Public Speaking Tips

Public Speaking Tips

Public speaking is not easy. It’s well documented that the only thing people fear more than public speaking is death. If public speaking scares you, you’ll want to read this post.

What not to do:

Last week I attended a dinner hosted by a wealth management company. It is the first time they sponsored this type of an event and, unfortunately, it showed. Their public speaking skills and selection of presentation material, which is a key part of the job, was dull and poorly conceived. These are really nice people so it makes me feel bad for saying that but the evidence is clear.

Here’s what jumped out at me:

  • The comments were adequate but came across as unrehearsed and generally unfocused.
  • If the goal was to demonstrate that the firm is full of nice people that truly care about serving their clients then they met their goal. But if the goal was to (also) inspire confidence in the firm’s capabilities then they came up short.
  • The presentation lacked any coherent message. They handed out hard copies of a presentation that appeared to be a laundry list of economic information (see below).

What could they have done better?

Public Speaking tips

Public Speaking tips

I’ve done a lot of public speaking and made a lot of mistakes. The following tips would have improved their presentation considerably but anyone who does public speaking would benefit from following these six tips.

  1. Every speaker needs a clear objective or objectives. Multiple goals are fine. You can accomplish multiple goals by assigning different roles and responsibilities to different speakers. For example, the first speaker’s job is to convey the firm’s human side by smiling a lot, introducing each team member and sharing short biographies. The second speaker might focus on the firm’s record of results and years in business. The third speaker might demonstrate the firm’s exceptional research capabilities, and so on. Everyone has a role and specific goals and they stay on task.
  2. Practice is public speaking magic dust. Practice builds confidence. The keynote speaker said he was worried about finishing his talk before dinner was over. He said he was prepared to speak for 20- or 60-minutes. He wasn’t. Practice would have uncovered the issue. If they’d practiced for 20-minutes and then for 60-miuntes using the same content, which was all they had, they’d have realized the folly of their strategy.
  3. Script your opening statements. Most public speaking experts will tell you that getting started is the toughest part of the presentation. Scripting your first comment or two is a great way to get started and sooth beginner’s nerves. Once you get started you’ll be amazed how your presentation just seems to flow. Every speaker seemed to struggle to get started.
  4. Have a specific purpose for each slide. My guess is someone went through a really large stack of slides and pulled out what he or she found interesting. Unfortunately, sharing what one person finds interesting is not necessarily the same as constructing a coherent message. I have given passable presentations where I introduced every slide by saying, “The purpose of this slide is…” Every slide should have a purpose and the speaker must know that purpose. If the presentation starts to go astray, then fall back on your purpose statements.
  5. Stay focused/stop talking. The keynote speaker went off topic frequently. He’s a genuinely nice guy and the audience was a bit older so no real harm was done. Besides, an anecdote or two within a 60-minute presentation is welcome and is a nice way to break up a long presentation. But constantly drifting from one anecdote to another dilutes your message and undermines your credibility. When you catch yourself drifting, stop talking and get back on topic.
  6. Gain experience. Your speech represents you as a person as well as your message. You want to do it well. The best public speakers have a lot of experience. Experience builds confidence and confidence is critical to effective public speaking.

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