I recently googled “Top Ten Fears,” don’t ask me why, I must have been bored while waiting to get my teeth cleaned. Anyway, it was no surprise that public speaking ranked high on the list (sandwiched between snakes and heights). I’ll be honest, I used to hate public speaking. Even though I began performing when I was a kid, speaking my own words was different. I was the shy girl who prayed she wouldn’t be called on in school. Partly because I often twisted up my words when I read out loud. Dyslexia will do that to ya.
I literally thought I would drop dead when I gave my first professional talk for the Philips company. They make lots of electronics, including TV’s and in this case, CAT Scan machines. There were over a thousand people in the audience, gulp and dare I say, f%ck! Sure, I had been practicing on smaller groups at health food stores but I was nowhere near ready for the army of eyeballs before me—or so I thought.
Guess what? Even though I refused to take my face out of my 30-page script (which I read word for word), I still received a standing ovation. Maybe they felt sorry for me, either way, I did it.
Because many of you give lectures, presentations, or just have to pipe up at work from time to time, here are some of my tips for crafting and delivering a great talk.
I have some more tips at the end of the blog for speaking anxiety, but rest assured that working on improving your speaking chops will get you 99% of the way there. Believe me, it gets much easier and sweeter each time you get out there, today I speak in front of audiences as large as 5000 people and I absolutely love it!
Ten tips for crafting and delivering a great speech
1. Know your audience. If you’ve been asked to speak at a medical conference don’t address the crowd like you’re at a Renaissance Fair. Also, if it’s a yearly event, be aware of past speakers who have spoken before you. This will give you more of a feel for what your event sponsor is looking for. Ask for a description of the audience. Are they mostly women? What’s the age range? What are they dealing with or interested in and so forth. Basically, get the lay of the land and know your people.
2. Forget scripts. Use post-it notes (while prepping) and index cards. While it’s tempting to read a script, it’s not very interesting for the audience. Plus, scripts don’t allow room for magic, new ideas, whim and the guided channeling that can take place when you’re in your sweet spot. When I’m crafting a speech I map out the key points with post-it notes (usually about 5-6 of them). Then I’ll work on the thoughts, ideas and stories that go with the key points––but I don’t memorize or set anything in stone. Once I’m ready to hit the stage I generally use one index card with the key points and reminders. You may not need anything, I like an anchor because I tend to have a great time up there and can get lost in the moment.
3. Prep but don’t over practice. Again, there’s no need to memorize. Practice so that you’re comfortable and you know where you’re going, then enjoy the ride. The best stuff will happen spontaneously. Leave room for it.
4. Look spiffy. If I could wear my sweat pants and sports bra everywhere I would, but this is the one time I make an effort to gussie up like a classy pro.
5. Strong start. Strong finish. Know your opener and your closer and do your best to inspire and lift people up, versus ranting about shitty room service food.
6. Story story story. People love stories. They make us feel, they take us places, they change us. Pick stories that illustrate your points and make sure to relate them back to your audience in some way. Remember, this isn’t a live diary entry.
7. Give your audience tips and examples. Are there specific tools that will help your audience put your teachings into practice? Stuff they can try at home or in their daily life? For example: I might tell a funny story about the first time I used a blender and how I forgot to tighten the lid and more smoothie ended up on my ceiling than in my belly. I could follow that with some tips and maybe even a recipe for my favorite smoothie. Nothing long or cumbersome, but something useful and practical. Ground your audience so they have something to do moving forward. You may also want to wind down your talk with a brief summary of your main teaching points before you send ‘em home with some soaring love.
8. Ask questions and give folks something to think about. Dare I say, challenge them. I don’t mean start a Q&A, but are there moments in your talk where you can ask your audience if they’ve ever felt that way, had a similar experience, gone through a similar event? If so, what seed can you plant in their mind so that the next time they find themselves in that space they have new tools or a refreshing idea to call on.
9. Have fun and use humor if it comes naturally to you. This isn’t a funeral (unless it is, then humor may not always be appropriate, unless you come from my family!). The more you bring your personality to your talks the more engaging and fun they’ll be for you and for your audience.
10. Learn something about yourself and the audience. Whether you give a so-so talk or you nail a home run, there’s always something to learn and try next time. Forget about what went right or wrong and just focus on what you learned.