The first talk I gave in front of a crowd was when I was in 1st grade. I had to describe the anatomy of a butterfly. As simple as it seemed, it was a train wreck to watch. I can still remember getting laughed at for it. I think the teacher was laughing too.
I kept a video recording of it to remind myself how far I’ve come. Now, speaking to audiences all around, I’ve learned a few things that have helped in developing an engaging, motivating and fun talk. Being able to communicate your ideas and convince others to buy or invest in your idea or product is the most important skill of any entrepreneur. Here are 5 steps to giving an amazing talk that will keep the audience wanting more:
1) Think about a topic that fits you
This should seem pretty obvious, but I can’t tell you how bad some of the talks I’ve seen have been where people talk about something out of their expertise. Doing that is so wack. It’s like when you were in 8th grade giving a presentation on the Civil War. Chances are that you were nervous as hell, and you looked down at your cards 95% of the time because you didn’t want to miss a fact or detail. Screw that and make sure you have earned the right to talk and know your subject inside and out. If you want to be perceived as an expert in a certain area, knowing the area with a good amount of detail makes sense, right?
2) Structure your talk
Pulling the audience into your talk is the most important part of any talk. If you don’t have their attention within the first 10 seconds, it’s pretty much a struggle the rest of the way through to get them to re-engage with you. According to Chris Anderson, who wrote this in Harvard Business Review,
“Many of the best talks have a narrative structure that loosely follows a detective story. The speaker starts out by presenting a problem and then describes the search for a solution. There’s an “aha” moment, and the audience’s perspective shifts in a meaningful way.”
Nailing down the structure and story flow is the hardest part of developing a talk, which is why you carefully think about how you want the audience to feel at different times during the talk. Check out what Nancy Duarte said during her amazing talk about how really great talks are structured secretly.
It’s helpful to write each section of your talk (or each section’s topic) on individual Post-It Notes, to see your talk at a high level and rearrange sections as you see fit. Before you even think about creating your slideshow and talk, outline it this way. Trust me; it will save you lots of time in the later stages.
3) Include detail in your examples
A great talk has several dope examples. Dope examples have enough detail to make the audience visualize the story. Dale Carnegie, in his book The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Public Speaking, refers to using the 5-W rule: Who, What, When, Where and Why as you try to illustrate your example. Following this method will bring your example to life, fill it with color and depth, and set your talk apart from the others.
* Side note: Dale Carnegie’s book should be on every entrepreneurs list of books to read. In order to sell your product, you got to learn how to communicate like a wizard. This book will get you up to speed, no doubt.
4) Don’t write down your speech
The biggest mistake a novice can make is to write down their speech, word for word. When you do this, you’re basically telling yourself to stay on a particular track, which will then lead you to visually engage less with the audience and hide behind your computer or cards. Instead, at MOST you should have cards with bullet points. It’s ideal to have no cards at all.
I used to work with a phenomenal speaker who, arguably, has one of the greatest stage presences of anyone I’ve ever watched. He has given talks all over the world and can easily have his calendar filled up with high-paying speaking engagements every year. When I asked him about the first time he gave a talk, he told me he stumbled through it and never relied on note cards because it would slow down his “high-octane” delivery. It would make it seem so unnatural. Why do you think Jay-Z never writes down his bars?
5) Practice. Practice. Practice!
Nothing beats old school practice. The more you practice, the less nervous you will be on the day you present; leading to better delivery and a spike in your confidence. Put in that work! If you are lucky (or persistent) enough to speak more and more with different audiences, use those speaking opportunities to perfect your talk.
Soon you’ll be a master.
Image credit: CC by The Phat Startup