Public Speaking Masterclass: 10x Your Impact in One Hour
Delivering a great speech is a massive accomplishment. For an audience, experiencing a stirring rendition is both exhilarating and uplifting. Because a great speech appears so effortless, it is too easy to assume that delivery is a simple matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who have mastered the art of successful speaking know very well that it is rarely an overnight phenomenon. Great speeches may be written in just a few days – but the delivery is what can make them great. That ability takes years of experience to hone. The stark reality is that delivering speeches is fraught with pitfalls almost guaranteed to unhinge the novice.
This course is designed to equip you both the skillset and the confidence you need to deliver presentations that are MEMORABLE, EFFORTLESS, EXHILARATING and ENJOYABLE
What are the benefits of this course?
- Being confident to deliver any type of speech
- Being able to create and deliver a great speech at short notice
- Knowing how to create and deliver your core message
- Knowing how to handle any type of question
- Knowing how to cope with any problems
Who is Alan Stevens?
Alan has been speaking professionally, on and off stage, for about 40 years. He has written a number of books on the subject, the most recent titled ‘The Exceptional Speaker’. He is the most decorated public speaker in the world, having won more awards than any other speaker. He has been the President of the Global Speakers Federation as well as President of the National Speakers Federation in the UK. During his career he has worked with thousands of people and blue chip companies to help them improve their presentation skills.
“Alan, most of the time it is hard to get honest replies from people about the content of my communication, and how I can become better at what I do. Thank you very much for your professional advice and help – I really appreciate it.”
– Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, The UK’s most successful Paralympic athlete
So you've been asked to make a speech or presentation. You should now ask yourself four questions:
- Firstly, WHO?. Who will the audience be? How many, where, what is their background? Who are the most important people? There's an exercise below that will help.
- Secondly, WHAT?. When you stand up, what will they expect you to say?
- Thirdly, WHY?. Why have you been asked to speak? What message will you deliver?
- Fourthly, HOW?. What techniques will you use? Should you stand or sit? Should you use a microphone?
We'll address all these questions during the course.
Designing Your Speech
The first thing to do is to consider your audience. Take a sheet of paper and write down the following headings, with space to fill in the details;
- Date of presentation,
- Audience size
- Audience expertise
- Topic of Speech
So, you have now profiled your audience. Well done. You now have to think about what and how you will tell them. Firstly, we're going to look at how you make your presentation a perfect fit for your audience.
Although these up-front exercises may seem time- consuming, when you are keen to get to the main body of your presentation, they are crucially important. All good speeches are founded on knowledge of what the audience will respond to. The exercises below will enable you to hit the target every time.
By now, you will have a good mental picture of members of your audience. Now is the time to take the exercise one step further by deciding what their key interests are. You already know the topic of your presentation (and if you don't, find out now!).
Sit down and re-read each profile that you have prepared.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself as that person, sitting in your audience.
What are the important issues about your chosen topic that will be of most concern to them?
For example, if you are discussing how a company is going to develop over the next few years, the main concern of the staff will probably be job security. The directors, on the other hand, will be more interested in financial performance. The customers will be interested in products and services, and so on.
For each of your profiles, write down the two key points that will be of most concern to them. When you are preparing your speech, keep the profiles handy, and refer to them constantly. if you are not addressing their concerns, they won't be listening.
Now decide your aims. Are you going to
- Call to action?
Write down your key aim, and any secondary aims. Keep it brief, for reasons we'll talk about later.
Now for your outcomes. These should be the outcomes that you will have achieved. Examples of objectives are:
- Attitude change
- Better understanding
- Overcoming objections
- Provide action points
Write down your key objectives and keep them safe.
You have built the framework, and now it is time to start working on the detail. We are going to look at how to start, and how to deliver your core message.
Most presentations are built around the "business sandwich" - tell them what you will say, say it, and then tell them what you said. It may sound like repetition (because it is), but it works every time.
Your audience is most attentive at the very start of your speech. You have about fifteen seconds to grab their attention, so you need to make sure that your opening statement does exactly that. It is the most important part of your speech, since if you lose the attention of all or part of the audience, you'll find it very hard to recover.
Your opening line sets the tone for the whole presentation. It must sum up what you are about to say, explain why it is important to every member of your audience, and carry your core message.
The core message is the thread that will run through your whole speech. It is the key message that you want your audience to remember.
When you prepare your core message, consider the following guidelines -
- Identify the single most important idea
- Make it simple to understand
- Make it simple to remember
- Make it relevant to the listener
- Make it of benefit to the listener
- Answer the "So what?" question
If you are clear about your core message, people will respond to it
Write down your core message, using the above guidelines.
