When you’re scheduled to speak at an event like Ignite, WordCamp, BarCamp, or more general audience public speaking events, you need to do your homework. The best speakers make it look conversational and easy and you can do that too if you’re willing to follow some very easy steps.
Take a Deep Breath and Do You
You don’t have to know everything and you don’t have to be “better” than anyone else. You need to know your subject matter and then relax and let it flow. There’s a reason why you were asked to speak – somebody thought you would be good to hear. Even if that someone is you, so be it. Just tell yourself you’re smart enough, you’re good enough, and gosh darn it, people like you.
Accept that you will probably make a mistake and that’s ok. Practice by bullet points instead of a word by word script. You don’t want to sound like you’re reading, so it’s good to be extemporaneous. Avoid a memorized monotone presentation style and add some energy by varying volume and speed in your phrasing. Pretend you’re singing rather than talking. Great songs are melodic, with strategic pauses, and a crescendo toward the end, not a flat line one note bore. Creativity is part of this, so use it.
And, lastly keep breathing! Seriously, I don’t mean that metaphorically. When you get in trouble, take a deep breath, collect your thoughts, and maybe break for questions. It will look on purpose and you’ll gain your composure and then feel ready to move on.
Get Clear about Your Goals and Know Your Audience
Be sure to understand your target audience. What’s their expertise level, what do they want to get out of your talk, what is the setting, and how can you pass the “so what” test? Knowing your audience will help you know what level of jargon is acceptable and what level of explanation is needed. Adjust as you’re able if what ends up being the audience isn’t what you expected. Adaptability and flexibility is important.
Unless it’s allowed and culturally accepted, don’t include pitch in your talk. Stay focused on delivering the message instead of closing. It’s not just about you but do know what you could get out of it too – if not customers then maybe business partners, or media connections, or video for your blog, or perhaps just speaking experience.
Be sure to give your Twitter ID and offer a unique hash tag upfront before you start rather than give your contact information only at the end. That way, people can live tweet out your talk.
Have a call to action with trackable links so you can leverage the talk – extra points if you offer resources for the group that they can go snag from a dedicated splash page. Give people a chance to continue the conversation.
Be Social and Don’t Go Powerpoint Crazy
Facts and figures are fine for some, but it often makes for a boring presentation. Instead, let your brand, personality, and persona show through. If you’re snarky, be snarky. If you’re a comic, use humor. Remember your standard social media modus operandi and use it.
Please, please, please – speaking as a frequent audience member at talks – ease up on the Powerpoint mania! Use more pictures and tell more stories. Leave space for interaction and let people know that they can interact. Have points within your talk where you let people ask you questions. Ditch so many charts and get to the heart of the matter.
Engage the audience throughout and speak up with emotion. Put on a show instead of a presentation. It’s ok to edge toward entertainment instead of education. The best learning happens when people’s inner critic is distracted, especially for hard topics that trigger anxiety. Trust that the audience will get you. They probably will if you stay real, share your wisdom rather than your data, and be natural.
One technique that can help is to make a point, give an example, then tell a story. This provides information in more than one learning style, is a nice organizational tool, and allows you to not only present data but also engage emotion. It works really, really well.
Hope these tips have been helpful. I am happy to report that as I am writing this, I am preparing to fly to Istanbul to speak at a business conference. Speaking can be really fun and can take you to exotic places if you practice, do a great job, and go for it – it has been for me! Best of success at it!
[Image Credit: Shashi Bellamkonda]