Simple Tips to Become a More Interesting Speaker
How many times have you attended an event strictly to hear the speaker or a panel of speakers? These speakers might be experts in your area of interest or big names at big companies. They are successful and you want to get just a little bit of insight from their brilliant minds. So you will pay to hear them speak. And yet you find yourself drifting off during their presentation, wondering if you remembered to feed the dog or thinking that the meal you were just served was definitely not worth the money. All of a sudden, you snap back to reality and realize you probably just missed some key piece of advice that was sure to make a difference in your life! So you sit up straighter; you focus on the speaker…and you notice his tie is crooked. And your dog is probably eating the furniture because she is so hungry.
Why are smart people so boring? If you have an opportunity to get to know them, you will realize they are not really boring. They are sharp, interesting, and occasionally think about the same things you do. They simply have not invested any time or energy into cultivating good presentation skills. Their priority is running a business, inventing world-changing ideas, and making a lot of money. So speaker after speaker, you hear them stumble over their words, read power point slides or notes, speak in a monotone voice, and either stand stiff as a board or pace back and forth so fast you feel like you are watching a game of ping-pong. And for goodness’ sake, give us an occasional laugh! Please.
There are exceptions to this stereotype, of course. Edward Tufte is one. Extremely intellectual, he draws a big crowd to his presentations on Informational Design, and you experience both an education and entertainment. Now if there was ever a guy you would expect to be boring, it would be someone who immerses himself in the analysis and study of large volumes of data. But, I paid over $300 for a one-day course taught by Edward Tufte here in Austin and it was worth every penny. He was interesting!
So, for all you smart people out there who do not want to pay for a speaking coach, take a speaking class, or join a Toastmasters club, here are a few tips that may help you raise the interest level of your presentations a few notches:
Say something funny.
You do not have to be terribly clever to be funny. I recently witnessed an amazing transformation in a panel of big name speakers in the high-tech industry. At first, they were all very stiff, arms crossed and staring at the table cloth in front of them, answering questions one-by-one with as little personality or excitement as a cardboard box. Then, out of nowhere, one of the panelists made a moderately funny joke and got a huge laugh from the audience. After that, every time he spoke, he said something funny. For instance, when asked if he thought it was wise for a management team to groom their company for sale, he said, “Grooming your company for sale with a couple of specific buyers in mind could be risky….especially if they don’t like you.” We roared! Pretty soon, I noticed that every panelist had relaxed. Some were sitting back in their chairs; some were leaning forward using animated gestures; they were talking to each other and to us. They looked like a group of friends having a fun dinner together. It was fantastic. Humor is powerful.
No rocket science here. If you smile, you come across as human. We think you are warm, friendly and you like us. And we like you in return.
Ask us questions.
If you want to get our attention or you feel nervous, get us involved. Ask us a question or two so that we have to momentarily reflect and consider how your question relates to our unique situations in life. If we make those connections, we instantly want to hear more. You can ask us for a show of hands (“How many of you…”), verbal input (“What is your experience when…”), or simply a rhetorical question followed by a pause to let us think about it. Besides getting us interested, it will also help calm any anxiety you may be feeling since it takes focus off of you and puts it on us.
Get to the point.
One of the hardest things for most speakers to do is cut the extraneous material from a presentation and get to the important points. This is especially hard for intellectuals who appreciate detailed information and think everyone else does, too. Remember that we do not already know the intimate details of your work and for many of us it will be the first time we are exposed to your ideas. In general, audiences will only remember one or two things you say, so you have to be careful not to muddy up those key ideas with details. Consider in advance what key things you want us to walk away remembering and then structure your presentation around that. The key ideas should be repeated consistently throughout your presentation and everything else should clearly support those ideas.
Tell us a story.
We love stories. And you have an entire life chock full of them! Relating stories to your presentation brings what you are saying to life. For instance, if you offer us advice, it is much more interesting and applicable to know the story behind your discovery of this advice than just the advice on its own. We are more likely to follow your advice if we know how it affected your life personally.
This is easier said than done, but if you can relax your personality will shine through. If you tend to stand rock still, try relaxing your shoulders and arms so you look less stiff. Use a few arm and hand gestures. Walk to different sections of the audience so you can get closer and talk to us more directly. Put some inflection in your voice. Most importantly, breathe. On the other hand, if you tend to pace back and forth, wring your hands, or are overly expressive with repeated arm and hand gestures, that can be distracting. Focus on purposeful movement instead of random movement. Avoid clasping and wringing your hands altogether. Consider having someone videotape your next presentation and then view it yourself to see how you respond as an audience member.
These suggestions cover only a few basic skills, but they have a big impact. Once you experience the interest level rising in your audiences, you will be ready and motivated to make even bigger changes. It is addictive to be able to reach and entertain people.
Besides, if you are really smart, why would you want to give people the impression that you lack confidence? We already think you are smart and confident, so with just a little effort on your part, you could blow our socks off! We will remember you forever.