- Reuters/Phil Noble
There are few experiences more demoralizing than looking out at your audience during a presentation and seeing one of your coworkers out cold.
Okay, so he was probably just tired. But a great presentation keeps your listeners on their toes and inspires them to think differently about whatever topic you’re addressing.
That’s not to say that delivering a solid talk is easy. In fact, it’s incredibly difficult.
To help you out on that front, we checked out the Quora thread, “How can I improve my public speaking skills?” and highlighted 10 of the most creative and insightful responses.
Read on to learn how to captivate and energize your audience.
- Flickr/open hardware summit
1. Remember it’s not about you
Presumably, the reason you’re giving a speech is to help your audience understand a topic you’re passionate and knowledgeable about. Keep this reason in mind throughout the presentation.
As Quora user Joseph Prabhakar says: “Remember – it is not about you. It is about the audience. Once you take the focus away from you, it will help you manage your fear and direct your energy and attention towards the audience.”
Meanwhile, author and speaker Scott Berkun recommends thinking about why your audience is there and what five questions they’ll expect you to answer over the course of your presentation.
It all boils down to one question, which you can ask yourself before you deliver your presentation: Will this talk benefit others – or just you?
- Flickr / Marco Arment
2. Stick to what you know
Entrepreneur and author Gary Vaynerchuk doesn’t hesitate to tell people what a good public speaker he is.
He explains that the reason why some of his speeches are so good is because he sticks to what he knows.
Here’s Vaynerchuk on Quora:
The problem arises when people try to fake the funk: they try to talk about topics or claim they’re experts before ever doing anything. So what happens is that when they get up on stage and try to talk about their execution, they get stuck.
It’s why I don’t feel comfortable answering questions about topics like foreign-policy or Bitcoin. Whether on stage or in front of the camera, I’m very transparent about not talking about something I don’t know.
As long as you stick to your personal experience and expertise, you can have the confidence to go up and talk about your insights. So long as you’re a practitioner of what you preach, you’ll be able to voice your opinion eloquently because it’s backed up by your executions.
3. Walk around
Everyone has a different speaking style.
But John Calvo advises that the best presentations come from physically animated speakers: “If you have the room, walk around. Stay away from podiums, or tables or anything that will shield your body. Walking around will engage your audience.”
- Francisco Osorio/Flickr
4. Tell stories
Telling stories during your presentation serves at least two purposes, says Jane Chin.
One, they help you avoid “death by PowerPoint,” which is presumably what happens when you bore your audience by reading verbatim from a series of slides.
And two, “when audiovisual mishaps occur, and they will – you will be that speaker who is awesome because you go right into the talk without appearing at all flustered.”
5. Practice in front of a live audience
Andrew Hennigan says the only way to master the art of public speaking is to practice consistently in front of real people.
If you don’t have opportunities to give presentations at work, Hennigan suggests running for a political position or a leadership role in a professional organization, where public speaking is part of your responsibilities.
Interestingly, TED curator Chris Anderson says one of the biggest mistakes he sees speakers make is not practicing enough (or at all). According to Anderson, sufficient rehearsal is the difference between “owning” a talk and letting it own you.
- Getty Images
6. Watch how news broadcasters do it
Suresh Kumar recommends observing broadcast journalists for tips on how to construct a story and make an argument.
As college-to-career strategist Katharine Brooks writes on PsychologyToday.com, aspiring public speakers – especially introverts – should choose a few role models and figure out what specific factors make their presentations so compelling.
“You may not be able to do everything they do,” she writes, “but you can learn a trick or two.”
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7. Get feedback
“Everyone there wants to improve their speaking ability and so everyone is in the same boat and will give you constructive feedback,” he writes.
Even if you don’t end up joining Toastmasters, you can practice with friends, relatives, and colleagues and ask them to tell you exactly what you’re doing right and wrong when you speak.
- Flickr / Rainer Stropek
8. Keep it brief
Here’s a clever trick for making sure you don’t drone on for too long: Set your Powerpoint slides to automatically move on after 30-60 seconds.
“Practice with that timing so you are used to moving forward through your material effectively,” says Raye Varney.
Darlene Price, president of Well Said, Inc., told Business Insider that many speakers are guilty of what she calls “data dumping,” which can cause a presentation to run longer than necessary. Instead of reading numbers and figures off crowded slides, keep in mind that you want to inspire and connect with your audience.
- Jon Gosier/Flickr
9. Modulate your voice
Even if you keep your presentation relatively short, it’ll seem to go on forever if you speak in monotone. That’s why Monalisa Padhee recommends modulating your voice.
What’s more, you’ll end up sounding smarter. According to Leonard Mlodinow, author of “Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior,” speaking expressively enhances the impression of intelligence. It’s a matter of altering your pitch and volume and not pausing too often.
- Maryland GovPics / Flickr
10. Amuse your audience
Communication coach Carmine Gallo says the secret to becoming an effective public speaker is making the audience laugh.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to tell a joke, though.
In fact, Cristin Owens writes that, “if you aren’t comfortable telling jokes, then DON’T. It’s not a talent that everyone has and it can completely derail you, especially when you are already nervous. Be charming, relaxed and energetic instead. That will grab attention just as well.”
Gallo says you can simply identify a funny situation: “Great storytellers ditch the urge to be clever and just tell people about an experience that elicits a smile. If something made them chuckle, there’s a good chance their audience will, too.”