If you want a perfect example of how to deliver a core message, listen to the end of a TV news bulletin - "the main points again". The repeated headlines are all perfect core messages.
You should now have the first line of your speech firmly fixed in your brain, so that you can deliver it without thinking. We are now going to decide how to close your speech on a high and memorable note, and how to keep the attention of your audience throughout.
It is very difficult to have the full attention of every member of your audience for your entire speech. However, there are a number of things that you can do to ensure that as many people as possible listen to you for most of the time. Most importantly, you want everyone to hear your conclusion. We'll come to that in a moment.
Your final line is probably the only message that your audience will carry away. Just like the opening line, you need to write it down, rehearse it and learn it by heart. Winston Churchill used to say "I never stand up before knowing exactly what I will say just before I sit down".
When you utter the words "and finally..." or "and in conclusion...", your audience will hang on to your every word. You should summarise your key points, give details for further information or contact, and thank your audience for their attention. You will then be able to stand and bask in the warm glow of their applause.
So, now is the time to decide on that final line. Keep it short - no more that 25 words. Include only one key point (your already defined core message). Write it down, and revise it until you are happy with it. Say it out loud. Try it out on friends and colleagues. When you are satisfied with it, commit it to memory, as you did with the first line.
In order to hold your audience's interest, you must engage them and make them think. Earlier on, we considered the points that will be of most interest to them. Read through those points again, and then consider the tips below.
Include elements of interactivity, such as conducting a straw poll (e.g. "How many people here are afraid of flying?"), asking the audience a direct question (e.g. "Can anyone here tell us why they are frightened of spiders?") or even conducting a short quiz. Anything which makes people take action will work.
Make provocative statements, such as ("If global warming continues at its present rate, one-third of you will have to move because of flooding in the next ten years"). Be careful here - you need to be able to back up anything that you say, or your audience may turn against you.
Use written exercises, either individually or in small groups, to break up your presentation and encourage feedback. Make sure that any exercises that you offer are directly related to the topic, and not just an excuse for you to rest your voice!
Of course, the way you use your voice is also vary important. You can vary the pitch, tone and pace of your delivery to emphasise particular points. Used sparingly, sudden raising or lowering of your voice is an extremely effective technique. Best of all, pausing for several seconds, and looking around your audience will produce an anticipation that will allow you to deliver your key message. Think about ways that you can include interactivity in your speech, and write down three techniques that you will use.
The great speakers appear to be able to speak without notes. However, some of them use autocues and some of them use cue cards. A few of them really can speak for half an hour without notes. You don't need to be in that league. In fact, you can appear to speak from memory by using a simple technique.
The trick is to speak only when you are looking at your audience. Look down at your notes, memorise a line, look up at your audience, pause, and deliver your line. Look down and repeat the process. Don't worry about the pauses, since they will create the impression of considered thought. If you can master this technique, you will be able to deliver any text, even if you have never seen it before, as an effective speech. Practice in front of a mirror. Don't write your notes on A4 sheets, since if you hold them they will amplify any nervous shaking. Instead, use file cards, with hole punched in the corner, joined together with a treasury tag. (If you drop them they'll stay in the right order!). Don't put more than three points on each card - that way you'll never lose your place.
When you rehearse, say the words out loud. If possible, ask a friend or colleague to listen to you, and give you constructive criticism.
Rehearsal gives you the opportunity to find out how long your speech will be, and whether to cut sections out, or expand some points. Rehearsal is crucial. You should not deliver a speech without having rehearsed it at least once. However, don't over-rehearse - you still need to sound fresh when the big day arrives.
Once you start to speak, your nerves will disappear. However, the anticipation of making a speech can generate all sorts of fears and worries. How can you stay calm before the big day?
Provided that you have gone through the previous exercises, you should have nothing to worry about. Your speech is well prepared and well targeted. You know your first and last lines by heart. You have left nothing to chance. But....there are still a few butterflies in your stomach, so we're going to look at ways to dispel them.
Everyone is nervous before making a speech. This is not a bad thing, since the adrenaline flowing round your system will heighten your senses, and enable you to deliver a great performance. The problem comes if you are too nervous, and unable to focus on your message.
Think about what you fear. Is it losing your place, going blank, or not satisfying your audience? Close your eyes and visualise yourself in front of your audience. Imagine yourself delivering an eloquent speech, uttering your closing line, and receiving a huge round of applause. A few minutes before you speak, close your eyes and run through your visualisation again. Breathe deeply and slowly, and say to yourself (quietly if you wish) "I am a great speaker, and I am about to make a great speech". Some speakers even imagine themselves to be a speaker that they admire. If that technique works for you, use it.
