Beyond Public Speaking 101

It happens to all of us sooner or later. You have been selected to give a speech to the board, a conference or even all your employees. Most managers know the basics of public speaking: don’t jingle coins in your pocket, make eye contact, have a great opening, don’t read your notes…..etc. But what if you need to make an important speech where you need to go beyond Public Speaking 101? The following are some ways to present your material in a professional manner. Rather than simply reading your PowerPoint notes, try some of these ideas:

  • Check the room out ahead of time. Even if you are speaking in your company conference room, arrive a few minutes early to make sure everything is in order. Do you have a fresh glass of water? Did a previous group leave a candy wrapper on the floor? This is the time to check your microphone to avoid the amateur act of blowing and tapping the mic and saying “Is this on?”
  • Have a dynamic opening. Yes, I know, in Speech 101 you were taught to open with a joke or talk about the weather. Why not open with a dramatic statement that gets everyone focused on your presentation? How about starting with, “Last week my neighbor called our reservation desk…. The group will immediately be wondering about the type of service your neighbor received. The dynamic opening conveys you have important material to present.
  • Vary the length of your sentences. Instead of rambling on about the need to implement new ways of doing business, simply state, “These changes start today.” Then pause so the words have time to sink in. Look at the success of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign. People around the world recognize those three words.
  • While talking about short sentences, remember to keep the speech as short as possible. Yes, you have deep words of wisdom to share, but most people have 8-10 minute attention spans. Plan to add an additional point of interest every 8-10 minutes of your presentation. Use a prop, tell a story, or give the group a subject to discuss for 2-3 minutes. If I get to a point in my speech where I see the audience needs a change of pace, I ask, “Who has been in the hospitality industry for over 20 years?” A few people raise their hands so I invite 3 of them to come on stage with me. As they arrive, I hang large signs around their neck saying, “Wise One”. This always gets a laugh and I tell the audience they are fortunate to have over 60 years of experience in front of them. Each of the Wise Ones shares a few thoughts on what the hospitality industry was like 20 years ago. Then I ask them for insight on a point I made in my speech such as, “We were talking about motivating staff. What do you do to motivate staff?” This activity provides useful information yet also breaks up the monotony of one person talking continuously.
  • Use humor appropriately. If you’ve never told a joke before a group, this is not the time to start. Some people are naturally funny. Some people are not funny. It’s as simple as that. You don’t have to do a stand-up comedy routine to be a successful speaker. Telling a light-hearted story that pertains to your speech has just as much impact as a string of one-liners.
  • Planning to close your speech with a question and answer session? That’s fine as long as you have a closing anecdote or statement after the last question. So often speakers answer questions and then say, “Well, if there are no more questions, I guess I’m done.” That is weak!! (Notice the short sentence.) Instead, close by saying, “Thank you for your questions. I’ll close this afternoon by telling you what one of our employees told me over lunch last week….” That way there is a definite conclusion to your presentation rather a feeble, “Thank you”.
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