Nancy Duarte breaks down John F. Kennedy’s moon speech to Congress in 1961 as a famous example of this. At the time, members of Congress felt that the plan to land a man on the moon was too ambitious and risky. The speech was Kennedy’s attempt to persuade Congress to approve his total budget by instilling a sense of urgency.

2. Telling a story

The most effective presentations weave facts and information into a compelling story that moves the audience. The story you tell should be mapped to a narrative structure that best meets the goals of your presentation.

For example, if you’re giving a project update and want to make it interesting, a mountain structure works well. The interesting thing about this structure is that you spend about two-thirds of your time framing the problem you’re solving. Take the time to explain the context behind your plan to build tension, and then resolve that tension. Many presenters only share the plan, and it falls flat because the audience doesn’t know why they should care about the problem in the first place.

If you’re sharing an ambitious plan for the future and want to get your audience excited about it, a what is… and what could be structure works better. Start by framing the current reality, then alternate between “what is” and “what could be” throughout your presentation. At the end, you make your call to action, and conclude by establishing what Nancy Duarte calls a “new bliss.” In other words, how will your audience personally benefit if your ambitious vision is realized? Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech follows this structure.

For a big announcement (like a product launch), there’s the classic three-act story that explains why, how, and what. In act one, make a case for why your audience should care, and explain what they should expect from your talk. In act two, sketch out the “conflict” of your story, as well as your solution. In the concluding act, focus on the action you want the audience to take. As HubSpot points out, “master communicators like Steve Jobs prefer [this] format because they recognize that the first thing they need to do when standing in front of an audience is get them to care.” Once you do that, it’s much easier to introduce the “how” and the “what” of your new idea.

3. Building your slides

When developing a presentation, you should first and foremost focus on sharpening your key messages and work on your slides last. Aaron Weyenberg, UX Lead for TED notes that, “Too often, I see slide decks that feel more like presenter notes, but I think it’s far more effective when the slides are for the audience to give them a visual experience that adds to the words.” In other words, does your talk still make sense without any visuals? Your slides should augment the story, not tell the whole thing for you.

One tactic is to use more slides, and to simplify the message on each slide. When there’s less text for your audience to read, they’re more likely to pay attention to what you’re saying. It also makes it easier present the information you want to share since there’s less to memorize. Of course, it goes without saying that you presentation should also have a consistent look and feel throughout. Pick your colors, typography, and images, and stick with them.

4. Reaching your audience

The most inspiring speakers are the ones that truly connect with an audience. To reach your audience, Big Fish Presentations says that three things need to be intact:

The first is credibility. People find you credible if they agree with your ethics and also see you as someone who is a knowledgeable expert. In other words, it’s important to know what you’re talking about. Understand your audience and cite your sources.

Second is logic. Logical appeals persuade audiences by reason; you present information piece by piece to build an argument. Done correctly, this approach brings your audience to your conclusion right before you present it. This is an effective tactic because it helps your audience feel as though they came to the same conclusion you did.

The third way to reach your audience is by creating an emotional response. While it’s common to use statistics in presentations, few people actually remember them. What people do remember are the details from speeches that contain personal stories. So as you plan your presentation, think about your persona connection to the topic and where your passion is about it. Make sure this comes through.

5. Preparing for your big talk

To give a great talk, it’s important to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! For a big presentation, Nancy Duarte recommends spending 30 hours researching, 30 hours building your presentation, and 30 hours rehearsing. It’s also helpful to rehearse in front of a teammate or two, and ask for honest feedback.

As you gear up to present, you might feel some nerves. One way to fight those butterflies is to meditate briefly right before you give your talk (even just a few minutes can be enough). Trust that your audience is genuinely interested in seeing you do well. And if you still feel the nerves coming, welcome them like a friend. It’s your body’s natural response to a stressful situation. Use open body language to calm your nerves and show that you’re engaged and open to your audience.

You got this

Although giving a presentation can feel daunting, it can also be a rewarding experience. More importantly, being an inspiring speaker makes you a more effective leader, manager, and teammate. All it takes is a little bit of goal-setting, structure, and preparation. And remember, you got this!

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