Great speaking is always about connecting with an audience, not delivering information. Here's how to elevate your performance to the level of great speakers!
Do you think your job is to deliver information when you give a speech or presentation? Too many speakers proceed along those lines, though the truth is quite different.
Avoid the classic mistake of focusing on your content rather than your audience. Discover how to speak with impact and move listeners to action! Download my free cheat sheet, "4 Characteristics of an Influential Speaker."
Rather than making your content the center of your speaking focus, your task consists of something else entirely: it’s to influence your listeners.
That may mean informing them, persuading them, activating them, inspiring them, reassuring them, or any of dozens of other purposes. Always, however, it’s the human connection that matters. — What are you trying to do to meet listeners’ needs or improve their lives?
You use content to accomplish that purpose, but you use an infinitely more important speaking tool: yourself. For if content could live on its own, why would you need to be speaking at all? It’s your job to give more—much more—than your content can.
And that comes down to your speaking performance.
A Successful Marriage of Audience and Speaker
Here’s a metaphor that can bring this into focus: Many speakers are married to their content instead of their true love, the audience. Some speakers are so enamored of their content that we could call it a crime of passion!
After all, these speakers have lovingly prepared and cherished their notes, manuscripts, charts and graphs, and PowerPoint—why would they want to jilt such constant companions for people they might not even know well? But to be in love with your information instead of your listeners is to ruin the marriage of content and influence that makes any presentation a success.
If you do need to read from prepared material, go here to find out how to speak from notes or a manuscript in public speaking.
What Audiences Want from a Presentation
Look at it this way: like many hopeless lovers, speakers can be too easily dazzled by the obvious and the pretty, i.e., the selling points and bullet points that they’ve tenderly selected for their presentation. “But this is a labor of love,” we can almost hear them proclaiming. — “This sales pitch is exactly the way I want it to sound!”
But audiences don’t want a precise rendition of the content you’ve formulated in advance. What they’re interested in is a meaningful relationship with the speaker; and ideally, a productive outcome from the transaction.
A speaker who simply regurgitates information when faced with this need is just an embarrassment. Our job is to move listeners when we speak, not subject them to us reading information to them. Yes, content is part of the equation. But rapport and an emotional connection are far more vital. And neither of those outcomes can be supplied by PowerPoint slides.
It's About Your Relationship with Your Audience
The distinction is critically important if you speak in public. Rather than the calculated delivery of material wholly conceived beforehand, a speech or presentation is a shared experience. It’s an example of community—a journey in which you and your audience go someplace interesting together. If you or your team want to really get on the wavelength of your audience, discover why you should be using an audience analysis tool like the one I discuss in this article.
You need to prepare for that journey by thinking about your relationship with the people who will accompany you. What are their needs, and how can you meet them? What words, stories, metaphors and comparisons will resonate with them? What is their world like, and how can you enter it not only by the things you say, but how you say them?
When you spend all of your time polishing the recital of information you’ve decided beforehand is important to these listeners, you’re leaving your relationship with them completely up to chance. This can result in an ineffectual presentation; but it may also add up to a recipe for disaster.
In other words, after a certain point, you must forget about gathering and shaping content. It has now become time to rehearse your performance.
How to Become a More Exciting Speaker
Here’s a simple formula to use: Instead of spending 100 percent of your time gathering content and 0 percent time (or close to that) practicing, make the ratio closer to this:
40% creating content, and 60% practicing
Does this sound radical to you? If it does, remember this: You’re already strong on your content. It’s why you were chosen to speak; and it’s the area you spend every day studying and working in. The truth is, you already have content coming out of your ears!
What you may be lacking if you’re a typical speaker in business and the professions is a maximum level of comfort on your feet relating to an audience. In fact, to be a truly excellent speaker, you should display a knack for conversing with audiences as if that were the most natural thing in the world. Here are 5 key vocal tools you should be using to reach this level of ease and proficiency.
So strengthen the area where you’re probably weakest. Your strengths won’t disappear in the process. Spend quality practice time—and a quantity of it as well—learning to be comfortable with audiences.
Practice the art of standing and moving naturally on a stage or performance space. Try out gestures, getting a feel for the ones that feel right and unforced, and that stay close to your body. Improve your eye contact.
Learn to tell stories and illustrations that will give your concepts a human dimension. Some of those stories will come to you on the spur of the moment as you’re speaking. Trust and use them! Develop your ear so that your formal speaking voice is the same as the casual and relaxed one you use with friends.
The more comfortable you become talking to people, the more you’ll feel like yourself. And then you’ll say the things you’re passionate about most convincingly. The end result will be that you’ll love your audiences more than your content.
Guess how your audiences will respond.
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