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How to give sparkling speeches and presentations
You know your speeches should be better, but how can you improve?
From: Kim Harrison
When you need to speak in public or give a presentation to strangers, do you feel your material could be better constructed? And do you believe you could present it more effectively?
The thought of this could be making you feel nervous for days beforehand. You’re in good company! Most people feel uncomfortable about standing up and speaking to an audience. (As I write this, I will be making a presentation at a conference in four days time, and I’m feeling nervous too! At least I know what to do to be confident on the day.)
Surveys show that public speaking is the greatest fear of many people! A survey by the Chicago Tribune newspaper found that many people are more afraid of public speaking than dying! You can’t get any more afraid than that. Fear of public speaking outranked people’s fear of heights, insects (think spiders), financial difficulties, deep water, illness and even death.Many speeches and presentations happen at key points in our lives. They are performances in front of important people to us, and we are judged on the way we perform. Just think about some of the times you have spoken to an audience:
You realize you need to do more
It’s not just your presentation skills that are under scrutiny; it’s also the content of what you are presenting. How do you structure a speech for most impact? What’s the right order for your key points? Do you get the feeling that people have missed your major message? Do you come away feeling disappointed with yourself?
And what happens afterwards? What are the repercussions of your speech? What do your peers really think of your effort? What do senior managers or maybe even directors think of you? What impression do customers form?
Does your speaking ability affect your career prospects? It sure does. Research shows that good speakers are considered more intelligent, better looking, and are better candidates for leadership. In view of this, how well do think your speeches and presentations reflect on you?
What’s more - we know being able to deliver a speech is important because it gives us a rare chance to directly connect with a target audience as a leader of thought, face-to-face. Those people have paid money or foregone other activities to attend your speech – a major investment between them all - so you owe it to them to give it your best shot.
But if you’re like most people, you know deep down that your performance could be improved even though others may give you a pat on the back regardless. They want to encourage you, not hurt your feelings by telling it to you straight – especially if you are more senior than they are!You know that speaking well will boost your career prospects. But how do you learn to do this?
Introductions count as well
And it’s not just a question of making a speech. How do you introduce a speaker with finesse? A good introduction is a vital lead-in to a good speech, but how do you do it? Most of us have to do it at some stage, but by fumbling, we miss an important opportunity for others to start their speech on a good note.
What if you write speeches for others?
Your job may oblige you to write speeches and presentations for others. Many PR people have to do this. But how can you craft a better speech that will definitely achieve results and earn you points with senior management? It is important for you to know the secrets of speechwriting because the words you write will reverberate on your own career.
Unfortunately, most people who write speeches write them to be read rather than spoken. This happens through force of habit and through the sad fact that they don’t know any better. They get away with this journalistic approach because copies of their speech are made available in written form. Those speeches look fine as text, but they’re not when delivered as speeches.
I know this because I’ve seen it for myself as corporate affairs manager of a company. One of my staff, a journalist, used to write speeches for the CEO because the journo could write well and that was the way it had always been done.
But I saw what happened with his journalist’s words – they were written as a script. Trouble was, the chief was a terrible reader. He was awful! An engineer, he had reached the top through being smart, not from being a good speaker. He stumbled and fumbled his way through speeches. Standing watching him, we used to squirm with embarrassment. I had to bring in a consultant to show the chief how to prepare his own speech notes and deliver speeches from his notes. (He wouldn’t listen to us.) It made the world of difference. He started presenting like a leader!
Journalistic writing doesn’t work in speeches. Parroting someone else’s words is terribly disappointing. Both you and the speaker will feel your material hasn’t worked well enough. That’s when you should start to sweat.
What then can be done to beef up your speechwriting?
And why is it important for you to solve this problem? It’s important because effective speechwriting brings you closer to the executive circle – either in your own organization if you are on staff, or in your client organization if you are a consultant. You deal with the top executives who front up to audiences. If you impress them with your grasp of good speechmaking, they will be impressed with you. This skill will help your career because you are making them look good.
