Top ten tips for incredibly successful public speaking

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Thought Leadership  |  Public Speaking  |  Best Practices

I've been to something like one hundred conferences and corporate events in the past several years as I travel the world delivering keynotes and running seminars. I've seen a few great speeches. Sadly, most speeches I see are not very good. Some are downright terrible.

I've been collecting some observations on what makes a good presentation and also drawing from my own experience.

Most of us have an opportunity to speak, perhaps at your industry event, or your company's sales conference, or to a local club.

Make the most of your opportunity.

1. Take it seriously. If 200 people are in a room and you speak for a half hour, you are taking up 100 hours of people’s time. I see many speakers "wing it" and it makes me feel sorry for the audience. Don't look bad.

2. Know the conference organizer's goals. When I speak, I work with organizers to deliver three goals in equal proportion: Education, entertainment, and motivation. Since I am a paid speaker, I must deliver on all three so the conference organizer is happy they invited me. You need to know the goals for being on the podium too. Why were you invited? How would the organizer define success?

3. Tell stories. When someone says: "Let me tell you a story...," you're interested, right? When someone says: "Let me tell you about my company...," is your reaction the same? It doesn't sound like a way you want to spend your valuable time, does it? Stories are exciting. Most presentations are dry. Open with a story. Tell stories to illustrate your point. It's fascinating to see an audience sit up and pay attention when you start to tell a story on the stage.

4. Nobody cares about your products (except you). Yes, it's just like what I say about Web marketing. What people do care about are themselves and ways to solve their problems. A speech is not about you; it is about your audience. You must resist the urge to hype your products and services. Even if you’re asked to speak about your company or your products, make it about your customers or the problem you solve instead.

5. Prepare and practice. Run through your presentation as many times as required so that you are completely comfortable with the material. You should know the presentation so well that you could do it without PowerPoint and without notes.

6. Don't use PowerPoint as a TelePrompTer. Slides are great for showing images, charts, and the like. Consider showing a short video. But definitely don't use slides to show bulleted lists of text. Yawn! Way too many people just read off their slides. Don't! PowerPoint is not a speaker's crutch; it is a way to illustrate your spoken point. By the way, some of the best speakers don't use slides at all.

7. Arrive early. There is nothing worse than a presenter fumbling with technology on a stage. Everyone becomes uncomfortable and it is nearly impossible to make up that bad first impression. You should plan to arrive at the venue with plenty of time to spare and go to the room at least one hour prior to when you go on. You may need to arrive much earlier if there are sessions before yours because you will want to set up and test your equipment and stand on the stage to get a feel of the room. Use the microphone to hear your voice. Get as comfortable as possible with the venue before people arrive (or when they are on a break). The conference organizer and the A/V people will love you for arriving early! And when you are comfortable with logistics, you will deliver a better speech.

8. Bring an electronic copy of your presentation. I always carry my presentation on a memory stick and wear it around my neck from the moment I step out of my house until after I have presented. I wear it on the plane and in the hotel. I wear it out to dinner. You never know what may happen to your computer (I spilled water on my computer in Brussels once and fried it), so having that backup is comforting.

9. Don't go long. When you build a speech and deliver it for the first time, it almost always runs long. Don't go over time! It's okay to end short because you can take a few questions, but running long makes the entire event schedule get out of whack. Worse, they may pull you off the stage, which looks awful.

10. Be aware of body language. My friend Nick Morgan, author of Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma says: "When words and body language are in conflict, body language wins every time." If you are nervous, it shows. If you don't believe what you're saying, it shows. If you aren't having fun, it shows. And your audience will always react to your body language instead of your words.

Photo of me presenting in Istanbul, Turkey on February 25, 2009 courtesy MediaCat.