Children, students, employees. The list of people who at some point in their lives will find themselves in front of the role of the speaker includes almost everyone. The trepidation and nervousness that can be present at the very thought of having to speak in front of an audience are completely expected. And, although many believe in the myth that a good speaker is born, not made, in this article, you will find out how you can work on your presentation skills, and who you can learn from best, if not the best Ted Talk speakers.
Frame Your Story
It’s very difficult to give a good speech if you don’t have something worth talking about. Therefore, making a plan for what you want to say is the most vital part of preparation. If you want to give a good presentation, you should think about taking the audience on a journey and introducing good storytelling.
The first decisions you have to make are deciding where to start and where to end your journey. To find the right place to start, you need to think about what people in your audience already know about your topic and how important that is to them. If you assume that they have more knowledge or interest than they really do, or if you start using jargon or too many technical words, the end result of your speech will be – a confused audience who didn’t even understand half of the things.
Often, the biggest problem in initial concept presentations is that speakers try to cover too much ground. It is not possible to summarize a long segment in one speech and still have a good speech. If you try to say everything you know in one speech, you won’t have time to emphasize the key details. Therefore, limit the scope of the speech to what can be explained and brought to life with examples in the allotted time.
The other side of the opposite is that if you overload your speech with too many explanations that the listeners certainly know, that would make your speech boring. Sometimes it’s better to just guide your listeners to a goal and let them figure things out and draw their own conclusions.
Many of the best speakers structure their presentations with a narrative structure that slowly follows a “detective” story. The speaker begins by presenting a problem and then describes a search for a solution. After that, there is an “aha” moment and the audience’s perspective changes.
If a speaker fails to do this, it is almost always the result of the speaker misjudging the interest level of the audience or failing to tell a story. Even if the topic is important, unplanned telling of facts without a narrative contributes to audience dissatisfaction – no progress and no sense of learning anything new.
When it comes to speeches and presentations related to organizations and institutions, you must know one thing. People are not very interested in talking about organizations or institutions unless they are members of them. Ideas and stories fascinate us, and just presenting the things that an organization has undertaken can be seen as bragging and it will be much harder for the audience to connect with the organization itself.
Plan Your Delivery
The next step is to focus on good delivery of your speech and plan the flow of the presentation. There are three main ways to give a speech:
- You can read it directly from the script or from the presentation.
- You can develop a set of bullet points to outline what you will say in each section, rather than writing the entire speech word for word.
- Or, you can memorize your speech, which involves repeating it to the point where you internalize every word.
In conclusion from these options, the main advice for you if you want to give a good speech is: don’t read the whole speech word for word. The audience notices this and gives the appearance that you don’t believe what you are saying. And if the person speaking on a certain topic does not seem to believe what he is saying, how will he help other people to believe it?
The other option we mentioned is to memorize the entire presentation word for word. This is a good way if you have to give a very important speech and of course, you have time to learn the speech word for word. But there can be a big problem here, which if the audience notices it can give just as bad results as reading the entire presentation. Well, if you decide to learn your speech by heart, you have to spend a lot of time practicing it so that it is all said very naturally. Remember that if the audience perceives that you have memorized the entire speech, it may feel like you are reciting it.
But if you don’t have time to learn the speech thoroughly, don’t try it. Then, perhaps the best way is to approach the speech with bullet points. As long as you know at least roughly what you want to say for each point and move naturally from one to the next, your speech will go well. Mainly, here you should focus on remembering the transitions from one point to another and pay attention to your speaking tone. Some speakers may prefer to sound authoritative, wise, or powerful, but it’s usually much better for the entire speech to just sound conversational and natural.
Develop Stage Presence
For those who are not experienced speakers, the physical act of being on stage can be the most difficult part of a presentation, but in practice people tend to overestimate its importance. Getting the words right, the order of the story, and the gist are far more important to success or failure than how you stand on stage or whether the audience notices that you’re nervous. And when it comes to stage presence, a little training can go a long way.
One of the biggest mistakes speakers make during rehearsals is moving their bodies too much. They sway from side to side or shift their weight from one leg to the other. People do this naturally when they’re nervous, but it’s distracting and makes the speaker look unprepared. Simply, if a speaker tries to keep their lower body still, it can dramatically improve their stage presence. Some speakers prefer to move around the stage during a presentation, and that’s fine, as long as it comes naturally to you. But at least for beginners it is better to stand still and rely on hand gestures in order to emphasize the spoken words.
Perhaps the most important physical act on stage is eye contact. So a good tip for doing this well is to find five or six friendly-looking people in different parts of the audience and look them in the eye as you speak. Think of them as friends you haven’t seen in a year, and whom you need to inform about your work. That eye contact is incredibly powerful and will do more than anything else to help the entire audience listen to you as you speak.
Another big obstacle for inexperienced speakers is the nervousness and jitters that are present both before the speech and while on stage. People deal with this in different ways. Amy Cuddy, a Harvard Business School professor who studies how certain body postures can affect power, used one of the more unusual techniques to prepare before giving a speech. She recommends that people spend time before the speech walking around lightly and slowly, standing up straight and stretching their bodies – these postures make you feel more powerful. But if this seems too much for you, it is always good advice to focus on your breathing and breathe deeply. Simple and useful!
In general, people care too much about stage fright, but they don’t realize that the audience already expects it. It’s a natural body response that can actually improve your performance: it gives you energy to perform and keeps your mind sharp.
To summarize, the most important thing to remember is that there is no one right way to give a speech. The best speeches offer something fresh and unique, and the worst are those that sound too formulaic, structured and almost “artificial”. Therefore, no matter how much you read about how to give the best speech, you should adapt all the tips and tricks to your strengths and give the speech in a way that is authentic only to you.
In addition, if you want to develop more in this field, we recommend you to read the book Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds by Carmine Gallo.
You can see more about how to give a killer presentation here.