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8 Steps to Make a Great Speech

Conventions got speechmaking top of mind? You, too, can deliver an impressive presentation--at or above an eighth-grade level.

After spending years as a Toastmaster speakers' club member and speaking to a wide range of audiences, I enjoy coming up with topics that will appeal to a group, developing the flow of talks, and interacting with audiences. I was recently asked to give a presentation to a group of product managers about how to give a great presentation--and both the Republican and Democratic conventions have the art of speechmaking on my mind--so I developed a plan that could help anyone.

Here are eight basic tips every presenter should use:

1. Admit You Have a Problem

Isn't this always the first step? Even the best presenter will tell you that he has room for improvement. You may know your content, and you may speak smoothly and with poise, but there is a huge difference between speaking and presenting information in a way that truly gets your point across. Will your audience members walk away changed based on what you tell them?

2. Develop a Great Opening 

You need to grab your audience's attention at the very beginning. Start your speech by talking about something interesting: Give a staggering statistic, ask a question, make a declaration, or use a quote to draw people in. Avoid the common mistake of going straight into your presentation without a hook.

3.  Organize Your Presentation

Just as you were taught in your second-grade English class, your presentation should have an obvious opening, a body, and a close. If your presentation has two points, use three examples or illustrations to support each of those points. Three points, use two examples or illustrations. If you plan to present more than five points, you need to provide a leave-behind. The human brain remembers only five things, plus or minus two.

4. Take Care of Yourself

It seems simple, but you want to be at the top of your game. Make sure you get plenty of sleep the night before your presentation and that you eat a good meal. Always have water available during your presentation, but make sure it is room temperature. Cold water constricts your vocal cords and will change the pitch and fluidity of your voice.

5. Own the Room

If possible, show up at the presentation space early. This way, you'll be in place to welcome your audience. Just as if you invited others into your home, you're the host, and immediately own the room. Take a two- to three-second pause before you start your presentation to focus all the attention on you and truly be in charge.

6. Connect With Your Audience

You need to establish early on why your audience should listen to what you have to say. In a business setting, highlight your background and expertise. If your intent is to motivate or influence an audience, vulnerability is a powerful way to make a connection. Use a personal story that reveals something about you or your experience to create a connection.

7.  Remember, 'Content Is King'

After establishing a connection, good content is the most important part of your presentation. Make your presentation about your audience, not you. Your audience members are interested to hear about information that impacts them directly. They want to learn something new--perhaps something that can improve lives--or how to do something better than they know how to do it.

Use as few words as possible to convey your message. Think of each word as having an associated cost, and strive to spend as little of your currency as possible to get your point across.

8. Ask for Honest Feedback

Don't take "nice job!"or "good information" to mean that your audience understood what you tried to say. Ask for honest feedback from trusted members of your audience, or offer a feedback form that can be completed anonymously. Don't mistake an "attaboy" for true success.

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