Most importantly, make sure that you have your first line running through your head, and your notes in your hand.
Just before you stand up, grip the sides of your chair as hard as you can for a couple of seconds, and release your grip as you stand. Imagine all of your tension flowing out through your fingers as you rise to speak. Practice the exercise a few times now. Don't forget - you are a great speaker, about to deliver a great speech!
Run through this checklist:
- Establish named contact details, including out- of-hours details
- Provide them with your contact details
- Contact the organiser and confirm the venue and time
- Check topic and audience details
- Ensure you have everything you need - notes, slides, handouts, map etc. Write a short note, detailing how you would like to be introduced
When you arrive at the venue:
- Arrive in time to visit the room where you will speak
- If possible, run through your speech, getting a feel for audibility and visibility, and any moves that you may need to make
- Find the technician, and check microphones/projectors etc.
- Re-confirm the start time Find the person who will introduce you, and give them the note explaining how you would like to be introduced
Of course, things won't go wrong, but just to make you even more confident:
- Allow for travel delays
- Ensure that you can be contacted at all times
- Take two electronic copies of your presentation
- If possible, send an electronic copy in advance
- Take a printed copy of your presentation
- Plan a "keynote" short version of your presentation, just in case time is limited
You've delivered your speech and everything went perfectly. You breathe a sigh of relief, and look forward to a relaxing evening. Suddenly, you hear the meeting organiser say "There's a hand up at the back - I'm sure we have time for a few questions".
Now the fear grips you again. You have no idea what they will ask. What if they expose your ignorance, challenge your points, or ask an embarrassing question? How will you cope? Read on, and find out.....
As with almost everything, the key to handling questions well is to be prepared. You cannot possible anticipate every query. However, there are key steps that you must take. Firstly, provide the meeting organiser with a couple of questions that you can answer. That way, if no hands go up, you will have the luxury of being able to respond to a couple of enquiries easily.
A few days before you speak, try to think of the worst possible questions that might arise. Write them down. The quickest and easiest way to come up with them is to ask your colleagues - "What difficult questions can you think of?" Now comes the tricky part - write down the answers, again seeking the help of your colleagues, or even better, a friendly expert. If you have done your homework properly, you will be confident that you can deal with the worst, and you will probably find that no-one asks anything nearly as taxing.
Before you get into the detail of your presentation, explain your policy on questions. It doesn't really matter whether you take them at the end, or during your talk (but the latter may throw you off course), as long as your audience know the rules.
Make it clear that some time will be available for questions, and that you will answer as many as possible. (It may be preferable for the meeting organiser to state the policy on questions, allowing you to concentrate on your speech. Check with them beforehand)
Listen carefully, right to the end of the question. Do not assume that the question is hostile.
Consider repeating, or paraphrasing the question. This tactic should not be over-used, but will help to buy thinking time, and clarify the precise information being sought. This is a particularly useful technique for defusing hostility. If the question is aggressive, respond by saying "So what you are really asking is..." and paraphrase the question in a non-threatening way before answering it.
Don't feel that you have to respond to every question. Instead, you might -
- Ask for clarification
- Refer the question to an expert in that topic
- Admit ignorance - but offer to find out
- Explain the commercial confidentiality of the potential answer
- Treat the question as a joke "Good try - You know we can't talk about that"
- Offer an answer about a related topic However, don't overdo any of these techniques - they should be used in emergencies only!
When asked to do a presentation, the first thing that many people do is to open their presentation software - usually Powerpoint™. As you know by now, there is a lot to do before you reach this stage. You may decide that you don't need to use software after all, which will certainly remove any worries about technology on the day.
However, there are good reasons for using software from time to time. If you need to show complex information, exhibit a product, or run some video, then software can be extremely useful. But beware - "Death by PowerPoint™" is something that we have all suffered. You need to think carefully about how software will enhance your presentation, not destroy it.
Consider the topic of your speech, and the message that you are trying to get across. Is it something that you can explain easily without the use of graphics? Do you need to show supporting evidence? Will slides full of data make the subject clearer, or more confusing?
If you are speaking at a conference, you may be asked to send your presentation in advance, so that it can be pre-loaded and printed for distribution to the delegates. It is a brave presenter who will respond by explaining that you won't be using slides, simply talking. If you are in this position, you can always send a couple of slides that can be used as a backdrop to your speech. Whatever you send, ask whether the handouts can be given to delegates after your speech. There is nothing worse than the rustle of paper every time you change slides, and the complete lack of surprise when you reveal something new or interesting, since the audience will already have read three slides ahead. It is most likely that you will want to use slides, and that you regard them as a necessary part of you presentation. That's fine. Let's look at ways that you can use them to make your presentation even more memorable.
