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a blog by Don R. Crawley

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In a recent blog post, I ranted about how to be a terrible speaker. Now, let’s turn it around. Here are six easy tips for giving a great speech or presentation.

  1. Focus on the audience. I heard a successful speaker say that, before he walks up to the podium, he always reminds himself that the audience is asking three questions: “So what? Who cares? What’s in it for me?” Put your talk to the “So what? Who cares? What’s in it for the audience test?” and you’ll rarely go wrong.
  2. Respect the audience’s time. Remember this sage advice about speaking (I’ve heard it attributed to both Will Rogers and Mark Twain. If you know the source, please let me know.): A great speech has a great opening, a great closing, and as short a middle as possible. Write your closing first, then write your opening, then write no more than three points for the body of the speech to take you from opening to closing. After you finish writing it, edit it. Then, edit it again and again. A speech is not made great in the writing, but in the editing.
  3. Practice it over and over. The more you practice it, the more comfortable you’ll be with it. The more comfortable you are, the easier it will be for you to connect with your audience. Also, the more you practice, the better you’ll be able to handle surprises such as technical errors, hecklers, extraneous noises, or any of the myriad things that can go wrong during a speech.
  4. Tell stories. Effective politicians and preachers understand this. Anecdotes are easy for people to remember. Data is not. Save data for handouts. If you do use data in your speech, make it dramatic and use it sparingly.
  5. Be smart with PowerPoint. Follow Guy Kawasawki’s 10-20-30 rule of PowerPoint. In a nutshell, it’s this: No more than 10 slides, no longer than 20 minutes, and no font smaller than 30 points. Of course, if you’ve been asked to give a 60 minute talk, the first two numbers may change, but always follow his rule of no font smaller than 30 points. The key on PowerPoint is to avoid putting very much text on each slide, use appropriate graphics to supplement what you’re saying, and NEVER stand in front of an audience and read your slides.
  6. Join Toastmasters. Toastmasters clubs provide a safe and supportive environment for practicing public speaking and conducting effective meetings. Members provide feedback that is 90% positive and 10% constructive criticism. Even if you join for only a few months, you’ll have an opportunity to practice your speech and get valuable feedback. You can find a club near you at toastmasters.org.

Whether you’re delivering a motivational speech in front of 4000 people or presenting software training in front of four people, the same principles apply. It’s really not too hard to give a great speech, even when you suffer from stage fright. The key is to focus on delivering a benefit for your audience, be well-prepared, and practice, practice, and practice.

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