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Communication secrets of professional public speakers

|Mar 13|magazine12 min read

Successful leadership and strong communication go hand in hand, you cannot have one without the other. The most successful business leaders of our time are also some of the most accomplished public speakers – that is no coincidence. Being able to convey your message clearly, concisely and in a way that motivates it a skill that needs honing like any other. Public speaking doesn’t come naturally to everyone, even some of the world’s leading speakers have had to work hard to achieve and prefect their speaking prowess.

So what do world-class communicators do differently when it comes to public speaking?

1.     Keep your message simple and concise

Remember this; nobody ever complains that a speech was too short. The best communicators keep their message brief, concise and on topic. They don’t try and address too many issues or even make too many points, but rather focus on sharing one critical idea clearly and simply. When preparing for your speech or presentation, ask yourself the following questions: What is the main point I want to communicate? How do I want people to feel when they leave this meeting? What is the one element I would like people to remember when the presentation is finished? Focus on those points and shed the excess baggage – you will deliver a much clearer message.

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2.     Connect with your audience

Story telling is one of the oldest forms of communication and has been uniting people for generations. Stories will engage your audience allowing you to connect with them on a far more personal level. When you tell someone a story, research suggests they are also more likely to get on board with your idea or agree with your point of view.

Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg has recently ignited a movement with her ‘Lean In’ campaign, encouraging women to go forth and conquer in the work environment. And the way she achieved this? Through story telling. Her leadership book, Lean In is packed with personal stories and encounters, and so too are her speeches. During one of her first presentations, she swapped cold hard facts for three personal anecdotes and inspired a crusade.  

3.     Show your passion for the topic

You cannot inspire others unless you inspire yourself and with that in mind, you need to have passion for the topic you are speaking about. You will stand a greater chance of engaging, inspiring and motivating your audience if you express a genuine connection to your subject matter. When you are preparing your presentation, think about what motivates you, what inspires you and what made you fall in love with your topic in the first place. You passion will shine through and that’s contagious.  

4.     Don’t rely on slides or presentations

Presentation slides can be useful but only if they have an actual purpose. Use them to show relevant imagery, graphs, charts or perhaps significant quotations. Don’t, what every you do, write your speech down sentence by sentence onto slides and present simply by scrolling from beginning to end. Presentation slides should add to the speech you are giving, not hamper its delivery or dilute its message. Instead, plan what it is you want to say and use visual cues to help explain what it is your want to communicate. What’s more, your delivery will be a lot more fluid if you are speaking from memory.

5.     Stick to the 18 minute rule

TED Talks have revolutionized public speaking, giving the world’s top minds a platform to convey their message. TED talks have become the gold standard in public speaking, with more than two million people voluntarily listening to the presentations online every day. One of the things that makes TED talks so popular is their time frame – a strict 18 minutes – according to Carmine Gallo, writing for Forbes, “the ideal length of time to get your point across”. TED curator Chris Anderson provided an explanation for the 18 minute rule saying, “Its long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention.”

6.     Practice, practice and practice some more

Practice makes perfect when it comes to giving a public address or presentation. Some of the greatest speakers of our time have admitted to relentlessly practicing speeches often up to 200 times so their key messages, the form and the structure are internalized. That way, when it comes to presenting for real, you know your speech inside out, you can deliver it without prompts and project it fluidly, as though speaking to a close friend or colleague.