Speak with a personal touch

One of the best ways to grab audience attention is to tell a personal story. Here’s a list to help you remember real-life events to add to your next speech:

  • What happened on your first date? Your first day on the job? Your first job interview?
  • What’s the strangest thing that ever happened during a business meeting? At a restaurant? During vacation? In a dream?
  • What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?
  • What’s the saddest thing that ever happened to a friend?
  • What made you the most embarrassed—or angry?
  • What was the most inappropriate letter—or gift—you ever received?
  • What events are funny to you now but weren’t when they happened?
  • What sticks in your mind when you think of various people and events in your life: Your relatives? Your high school or college dances, teachers and classes? Stories your parents told? Learning how to drive?

Master the Q-and-A segment

Maintain control of your presentation when you answer questions. Adopt these practices:

  • Restate every question. Whether the person began speaking before reaching the microphone or rambled on, when you say the question everyone will hear and understand it. That also allows you to check whether you understood the person and to gain a few more moments to formulate your answer.
  • Be patient, within reason. Don’t rush to answer before the person finishes speaking, but also don’t allow people to pontificate and run on. If you can leave the stage, go stand beside the person posing the question and face the same direction. Most people will then stop talking. For those who continue to ramble, jump in when they pause to take a breath. Say “Let me answer the first point …”
  • Acknowledge the emotion. Respond to more than the words. Show that you understand the audience by pointing out what you observe. “You seem to be very frustrated by …”
  • Wrap up subtly. If you ask “Anything else?” you may receive one more question. If you want to continue answering the audience, ask “What else?”

— Adapted from “5 Quick Tips to Handle Q and A Successfully,” Nick Morgan, Public Words, http://publicwords.typepad.com.

Trends in public speaking

Times are changing. If you want to continue to connect to your audience, be mindful of these trends in public speaking, says Lisa B. Marshall, author, writer, coach and host of The Public Speaker podcast.

  • Presentations are becoming casual. People are dressing down so that they appear more approachable, likeable, real and trustworthy. Speech locations are also becoming less formal, steering away from large auditoriums to locations with couches and stand-up bar tables. Take a more casual approach by trading your suit for a business casual look or by changing your location from an auditorium to a coffee shop.
  • Audience members want to participate. Your listeners want to share their feedback and comment during the presentation, so give them opportunities to do so. Integrate live polls, encourage your audience to tweet their ideas and questions, or simply call on people to comment and answer questions.
  • Present webinars. Webinar popularity is growing, and you can reach a broader audience if you also schedule webinars—rather than sticking only to live presentations. Presenting a webinar is a budget-friendly way to speak to people because it requires no travel and moderate set-up fees.
  • Can the formal presentation slides. Lose the over-the-top PowerPoint slides and produced videos and opt for an informal teacher-like approach. Use digital whiteboards or smartboards and actually take notes and draw pictures during your presentation to keep your audience engaged.

—Adapted from “7 Trends in Public Speaking and Presentations,” Lisa B. Marshall, http://www.quickanddirtytips.com.

Quick tip: Omit this phrase from presentations

At the beginning of your presentation, don’t tell your audience: “Don’t bother to take notes. I’ll provide you with a detailed handout when I finish.” That suggests to your listeners that they don’t need to focus on what you are saying as you speak. Besides, if everything is written down for them, do you really need to present at all?

Better strategy: Provide them with a handout of the skeleton of your presentation and encourage them to take notes as they see fit. Or you make available through your website additional handouts and more in-depth material.

Quick tip: Make the most of a small audience

Be comfortable when only a handful of people attend your presentation. Turn disappointment into a benefit by saying: “We’ll make this an interactive discussion. I’ll have more time to give detailed answers to your questions.” Then give a 10-minute overview of your topic, and launch into an extended question-and-answer session.

— Adapted from “Morgan’s 10 Holiday-inspired Rules for Public Speaking—Especially When Things Go Wrong,” Nick Morgan, Public Words Inc., http://publicwords.typepad.com.

Banish “Fluff” From Speeches

Legend has it that when someone asked Michelangelo how he was able to sculpt such beautiful angels from cold, hard marble, he replied “I simply chip away at everything I don’t need and eventually the angel emerges.”

Good speech writing is a lot like sculpting. If you chip away the words and phrases that don’t contribute, your message will emerge. Here are some examples of redundant writing:

  • “In the majority of instances.” Writing “usually” is enough to make your point.
  • “As you may or may not know.” If you may know, then obviously you may not know.
  • “We are trying to attempt a solution.” To try is to attempt.
  • “Unexpected emergency.” If you know it will happen, it’s not an emergency.
  • “Very unique.” Unique doesn’t mean unusual, it means one of a kind.

— Adapted from “Look for the Angel,” Helen Wilkie, Communi-keys, http://www.mhwcom.com.

Quick tip: Stop saying “Please note that …”

While seemingly innocent, the phrase can come across as condescending, as in “Now, pay extra attention because you weren’t smart enough to catch the message the first time …” If you feel the need to emphasize a point, say “This is important …” before you make your statement.

— From the editors.