Ten secrets of successful speakers

You know the mwa-mwa-mwa sound the Peanuts kids hear when adults talk to them? That’s the same sound audiences begin to hear in their heads around the ten-minute mark of most speeches and presentations. Here are ten secrets that keep the trombones at bay.

  1. Figure out what you want the audience to know and do as a result of your presentation. That’s what your speech is about. Stay focused.
  2. Don’t overwhelm your audience with too much information. They’ll turn you off. Humans only remember a max of four things at a time anyway.
  3. Do NOT read from a script. If you can read it from sheets of paper or PowerPoint slides, so can your audience. At home. In a chair. With a drink. And a sandwich.
  4. No matter how good you are at improvising or how many times you’ve said the same thing, do NOT wing your presentation. If you do, you are likely to meander off point and your credibility and message will disappear.
  5. Avoid death by PowerPoint. Check out videos on YouTube about what not to do and watch presentations by Steve Jobs to learn what to do. Keep your slides simple. Use images. And PLEASE limit words and bullet points.
  6. People remember what they see. Not what they hear. Select your images carefully.
  7. Don’t lecture. Have a conversation with your audience. Tune into them and respond to their reactions. Consider signing up with Toastmasters.
  8. Never assume your audience knows what you’re talking about. Always define your terms, especially ROI, efficacy, net profit, silo, verticals, align, productivity, flat, goals, space, onboarding, next level, drive results, zero-sum game and other business bingo phrases. They will tune you out if you don’t.
  9. If you ask for questions and there aren’t any, be gracious. You put your audience on the defensive and look lame at the same time if you say something like “Surely SOMEONE has a question.” Have a closing sentence handy, thank everyone and sit down.
  10. Don’t know an answer? Don’t ever make something up, lie or sidestep. Say you don’t know and you’ll get back to them or give them a real reason why you can’t answer at this time. This is always true. It’s imperative if anyone from the media is there.

11-13. And here are three more – do your audience analysis, use a cordless mike and don’t move around so much that you make people seasick.

NOTE: Many thanks to Veronica Apostolico at Smith & Nephew whose article on LinkedIn’s Speechwriters and Executive Communicators Forum inspired me to write this.