What distinguishes “good” from amazing when it comes to giving a presentation?
Good means that you presented a credible handling of your topic. Some of your audience members learned something new from what you said, and some moved to accept your point of view. On top of that, you didn’t embarrass yourself.
Moving from good to amazing means that all of your audience members were enlightened from your remarks and fascinated at your topic. All were ignited to embrace your point of view; in fact, they kept coming up to you afterwards to offer their help and support. You were the hero or heroine of the night, a star.
Here are six ways to ace your next presentation and achieve the status of “amazing.”
Step One: Grab the audience’s attention from the first sentence.
Start with something so captivating that every eye turns to you, every ear opens to you, and every mind wonders what you are going to say next. There is something fascinating about every topic, and if you can determine what it is and then present it in a way that people haven’t considered it before, you ace your talk right from the start.
A great example is Pamela Meyer’s speech “How to Spot a Liar.” Wouldn’t you pay attention if you heard her opening remarks which went like this?
“Okay, now I don’t want to alarm anybody in this room, but it’s just come to my attention that the person to your right is a liar. (Note how she takes the time to let the audience laugh.) Also, the person to your left is a liar. Also the person sitting in your very seat is a liar. We’re all liars.
“What I’m going to do today is I’m going to show you what the research says about why we’re all liars, how you can become a lie-spotter and why you might want to go the extra mile and go from lie-spotting to truth-seeking, and ultimately to trust-building.”
Step Two: Speak slowly with a well-modulated tone
Sooner or later we all sit in on the speaker who really wanted to be an auctioneer or has somewhere else they really want to get to as fast as possible. People who speak too fast usually do it because of nerves. They hate giving presentations and unconsciously, they speak faster and faster, just wanting to get it all over with. They figure that if they can say it that fast, you can absorb it that fast.
You can’t. Nobody will grasp the full impact of your message if you move over them like a dictionary on steroids, tumbling one word after the other in rapid succession.
Even John Moschitta Jr., nicknamed the fastest speaker in the world, slows down when he gives interviews.
Unless you are like him and speaking fast is your trademark or gimmick of your act, slow down and give people time to digest your words.
Step Three: Get comfortable with yourself
Giving presentations does not require new clothes. You might not want to wear your gym clothes, but getting a new hairdo or donning a style of clothing that you don’t normally wear is a recipe for disaster.
Wear an outfit that is tried and true. It should look appropriate for the occasion, but should be comfortable. This is not the time to wear fussy clothing or any style that will make you feel self-conscious.
When you are not comfortable in your skin or your clothes, your audience can see it and it makes them feel uneasy as well. It detracts from what you are saying.
To illustrate how uncomfortable it is to watch a nervous speaker, watch this video which is simply entitled “Bad public speaking, example 1.”
Step Four: Use a lectern if you need to for security
While the best examples of public speaking often show speakers wandering energetically all over the stage that is not everyone’s comfort zone.
If you feel much more comfortable using a lectern or podium, just go ahead and use it.
But use it effectively, arranging your speech notes with the typing across the top half of each page so you can easily raise your eyes to look directly at your audience.
Use it to train yourself to let go of it someday by realising you do not have to be glued to a spot behind it. You can move a little from one side to the other just to start the process of being able to move all across the stage.
Take time to watch Tom J. Dolan’s great video called “Speakers, Lecterns and Podiums” for some excellent examples of how to use a lectern or podium effectively.
And if you’re delivering a presentation online, practice beforehand to get comfortable using a webcam. Have a pen or something in your hand if you feel more comfortable holding something. And think about how you’re going to sit in your chair as well – some presenters prefer to lean forward into the webcam, others may prefer to stand to help feel more confident and to have a bit more movement in their body.
Step Five: Use great graphics to illustrate your presentation
If you want to ace your presentation every time, you can’t go wrong if you ensure that every time you start a presentation you offer your audience amazing graphics.
Some people absorb messages by listening to words, while others feel the impact more if they can see great visual messages.
Great graphics can empower even the most basic PowerPoint, but if you really want to shine, go all the way and create an amazing video graphic that brilliantly enhances every point you make and draws your audience into your story.
A great example of effective graphics is Carl Sagan’s best speech about humanity. Note how the eloquence of his words is magnified with the effective imagery of his accompanying graphic.
Step Six: Embrace simplicity
Speakers who moved from good to amazing often have one presentation element in common: they take a simple approach to getting their key message across to their audience.
When what you have to say is important, you don’t have to overdress it with contrivances. Sometimes a direct and eloquent approach is best.
For example, one of the greatest and most remembered presentations in world history was the address by Britain’s King George VI as he advised his people that the country had entered a world war for the second time in 1939.
The King, whose struggle to master his stutter was brought to life in the 2010 movie The King’s Speech, never had any expectations that he would be an amazing orator. He only wanted to be credible, not to embarrass himself. But the heartfelt eloquence of his words, the empathy he showed for his subjects, and the gravity of the situation shone through every sentence as he opened his remarks.
He is simple and direct as he opens his remarks with these words:
“In this grave hour, perhaps the most fateful in history, I send to every household of my peoples, both at home and overseas, this message, spoken with the same depth of feeling for each one of you as if I were able to cross your threshold and speak to you myself. For the second time in the lives of most of us, we are at war.”
You can see the entire historical speech here:
His audience knows immediately how serious the situation is when he describes the moment simply as “perhaps the most fateful in history.” Note how he reaches out to pull each listener closer to him personally as he uses the words “we” and “you.” It is a speech to unify his subjects against a common foe, and the simplicity of his approach is amazingly effective.
For further presentation tips, download the free guide 20 Habits of Truly Brilliant Presenters.