There are no precise rules about the number of slides per minute that you should use. It depends on the amount of information on each, and how complex the information is. You need to decide what is both necessary and sufficient. Always review the number of slides, and try to reduce them to as few as possible.
Don't forget that your audience have come to listen to you speak, not to watch a slide show. It's also safe to make the assumption that they can read, so you don't need to read the slides out to them. You need to ensure that your audience is engaged at all times.
Make sure that you check your slides very carefully, and ask someone else to read through them too. If your audience spots a spelling or grammatical error, it will change their perception of you (and don't attempt to laugh it off by blaming someone in the office - you should have checked). Each slide should have only one message. Don't use effects, like having text flying in from all angles. It will distract your audience, and is of no use whatever.
While it may be true that a picture is worth ten thousand words, a slide with bad graphics can completely ruin your presentation.
If you use pictures, make sure that they are relevant (and that you have cleared the copyright). If you are using charts, make sure that they can be seen by the whole audience. Bar charts are preferable to line graphs, and large pie charts can work particularly well. Be aware that though colours will show up in your presentation, people may receive black and white photocopies of your notes - so use textures to distinguish data.
The larger the graphics, the better. If you need to explain the slide in detail, then it doesn't work. Any message should be evident within a few seconds. As with text, don't use animations, flashing or flying images. Simple and clear is the way. Finally, don't overwhelm your audience with graphical information, but alternate with text messages and blank slides. The variety will prevent eyes from glazing over.
How to Present like a Professional
If you have followed this course carefully so far (and you have, haven't you?), then you already have everything you need to become a good speaker. However, I'm sure that you would like to move on and become a great speaker.
In this, and the final step, we'll be looking at ways that the top speakers delight their audiences. In this step, let's look at some advanced speaking techniques.
The impression that you create is not just about words. It is also about the way in which you stand, move, and interact with your audience. I'm not suggesting that you should over-act, but you need to behave in a slightly different way from normal conversation.
For example, when you use gestures to make a point, or to indicate a feature on one of your slides, you should move your arm from the shoulder, not the elbow. If you use a flipchart, rehearse your moves first, so that you don't look clumsy. And if you are going to tear sheets off, pre-rip one inch on each of them to make your actions much easier.
Try to get closer to your audience. If you are speaking from a podium, or from behind a desk, walk round it occasionally to eliminate the physical barrier between you. Of course, if you are using a microphone, it needs to be a radio mike, or your voice will disappear when you step forward. Don't fold your arms when you are speaking. Maintain an open stance, and lean slightly forward. If you are standing, you will be more comfortable with one foot slightly in front of the other. By all means move around, but don't prowl around the stage like a tiger.
You are delivering a performance, so take some tips from actors. Rehearse your entrance and exit, so that you can appear and leave in a dignified manner. Remove any bulky objects from your pockets, and don't ever play with keys, coins, pens or anything else. If you can, place cue tape on the stage to remind you of the best places to stand.
Consider your appearance. Dress up, rather than down, so that you look at least as businesslike as your audience. If you are unsure, take advice from the meeting organiser - they will be happy to help. Always ask someone to check you over just before you go on stage - an untied shoelace or an unzipped zip can literally be your undoing. Stand tall and deliver!
Enjoy your performance, and include humour and interactivity where appropriate.
Notwithstanding the above, the most important thing is to be yourself, so if anything seems unnatural, don't do it!
You should know by now that an off-the-cuff speech takes a long time to prepare (as Mark Twain used to say). Nevertheless, you may be tempted to digress during your speech, particularly if you are feeling confident and the speech is going well. Unless you are very experienced as a speaker, you must resist this temptation. Once you divert from your prepared text, you could find yourself up a blind alley with no way back.
If you find yourself in the position of having to make a speech at a few minutes notice ("Could you say a few words at the end of the meal?"), then you must grab whatever time you can to prepare. Write some keywords down on anything to hand - a napkin, or the back of a menu. Don't apologise for your lack of preparation, but use your usual pauses, eye contact, and impressive closing line (that you wrote five minutes before).
So, never ad-lib for real. If you haven't planned where you are going, you'll end up nowhere.
If there is one thought that should drive everything you do as a speaker, it is to imagine your audience thinking "What's In It For Me?".
Every member of your audience should go away with a thought that will influence them. If you change the way they think, you are a good speaker. If you change the way they behave, you are a great speaker.
So what have we learnt so far?
Some extra resources which can help you further your presentation skills