3 Quick Tips for Presenters and Public Speakers

Speaking at Loyola University
Speaking at Loyola University

I love public speaking. I spoke to a couple of groups of college students this week and it was a lot of fun. (And if it’s not fun, why do it?)

Here are some quick tips that came to mind.

1. Write your own introduction

Sometimes the person who introduces you will put something together on their own, and sometimes they’ll just recite your entire LinkedIn profile verbatim. So just to be safe, prepare a standard intro and give it to the organizers ahead of time. And if you’ve got a funny name like mine, include a pronunciation key. Pro tip: your intro should not be longer than your speech. Limit it to a few sentences, or less than 30 seconds.

2. Interact the right way

To get the audience involved, ask specific questions. “Does anybody have any questions” is not a specific question, and many audiences just shrug in response. I still find myself doing that once in a while, but it should be avoided. Better to phrase things this way: “Some speakers wait until the end to take questions and others take questions throughout their presentation. Which do you prefer? Why?”

Or if you’re about to make several points, let the audience take the first crack at doing the list: “Words are just one way to get your point across. What are some others?”

And under no circumstances, do not ever attempt to rally the crowd with, “How are we doing this morning?? [audience groans] What was that? I can’t hear you! HOW ARE WE DOING THIS MORNING????” [audience groans more loudly].

3. Make eye contact

Some speakers say they get rattled when they make eye contact. They may even attempt the oldĀ “stare at a point on the back wall” trick. It doesn’t work. The only way to know how you’re doing is to be looking people in the eye. If they’re bored, switch it up — ditch your agenda, start a conversation, amp up your energy. But when they’re on your side, when they’re unconsciously nodding along, smiling and even spontaneously verbalizing their agreement? Nothing beats it. Feed off that energy.

By the way, this article, 7 Lessons from the World’s Most Captivating Presenters, has been making the rounds, and it is full of really, really useful tips, which I plan to come back to in another post.

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