What makes a good speech?
No silver bullet will magically improve your speeches. But if you learn the key ingredients of good speech making, and if you practice with your new knowledge, you can become a much better speaker quite quickly.
I’ve heard a lot of speeches
I’ve heard many speeches and presentations during my career. Like you, I’ve sat through many presentations at work. Most of them have been rather ordinary – even when the stakes were high.
I’ve watched senior executives presenting at conferences and government ministers speaking in a variety of settings. Their efforts gave constant reminders of what works and what doesn’t.
As a PR professional, I’ve written and delivered dozens of speeches in many settings over 25 years. The most recent were only two months ago for the Governor of my State and my CEO. I know what it’s like to be at the coalface.
For the past five years I’ve been responsible for organizing the professional development program for the local PR institute. In this role I arrange more than a dozen speakers a year to talk on a range of topics. Out of 50 I’ve observed, only about 5 have made an impact. The rest talked without leaving much of a ripple.
I’ve researched the management literature for the secrets of effective speeches and presentations. I subscribe to 43 online newsletters from the Harvard Business School, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania; McKinsey & Co; the Boston Consulting Group; Booz Allen Hamilton and many others – and I keep a look out for any tips on good speech making.
At my own expense, I’ve attended the famous Dale Carnegie course in effective speaking and have read Carnegie’s wonderful book, The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking, even if it is a bit old-fashioned. But the principles remain topical – human nature stays constant over time!
I have lectured in public relations for six years at a university.
I’ve received sales training from a top business coach and I’ve accompanied sales professionals to their client meetings. I’ve done my own selling pitches to potential clients and I’ve helped some of my clients prepare their selling pitches to possible sponsors. My experience of selling pitches covers the full range from the national to the small.
Through all of this I’ve learnt what makes a good speaker.
And I know what lets a speaker down.
This presentation cost them $6 million!
Even high-powered executives can lose their way. The executives from the respected investment bank made their PowerPoint presentation to the executive committee of the power utility. I was there. I was a member of the committee they were pitching to, and saw the bankers’ presentation for myself. They were trying to make the case for selling one of our power stations, worth $600 million, to a private owner.
The bank’s fee would be 1 percent, or $6 million for the sale. A lot was at stake for them…but they blew it! Their presentation was so detailed, so thorough and so long – 1½ hours – that the discussion strayed off the main issues. They got bogged down in side issues and it all became too hard for the committee members.
There was almost no difference between the long-run cost of operating the power station or selling it and buying the power back at market prices to feed into the state’s electricity system. The bankers’ presentation could have swayed the committee to sell, but instead it turned them off. The bankers left the meeting and will probably never realise their presentation cost them $6 million. I was there and I saw it for myself - $6 million down the drain in one meeting!
Learn how you can swing an audience your way
I know what makes a good speech. I’ve learnt it the hard way by trial and error and have done my best to learn from people who know.
As a result of all this accumulated knowledge, I’ve brought together cutting-edge information on making effective speeches and presentations in this e-book, Deliver high-performance speeches and presentations. I give you the techniques you can tailor to suit your unique needs.
A wealth of practical tips and guidelines
But don't just listen to me!
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If you are not fully satisfied with this e-book for any reason, just request your money back at any time within 12 months of purchase and I will return your purchase price in full - no questions asked. Well... actually I would very politely enquire why, to help improve the future content.
Why would I take such a risk and possibly let people take advantage of me?
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When you give a presentation or speech, you are acting as a leader. These bonuses help you to further develop your role as a leader – especially when there is no formal leader:
Free paper on how to lead when you aren’t the formal leader of a group.
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“I want to say a big thank you for introducing me to your newsletter and your services – the level of content and resources is tremendous and I have immediately bookmarked your website as a professional resource.”
PS. The knowledge you gain in this e-book should help your promotion prospects as senior management come to respect the extra value you bring to your job.
PPS. Other great e-books are also available here. Just click here to find out the range of other topics in this Cutting Edge PR series.