by Kyle Kirschbaum
On the top of most people’s absolute terrifying list is public speaking. But with a few pointers on how to give a talk, even if you feel abject fear at the thought, you can still give a presentation where people walk away feeling like they had a great experience. If you’ve given them memorable talking points, sometimes your thoughts may stick with them for years to come.
Know your topic.
If you are a marketer or a writer, you have heard it many times, tell a story. Find the story in your topic that will most interest the group you are speaking to and you won’t need any gimmicks or tricks. Start strong with the story that brings your listener right into the deep end of the topic and let them feel enveloped in the majesty of that moment. You can only do this if you know your topic inside and out. You might practice with some friends – and have them ask you random questions on your topic. This will help you discover areas where you are weak, but also gives you a chance to practice answering like the expert you are.
Once you’ve mastered a few of those Q&A sessions with your friends, then practice one more thing. Practice the phrase, “I’m not sure, but I know where to find the answer and if you leave your contact information, I will forward what I find to you.” Even the experts sometimes don’t know everything, and it is perfectly fine to honestly admit your lack of knowledge. You might even turn it into an opportunity to present your humor with the group.
Since you are an expert on the subject you are discussing, don’t be dry and academic in how you offer your knowledge. Allow your love and enthusiasm to show through. Get excited, even amped up so people feel that, and your feelings will then catch fire with them. Decide on two or three moments in your learning process when you felt the passion almost overtake you and talk about those experiences allowing that same passion to fill you again.
Speak in clear concepts.
Almost every field has its lingo. People outside of that field can easily get lost if you speak in those terms. On top of that, trying to impress the group with six-syllable words and esoteric concepts will not make a good presentation. It will more likely become a snooze fest.
Break your ideas down to catchy sound bites that the group can easily remember. After sharing a catchphrase, then elaborate further on your point. Use your catchphrases a couple times so it sticks with them. When they remember those easy sound bites, they will remember at least some of the details about it too. This tip applies when learning how to give a talk, as well as other times you need to communicate a message, such as delivering an elevator pitch.
Many people believe that knowing a topic as an expert means they can talk above everyone else, in fact, the opposite is true. Only a person with a deep and sound understanding can break it down in the simplest of terms for even a child to understand at least the basics. When you know your topic well enough, you can talk about it with ease to anyone, no matter what level of education they have attained.
Simple talking points are memorable and repeatable.
Simple sound bites mean people will remember them and enjoy repeating them. This is the very art of commercials. All you have to do to recognize this phenomenon is to remember a few items that sold well during your childhood. You probably can repeat a catchphrase or sing a jingle from one of those commercials. It is the same when you give a talk. Create a few of these for your presentation, make sure you repeat them a few times, and if nothing else, many members of the audience will remember those sound bites.
Make your talking points easy, interesting, and unique. As an example of this, many years ago a talk was given where a kind of down-home individual made a statement that he felt “God was a good Joe.” The phrase is still remembered by some people in that audience more than 30 years later. That is a good example of the talking point being easy, interesting, and unique because it was so characteristic of the person giving the talk.
Don’t be afraid to present talking points with your humor. But be certain it is your sense of humor and not someone else’s that you are trying to imitate. Everything about your presentation should come from honesty and within you. Talk your talk. Open yourself up for others to view your strengths and your weaknesses. Sometimes the weaknesses you are willing to discuss will be the best selling point you offer because you shared it with authenticity.
Use stories that are from your heart.
This is one of the most important tips on how to give a good talk. Speak from the heart. You’ve heard it many times, tell a story to get your point across, just make sure that’s what is happening. Don’t just tell a story to entertain unless you can find and make a direct correlation to the point you are making. The best stories you can tell are not just connected to your topic, but also to you and your feelings. Yes, you can use the cutesy or tear-jerking stories of others, but when you share stories with a personal connection, you tell them in a different way. People feel that connection and immediately feel a stronger bond with you and the story you are telling.
When your stories have also made a difference in your life, that adds another dimension. Here’s where you can incorporate other people’s stories so long as knowing that story made a change for you and ultimately became a part of your history. And if you also managed to grow and learn because of what happened – then you are incorporating a portion of a “hero’s journey” in your story. Those are the best stories to hear as far as most are concerned. But a hero’s journey is equally open about the beginning part of the process showing faults and failings that will be overcome as the hero moves forward.
Use visuals to enhance your message.
