Speak Up, Please: Great Practices for Public Speaking


Between my recent high praise of Nick Offerman‘s informative and engaging speech this past week, Joe Ginese’s spot-on assessment of the value of conference presentations, and a somewhat unfortunate case of a presentation I saw this morning from the Center for Academic and Professional Development, I have some guidelines on how to give a meaningful lecture or presentations.

I hesitate, however, to say “best” practices because that implies a definitive strategy. Public speaking, in my estimation, is not something that has a definitive strategy. These are practices that, if employed enthusiastically and with the support of the presenter, could turn something not so engaging into something that people can learn from.

So, without further ado…”Lessons in Engaging Me At Your Presentation”

Know Your Audience.
This morning’s lecturer spoke about working at Super Bowl Halftime Shows as part of the production team that employed the technology of projectors, LED screens, and stage setup. Awesome topic, with so much potential to be engaging. And the last 35% of the presentation was. But what was the first 65%? A clearly repurposed presentation originally designed to pitch the company’s services to potential buyers. And it showed.

Did I want to know what the company did overall? Yes. But was this the venue to try and sell us on the value of the company? No. We see the value of what he does, or we wouldn’t have come to the presentation.

So what is the lesson here? Know who you’re speaking to, and frame your information in such a way that they have the information they need. No more, no less, and appropriate for the setting that we’re in. This is particularly important for conference presentation proposals. Every now and again, a presentation might be fun to present, and could be applicable to more than one population. But if it doesn’t fit the demographic in question, or if you cannot alter it to fit that demographic, please don’t force it.

Break Free
Those of you reading a blog already have some understanding of the power of technology. It’s great. I love it. That said, we should develop an ability to operate without it. That is to say, have a plan B. In case your Power Point/Prezi doesn’t work, or translate properly, be able to convey your message in the absence of the pizzazz that might come with a screen. I understand that for today’s presenter, who is so professionally dependent on technology, that this could be a daunting concept. But I will say that some of the best presentations that I’ve been to have been the result of discussion and person to person interaction. So find a way for your topic, your presentation, your story, to speak beyond a screen.

A related point- if possible, find a way to break free from the confines of a podium or projector cart. Use a clicker. Auto-time your presentation. Even ask a friend or co-presenter to click for you! When you seem engaged in a topic, others can sense your excitement. And when you’re too excited to sit still, that says something! That said, please don’t Dane Cook it- no screaming or incessant pacing. That makes people nervous.

Let Your Content Speak
Sometimes this is difficult for drier material, or for less experienced public speakers. I see this a LOT in members of the college lecture circuit who are called upon because they have good life stories (Mark Zupan, the captain of the Paralympic Rugby Team and star of Murderball comes to mind), but struggle with conveying their story in the absence of an editing team or a ghostwriter to organize their thoughts. I know, in particular, that my presentation on contracts suffers from a severe lack of a unique or entertaining voice. But in most cases, instructions or explanations can be livened up with an anecdote or parable to drive the point home.

The presentation I saw this morning had a lot of technical discussion about how the individual pieces worked, the turmoil of putting it all together, and the process of designing and implementing the setup. But the best way to describe it came a few moments later, when the presenter showed a video that the member of the crew made. For all the explanation that was given about the frenzy of the process and the ultimate reward of seeing it come together, it could not have been better conveyed than through a two-minute movie of one participant’s experience.
Find a way to let your content speak- bring in a student to talk about the initiative, produce a movie, even tell a story. When the content speaks, people will listen.

Have Fun!
Yes, I realize that this tip doesn’t apply to all content. Some of the topics that we are called upon to speak about shouldn’t be entertaining, or won’t by nature be enjoyable. So what I mean here is, show engagement in the topic. Don’t speak as though you’re distant from it. Speak with authority and investment. When those listening recognize that you are invested in the content being presented, you will take on a sense of being authoritative and knowledgeable. Nobody wants to learn from someone who doesn’t care what they’re teaching.

To that end, I have a recommendation- again, far from a mandate. If there’s something that you could present on, but don’t feel qualified or personally moved to do so, don’t present or speak on it. Your lack of investment and enthusiasm will, except for the most skilled actors in our profession, shine through. Be invested in your topic, and others will feel invested too.

Any other tips on how to pull people in to your public speaking?

2 thoughts on “Speak Up, Please: Great Practices for Public Speaking

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