Public speaking or just making a speech is highly coachable. Yes, there are some people who just seem to be able to stand up in front of an audience and deliver a great talk, but for most of us, public speaking is a skill that gets better with practice.
So how do we go about preparing to give a talk that is clear, concise and engaging?
There’s no way you can give a good talk unless you have something worth talking about. Thinking about your story and giving it a frame is a vital first step in preparation. Most presentations lie somewhere on the continuum between a report and a story. A report is data-rich, exhaustive, and informative—but is often far from engaging. Stories help a speaker connect with an audience, but can often be short on facts and information. A good presentation layers these two aspects – story, fact, story, fact – like a cake.
If you want to give a talk relating to a long written report, it is a good idea to circulate the report first and then draw the headline points from it. Don’t read the report line by line, there is no quicker way to lose an audience. Anyone who’s really interested can read the report; everyone else will appreciate brevity.
Back up your story with graphs and other pictorial data. Financial audiences love statistics so satisfy their need for facts but keep the entire room engaged with an underlying narrative and stories that add colour to the data.
Launching a new product
This is your chance to tell the story of your product. You might want to blind your audience with the science behind your product but rather than focusing on only specs and features, focus on the value your product brings to the world. Tell stories that show how real people will use it and why it will change their lives.
Making a keynote address
These are the scene-setters, the chance to bring your audience on a journey. Quite often, the audience has come mainly to listen to you. This talk, usually given in a very formal manner at a big event, is a high-stake, high-impact opportunity to take your listeners on a transformative journey. Use a clear story framework and aim to engage them emotionally.
Humans are wired to listen to stories, so your presentation should take the audience on a journey that has a clear beginning, middle and end. A successful talk is a little miracle—people see the world differently afterwards.
The fault that many people suffer is trying to pack too much into the story. Don’t try to cover too much ground in one hit. By cramming everything into one story, you will miss or bury key facts.
If you frame the talk as a journey, the biggest decisions are figuring out where to start and where to end. To find the right place to start, consider what people in the audience already know about your subject—and how much they care about it. If you assume they have more knowledge or interest than they do, or if you start using jargon or get too technical, you’ll lose them. The most engaging speakers do a superb job of very quickly introducing the topic, explaining why they care so deeply about it, and convincing the audience members that they should, too.