To do this, you will need to be aware of the setting where your talk will be given and what is available. In some locations, you may need to take an easel and either a whiteboard or a giant notepad so you can write your points. Other facilities may have a full array of video, music, and lighting options so a slide show can be going on in the background with appropriate music to enhance the experience. If that is the case, you’ll need to make sure you know exactly when you need to say some of your key points to maximize your impact.
Ditch the podium.
If it is possible to do so, come out from behind the podium. Arrange for a microphone to be attached to you, so you can easily move about and then enjoy the opportunity and freedom. Standing behind a podium or just in one place does not allow your audience a visual change of scenery. Because of this, if your talk is longer than a few minutes, you can lose their attention even when you are doing a great job with your presentation. You should also know that a podium or other piece of furniture that sits between you and your audience creates an emotional distance, so your connection with them is harder to establish and maintain.
Once you have that portable microphone, then use the space provided for you on the stage. Go to the various areas and keep talking. You will be able to make eye contact with more members of the group and keep them interested as you slowly shift your position.
Show your comfort in a way that works for you. Depending on the setting, your personality, and the type of group you will be speaking with find ways to get comfortable. Allow your audience to get comfortable with you as well. Sometimes this also is a great way to distract your audience so they can recognize the uniqueness of your presentation. You could pull up a chair, take off your shoes, remove your tie, or mess up your perfectly styled hair. Catch them off guard with your actions. Then explain why you did it – something like, “You know, I just don’t think I could do justice to this topic if I’m also worrying about falling off these dang heels and breaking my ankle.” Your honesty will build an immediate connection to many in the group, and most will enjoy the offbeat approach as they anticipate something new and interesting coming their way.
Match what you say with your style.
Okay, let’s face it, some people are never going to be able to be that comfortable with themselves, but you can. You are not running for the highest office in the land where you have to say everything perfectly. If you make a mistake, at least it will be in keeping with who you are and not because someone else tried to put words in your mouth.
Many people who speak in front of a group often develop a certain tone of voice that is there only when they are making a presentation. That tone can be off-putting to listeners, they feel some kind of distance being created though they may not know what is causing it. Skip that teacher-tone and do your best to talk and sound exactly as you do when you are having a conversation with friends.
Keep your topic fresh.
If you give a great presentation, you will probably be asked to do it again by someone who heard you the first time. You may even be asked by several people for a number of organizations. Leaving 80% of your talk unchanged is good. Changing 20% means the topic remains fresh for you. And anyone who heard you give the talk before walks away with new information.
As an expert, hopefully, you are also continuing to learn and gather new information. So bring what you are learning now into the mix as well. Make sure you tell some new stories, or at least switch many stories in and out of your talk while tailoring them to the group at the current event. Consider altering the order you present ideas and saying things in new ways. All of these adjustments take planning, but because of the changes, no one, including you, gets bored with what is said.
Give your natural sense of humor free reign.
Don’t try to be a comedian, but infuse your natural humor into how you say things. If you are uncertain about your sense of humor, talk with your friends about it. They will know where you shine. If you are one of those less common people without much humor, then allow more of your foibles to play center stage – others will begin to see the humor in that.
Many suggest you open talks with a joke. People often follow this “wisdom” so religiously that the jokes or stories they tell are just to get a laugh but have nothing to do with the topic. Don’t do that. It is much easier to use an ice-breaker that is unexpected by your audience than to be cliché with an unrelated bit of humor.
You may feel your knees shaking, and your lip quivering as you walk out on that huge stage where you will be standing alone. Stand tall and walk tall. It’s okay to be nervous, you can even confide to the group just how many nerves you are feeling, but that doesn’t have to correlate with your level of confidence. You are an expert and can have confidence in your understanding of the topic and the time you have spent preparing this talk. Laugh it off, even if that means getting the group to laugh with you about your discomfort. Most of them will completely understand your nerves – they know just how much they’d be affected if they were giving a talk in front of that many people.
When you are talking, speak to be heard. In most cases you will have a microphone if the room is large, so you don’t need to shout. But also, remember that whispering is an effective tool. Whisper just loud enough that people begin to lean forward in their seats a bit. You will have their full attention as they work at hearing each word. Control your volume in ways that at least now and then will bring your group to the edge of their seats.
Summing up these ten points on how to give a talk, remember: You have prepared for making this presentation. You have whatever visual and audio aids you feel will work best, and you are an expert on this topic. Pull your three or four sound bites together and make a loose outline of the order you want to present the subtopics of your talk. Then talk and share from your heart. Spend almost no time whatsoever looking at notes and almost all your time on stage looking into the eyes of those in attendance. Take three deep breaths before you walk out on stage and when you’ve finished, there will be those who walk away with their lives having been changed for the better.