Over the past 5 years as a workplace engagement speaker, I’ve delivered hundreds of talks across the world at corporations, trade shows and at universities. Though no two audiences are the same, one thing that is consistent is the approach I use to deliver successful talks.
Much of structure that I use and that I recommend to others to use is rooted in strong journalistic storytelling principles. These are core principles that I learned studying at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and working in the television industry in New York City for over 10 years as a correspondent and producer.
Whether you’re delivering keynotes to thousands of people or presenting in your department meeting, these five tips will help you become a better and more confident public speaker.
1. Tell a story, not the whole story.
This is a major mistake that many public speakers can make. They tell every detail of a story instead of focusing only on the essential. The audience is thinking, “Get to the point already.” You’ll know if you’re telling the whole story if during a presentation people start to glaze over and lose focus.
2. Have a clear beginning, middle and end.
Many novice speakers just start talking. They don’t have any structure or roadmap to their talk or presentation. So, their talks can feel like they’re all over the place. To avoid this, as you prepare for a talk or presentation ask yourself, “What is the ending I’m moving towards? Where am I headed?” This will help you create structure and stay focused with the end in mind.
3. Winging it is easy for amateurs.
Nothing frightens me more than when I hear a speaker or presenter say, “I’m just going to wing it.” When you hear this, get ready to be disappointed. This means the speaker didn’t put in the necessary work in advance. Or, if I hear a speaker say, “I had something prepared but I’ve been so inspired by speakers who spoke before me that I’m just going to speak from my heart.” Don’t believe it. They didn’t prepare.
4. If you make a mistake, the audiences doesn’t need to know.
It’s inevitable during a speech or presentation that you’ll forget part of your story or a point you wanted to make. What you don’t want to do is stop your presentation and say something like, “I’m sorry, earlier I meant to tell you…” or “I forgot to tell you…” This makes the audience lose confidence in you. The goods news is that when you forget something, the audience doesn’t know that you forget to tell them something. Instead of telling them you made a mistake, find an organic way to weave what you forgot into your talk.
5. Don’t memorize your speech.
Many speakers attempt to memorize their talk in advance. Memorization is for actors, not for speakers (unless maybe you’re delivering a TED talk). The problem with memorizing is that you’re stuck to a script and you miss something in the script, it can throw everything else off. Instead of memorizing your talk, I recommend having key themes, “bullet points,” or points you want to make in your talk. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t rehearse for your talk and prepare in advance. What this allows for you is flexibility instead of rigidity.