OWNER'S MANUAL

9 Simple Things Great Speakers Always Do

If they want to make a real impact on the audience, that is.
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Some people like to learn from mistakes. Others prefer to learn by finding out what to do instead of what not to do.

Case in point: Last month, I shared 10 phrases great speakers never say. A number of people emailed saying, "Great, but what should I do?" So I went back to Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, serial entrepreneur and founder of TwitterCounter and The Next Web, for what you should always do during your presentations:

1. Reinforce who you are. At most conferences, you will be introduced, and that introduction should make the audience look forward to hearing your story.

But even though the audience might know something about you, it still makes sense to say a little bit extra about yourself. Don't overload everyone with information, but in one or two sentences explain how your background matters and makes you the perfect person to share what you're about to say.

Framing that makes it easier for people to digest what you are saying is too often overlooked.

2. Help everyone find you. A lot of presentations end with a slide that shows the speaker's name, URL, Twitter handle, and email address.

That slide is usually displayed for about three milliseconds before the projector is switched off. Before people in your audience even have time to reach for a pencil or laptop, your information is gone.

Provide your contact information on the opening screen, and keep it there for a while. (Some people display their name and email address in the footer of every slide, but you might feel that's overkill.) I generally start and close with my Twitter handle (@Boris) and invite people to contact me there.

Bonus tip: When you're in the audience and sense the end of a presentation coming, get your smart phone ready and take a quick snapshot of that last slide. You can write the information down later.

3. Share real stories. People love stories. The best presentations I've seen didn't feel like presentations at all--they were stories told by people with amazing experiences. When you want to explain something to an audience, see if you can translate it into a story, an anecdote, or even a joke. (If you need to convey data or information, tie it to a story.) If the story you tell is something that happened to you, that's even better. If the story is funny, even better!

4. Entertain as much as inform. An often forgotten point: Your job is to, at least in part, entertain the members of your audience. They're taking a break from something else. They've closed their laptops and are focusing on you. Why not reward them with something interesting or funny? Your entire talk doesn't need to be completely on topic. It's fine to start off with something that is beside the point as long as it's entertaining.

Never forget that people will listen more closely to what you have to say when they're having a good time.

5. Time it perfectly. When you're speaking, in effect you're borrowing your audience's time. It's investing in you--respect that investment and don't abuse that trust. If you're given 30 minutes, feel free to only use 25 minutes. Your primary goal is to entertain, inform, and make your audience's investment in time worthwhile. Your goal is not to use up every available minute.

I used to be very concerned with how much time I had for talks; my biggest fear was that I would run out of things to talk about. Now my only concern is giving a great presentation. If that means ending a 30-minute slot after 15 minutes, fine--you can always take more questions from your audience. The better your presentation, the more questions you will get.

And the more your audience will feel you respected its investment in you.

6. Provide something to take home. I always try to think of something specific I can deliver--in words, not in swag--that the members of the audience can apply as soon as they get back to work. I learned that from a speaker at one of our events who had a hugely inspiring story, but then interrupted himself and said something like: "But you can apply this very easily tomorrow by doing the following..."

A sigh of relief went through the room as people scrambled for their notebooks. Inspiration is cool and productive, but it really helps if you have something tangible to offer that your audience can apply right away.

7. Feel free to repeat. It's natural to assume everyone in the audience is paying attention to everything you say. In reality, people hear about 30 percent of what you say, and of that they're constantly translating it to fit their own perspectives or agendas. Plus, things you think are logical and even self-evident might not immediately make sense to everyone in your audience.

That's why it never hurts to repeat yourself a few times. If you want to explain a certain principle, first explain it. Then give two examples of your principle at work. Then, at the end of your talk, go over the different principles you covered and briefly highlight each one.

By then, you've explained your principle four times, and that might just be enough.

8. Help the audience remember at least one thing. It's very easy to overload the audience with information. You think, Wow, I have 30 minutes... I need to really fill that 30 minutes. But most people can't really absorb a lot of information, plus chances are you might be one of a number of speakers that day.

Think of it this way: If 10 percent of the people in the audience really listen to your story and remember one or two key points they can incorporate into their lives, you've done really well. Focus on providing something people can remember and that will have an impact on their lives. To do that, of course, means your story must be simple and clear.

And that's a good thing.

9. Really connect with your audience. No matter how big the crowd, your goal is to make everyone in the audience feel like you are speaking with him or her personally.

Aside from the content of your story, there are also a few simple tricks you can use. When I'm announced as the speaker, I stand and look at the audience, not just for a second but for as long as possible. I try hard to make eye contact with a number of individual audience members, looking as many of them in the eyes as I can and even smiling and waving at a few of them.

This works well for a couple of reasons. In a bigger room, the audience won't really see what or whom you are looking at. If you look at the middle person in a group of 50 people, they all get the impression you're looking at them individually. By slowly scanning the crowd and smiling at a few people, many will get the impression you're looking straight at them.

Plus it's a nice reminder--to you--that you may be speaking to a crowd, but in reality you're talking to individuals. Keep doing that during your talks as well; that not only helps you read the room but also keeps your connection alive.

Summing it up:

Be personal, speak from experience, feel free to entertain as much as inform, be practical, connect with the audience, and never forget that shorter is always better than too long.

Your main goal is to tell a story that will inspire your audience--and that it will share with other people.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Feb 3, 2014

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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