I'm still fairly new to the speaking profession, having never delivered a speech or presentation until a few months after my YouTube video "United Breaks Guitars" went viral. I recall being asked to present my first ever keynote at a Right Now Technologies event in Colorado Springs to 700 North American brands -- with just a few short weeks to prepare. I had little time in my hectic schedule to develop the talk or learn how to do it. The extent of my public speaking was as a musician introducing a song or a five-minute story as part of a concert, but I've always been one to say yes to interesting opportunities before considering my qualifications, so I accepted the invitation.
The person who booked me from Right Now asked in closing, "So you do this all the time right?" My answer was an emphatic "Yes." She then asked if I could send her my PowerPoint presentation, to which I replied, "I'd like some time to customize that for you." When the call ended, I immediately picked up the phone and called my father-in-law. I asked, "What exactly is a PowerPoint presentation?"
What ended up happening was I blocked out a rough keynote speech and Brent, my father-in-law, built the slideshow to reflect it. I saw the slideshow for the first time the night before the big event at rehearsal in the Broadmoor hotel, and it was obvious to the event planners that I was a little wet behind the ears. I spent much of that night going over the presentation in my room, and the next morning I delivered what I'm told was a killer presentation. My speaking career was off to a good start.
What I learned that day is that you don't need experience delivering presentations to be good at it! I recall being extremely nervous about the whole thing, with only hours before my first speech, when it finally hit me. I didn't need to become a great speaker overnight. What I needed to do was simply tell my one-in-a-billion story honestly, from the heart, and from the perspective that only I can tell it. I am the expert in my own story, so all I had to do was be myself.
My story contains some entertaining and funny events. I was at the center of something everyone could relate to yet, at the same time, not even imagine. There were lessons on the personal side and elements that business people and organizations could learn from. I'm also passionate about performing and comfortable singing a song, so all I had to do was combine some of the best anecdotes with the primary lessons, sing a little bit, and most of all, be myself, and I realized I'd be fine. My obligation on that particular day was to fill one 45-minute time slot with something the audience would appreciate. And that became my challenge.
Giving a compelling and memorable speech to a crowd can be difficult. Here are five tips to keep in mind for delivering a killer presentation.
Don't try to imitate the tone, cadence, and hand gestures of someone else who is considered a great speaker. That will require acting, in addition to remembering your speech and connecting with your audience. It's a great idea to refer to other people's experiences to prove your point if it will help connect with people, but make how you tell that story your own. Audiences like authenticity, and you will do better if your primary focus is on being "you."
Believe your story is worth hearing
You have to know it! Everyone has a great story inside of them, and yours is just as worthy as anyone else's. It's the delivery that makes a speaker great or not so great. Once you believe what you are going to say, consider what aspects will be most relevant to your audience, and you can deliver with confidence.
Get to know the audience
Take the time to learn about the people you will be speaking to and customize your presentation for them. You are there to be of service, so be sure to ask plenty of questions about why they think your message is right for them -- and exceed their expectations by being relevant.
Create a flow to your presentation
On a practical note, try to create a flow to your presentation so that you start strong, end strong, and have varying levels of intensity throughout the middle. Like any good story you want to take the listener on a journey, and if your presentation is all hard facts, or nothing but jokes, you will either put your audience to sleep or leave them having offered little of substance. Be sure your story follows all the other great stories -- be sure that it has a balanced flow.
Share your story
Remember that you are not there to sell your message; you are there to share your story. If you are successful in sharing the universal truth in your story with others, you will have found the connection point with your audience, and at that point they will be open to listening to your message. If you want to hold people's attention, you have to make them "feel something." We are inclined to listen closely to, and take a liking to, the people with whom we experience a connection, so make the goal of your presentation not to show what you know, but to share what you have in common with others.
There is plenty of advice available about little techniques that help you present better, but to me, a great speaker is someone who can consistently connect with the audience. The best and fastest route to achieving this is by allowing others to see themselves in you. So be yourself, believe in the power of your story, and strive to connect with your audience, and you'll be well on your way to delivering killer presentations.
Dave Carroll is an author.
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"Microphone in front" image via Shutterstock.