Sorry to be the one to break this to you, but someone has to say it: You’re not that great of a speaker. Sorry, but it’s just not your natural gift to wow a prospect, your employees, or an audience of colleagues.
I’ll also share this good news with you: Public speakers are made, not born. Public speaking is a skill you can improve with study and practice, and I’ve got two resources that will help you in your quest to inform, entertain, and delight.
The books Do You Talk Funny? and Speak As Well As You Think offer practical guidance for speakers at any skill level. Do You Talk Funny? author David Nihill shares techniques from standup comics who – you might not have realized – are public speakers who keep your attention through storytelling and smooth delivery. I received Speak As Well As You Think as part of a course I took with John Vautier, a speaking coach at Vautier Communications, whose book details excellent fundamentals for public presentations.
The authors have different backgrounds and angles for their books, and their blend of perspectives will put you on the path to speaking excellence … or, at the very least, on the path to not boring your audience to death. Here are some of my favorite passages from both books.
Do You Talk Funny?
- Almost every book ever written on public speaking says humor is a key part of successful talks. Yet none of them explain well how to employ it, which is about as useful as handing a MacBook Pro to a goat.
- Simply reading these principles won’t make you instantly funnier, more successful, or more attractive. Add a little practice, however, and it just might.
- Stories are told, not read. The storyteller connects with the audience when there is no page between them. Know your story “by heart” but not by rote memorization. Know your story well enough so you can have fun.
- Make an outline, memorize your bullet points, and play with the details. Imagine you are at a dinner party, not a deposition.
- A good leader needs to know how to create a connection, and the fastest way of doing that is by making someone laugh. Employees are humans, and humans respond to humor.
- You want to use words like weird, amazing, scary, hard, stupid, crazy, or nuts. “It’s crazy how soft modern-day workers have become.” The use of an attitude word (crazy) in the setup helps people focus and pay attention quickly.
- The first thirty seconds of your presentation can determine the rest of your talk. Rehearse this thirty seconds the most. Include your second-best joke at the start and leave your best until the end to go out with the strongest impression possible.
- Self-deprecating humor is a great tool to have in your back pocket, but be sure not to undermine your own credibility with too many wisecracks or humorous comments at your own expense.
- People like stories, but they tend to love funny stories.
- You don’t need all of the audience on your side to be a good speaker; 30 percent is plenty. Laughter is contagious.
- End your talk on an applause line that underscores a clear call to action.
Speak As Well As You Think
- A presentation — one human being speaking to a group — is the engine that drives almost all decisions in which money changes hands, actions are authorized, or power is deployed.
- The only way to judge a talk is by its effect on the listener.
- What does it mean to “speak as well as you think?” It means that when you get up to present you’re described with words like: credible, confident, interesting, genuine, natural, compelling, organized, professional, passionate, clear, concise, and charismatic.
- Make eye contact with your audience — one person at a time. Don’t dart your eyes restlessly from one audience member to another.
- Don’t stand in one spot throughout your speech or presentation. Limit your movements; you don’t want to move constantly. End up with two feet solidly on the floor — not in an incomplete half-stepping position. The person who is visually balanced appears strong, confident, and in command.
- People who speak at a higher volume project confidence. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a whisper and 10 a shout, your speaker’s voice — the voice you use when giving a speech or presentation — should be your voice at a 7-to-8 level.
- An uninflected voice is heard as a drone, a soft buzz. More than anything else, it induces sleep.
- 95% of all speakers need to project more energy.
- It doesn’t matter if you’re comfortable; you only need to look and sound comfortable.
- When you begin to construct a speech, ask yourself: “When I’m done speaking, what do I want listeners to do, to know, and/or to believe?” The answer to this question is your thesis.
- Introduce your speech with a bold, interesting statement. Share a startling fact or statistic, a killer quote, or an analogy.
- Don’t let your speech die an ugly little quiet death at the end. Your last sentence needs to sound like your last sentence. Convey that intentionality.
- Charismatic leaders project genuine likability because they have a mindset of genuinely liking their constituents.
I hope these tips are useful to you – they’ve certainly helped me communicate more effectively. Here’s a speech I gave on the main stage at the RSPA RetailNOW Conference in Dallas in which I try my best to integrate the lessons I’ve learned. I certainly (and unfortunately) didn’t execute on every one of Nihill’s and Vautier’s techniques … but I didn’t put anyone to sleep either.
Jim Roddy is a Reseller & ISV Business Advisor for Worldpay’s PaymentsEdge Advisory Services. He has been active in the POS channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as a Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA) board member, and one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board. Jim is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences and he is author of the book Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer.