I do quite a bit of speaking. I'm not super-fancy like Chris Brogan, David Meerman Scott, or Christopher Penn (all business speakers that I admire) but I have had some pretty good gigs. I've spoken at HubSpot's Inbound Conference, Web 2.0 Expo, and a lot of industry conferences.
I really love speaking. I find the energy I get from sharing ideas and teaching not only helps me get better as a marketing professional and business owner, but it's just plain fun for me.
While I'm not super-fancy (as we established earlier) I do get consistent feedback that I am often the most highly-rated speaker at conferences and so it seems that I do have a knack for delivering a great presentation. As a result, I'd like to share some of my tips that may help you if you're interested in becoming a better speaker. If you're already a pro getting paid to give keynotes you may not have a lot to learn from me. However, if you're a business owner or CEO interested in building a following as a speaker or a business professional simply looking for ways to give better internal presentations, I hope this helps.
Here are my top five tips for delivering a great presentation.
Always Show Up Fully Equipped
It may seem silly, but it can really help to have a standard set of things you always have with you to stay prepped for speaking. For me, I always travel with both a VGA adapter for my Mac and an HDMI adapter. This way I always know I can connect to whatever screen or projector I encounter. I carry my own remote and I use my own laptop.
Additionally, I always export my presentation as a PDF and store it online in Dropbox or SlideShare so that even if my computer totally dies, I can load it up on someone else's computer.
I always make sure I have a bottle of water or other drink ready as well. I don't ever speak without a full drink within reach. I sometimes get a tickle in my throat and I never want to worry about a coughing fit.
Why do I worry about all this stuff? Because it clears my mind so I can focus on my presentation without worry. If I start to cough, it's no big deal because I have a drink ready. If my laptop fails, it's no big deal because I can load up my presentation on another one. I take my speaking props and tools very seriously and I always have these things in place. Not only is it good backup and security but the routine is familiar and gets me into a comfort zone.
Show Up Early and "Feel Out" the Room
If possible, I show up an hour early to every speaking engagement so I can get a feel for the room. If the room is in use right before my presentation I will often show up the day before just so I can feel it out.
I do this because I want to do everything I can to increase my comfort level, which allows me to relax and deliver a better presentation. I will walk around the empty room and give my presentation in my mind. I will envision it full of people asking questions. I will stand at the head of the room or on the stage and just absorb the energy of the room.
My goal is to get to the point where I feel like that room is mine. I want to feel so comfortable in that room that I don't even think about the size, shape, or acoustics. It feels like home to me.
Talk to the Audience Before the Presentation
Another way that I get into a comfort zone is to walk around and meet people before the presentation. Speaking to a room full of strangers can be stressful but speaking to a room full of friends is fun. I will often spend 15 minutes just mingling and networking with the attendees as they show up.
I will ask them about their business, hobbies, goals and I'll try to find out what their challenges are. I will give them a small preview of the content by letting them know what parts of my presentation may help them.
Not only does this make me feel better but it also helps attendees feel like they are attending a presentation by someone they know and are starting to trust because we've already spent some time together. This can help them attend my presentation with a more positive mindset.
Have a Conversation With the Audience
I've talked to a lot of people who fear public speaking and they often feel like they have to be very formal and deliver a talk as if it's a one-directional communication. No wonder they feel lots of pressure!
I approach every presentation as if I'm having a conversation with the audience. If it's a smaller group that is set up for questions during the talk, I will encourage discussion. However, even if the presentation is to a larger crowd where questions aren't practical I will still go into it with the mindset that we are having a discussion.
I will ask questions (albeit rhetorical), I will ask my audience to think about topics I bring up, I will ask them to imagine concepts in their minds. I will speak in a very casual manner that flows like natural conversation.
I've seen so many speakers get up on stage and read their slides word for word or read verbatim from a prepared document. This ends up being very robotic and boring. I recommend using your slides or notes as an anchor point but not something you read from word-for-word. Speak from your knowledge. Speak as if you are explaining a concept to your best friend over dinner.
Begin and End Strong
No matter what happens during the middle of my presentation (although I always hope it's good), if I begin and end strong it really improves the tone.
As I begin, I have a standard opening that is part of my routine. I introduce myself, establish my credibility and background and explain what we're going to cover and why my audience should care. This sets a tone that gets my audience interested in the material.
As I end, I always make it a goal to wrap up with a strong challenge or call to action. I will give my audience a clear action item or next step. Then I will finish with a very clear closing that gives my audience an easy cue for applause.
Example: "So as you can see, the strategies we've covered today can have a tremendous impact on your ability to generate leads and strengthen your sales process. I encourage you to start developing a process to implement this system today and see how it affects your business. Thank you so much for being here today. It was a real pleasure speaking with all of you and I hope you'll get in touch with me if I can do anything else to help you. Have a great day. Thank you."
Ending with strength and clarity not only encourages applause but also leaves your audience with a positive impression.
While there are other areas of presenting that we could discuss (like slide deck design or specific content outlines) I find that as long as I know my material and my outline is solid, these practices help me deliver a great presentation just about every time.
If you're apprehensive about public speaking or want to optimize your comfort level, these tips may help you.
Have tips of your own? Share them with me below. Oh and stop by my speaking website for more information if you'd like me to deliver a presentation at your event.
It's been a pleasure "speaking" with you today about this topic. I encourage you to try these tips to see it they help you deliver better presentations. Thank you.
(See what I did there?)