Think back to the last time you were mesmerized by a magnificent public speaker.
What went through your mind? Did you think, "Wow, I wish I could give presentations like that. I'd love to be able to get my message across effectively to my [team/employees/potential investors]."
But here's the thing: Great speakers aren't born. They're made.
Like any other skill, becoming a good speaker involves learning fundamentals and proper technique, along with consistent practice.
Years ago, my work included coaching executives to become better speakers. I became a fan of using certain TED talks to illustrate what good speaking looks like, and how to develop the skills of presenting.
For example, Julian Treasure, founder and chairman of the Sound Agency, a U.K.-based consultancy that helps clients refine their brand, gives a gem of a TED talk on (what else?) communication. His theme: How to Speak So That People Want to Listen.
I've covered this talk in my column before, but now I'd like to analyze it specifically from the perspective of how it can help you be a better public speaker.
Here are 10 points you can learn and imitate:
1. Grab their attention.
Treasure catches our attention with a combination of methods. He uses a few interesting statements, followed by a question to make us think:
The human voice: It's the instrument we all play. It's the most powerful sound in the world, probably. It's the only one that can start a war or say "I love you." And yet many people have the experience that when they speak, people don't listen to them. And why is that? How can we speak powerfully to make change in the world?
The "interesting statement" and question methods are just two ways to get your audience's attention. (You can read about the others here.)
2. Use gestures.
By using his hands, shoulders, and facial expressions, Treasure animates his speech. He uses a combination of emphatic gestures, which express feeling and conviction. (You can find examples of these throughout the talk; a good one is at the 3:54 mark--notice how he uses his hands together with his facial expression to emphasize his point and add life to his speech.)
But you should also use descriptive gestures to help express action, or to show dimension and location. For example, if you're describing something as very large or very small, show that with your hands.
One trick for learning how to use descriptive gestures is to imagine you're speaking to someone who doesn't speak your language well. Use your hands as you're speaking, to help fill in the gaps.
3. Be passionate.
Passion and enthusiasm come in many different shapes and forms, and our personality will determine what they look like coming from us. Treasure isn't "in your face" (he's British, after all), but his passion is evident throughout his presentation.
Passion simply means that you show you're interested in the subject you're presenting, in a natural and authentic way.
Because if you're not passionate about your topic, your audience certainly won't be.
4. Ask good questions.
When you make statements, your audience is passive. Asking questions makes them active, getting them involved mentally.
I mentioned how Treasure does this in the introduction, but you can see more examples throughout the talk (for example, at the 2:35 mark).
By asking a question, the audience members stay with him more easily than if he were to just tell them something.
But questions also require the speaker to ...
5. Know when to pause.
One of the biggest mistakes I see speakers make: They don't pause.
Since they can't stand the attention to begin with, they rush through as quickly as possible.
But pausing effectively helps you stay in control. You can use it to emphasize your main points. You can even use it for dramatic effect, like Treasure does beginning at the 6:20 mark.
Pausing makes your presentation easier for the audience to follow, it helps your main points to stand out, and it makes you more enjoyable to listen to.
6. No death by PowerPoint.
You'll notice that Treasure uses slides effectively: no long, drawn-out reading of text. His are minimal, and used primarily to emphasize key words.
When creating your slides, think: big font, limited text. Slides should be a prompt to guide you--and the audience--through your presentation, but the focus should always be on you.
Because words on a slide are dead.
But you have the power to bring words to life.
7. Sense stress.
Sensing stress involves learning to emphasize the right words, so ideas are easier to understand.
For example, check out 1:47 in the video:
"Excuses. We've all met this guy. Maybe we've all been this guy."
By emphasizing the words met and been, Treasure makes the point that excuses are very common--so common that not only do we see them every day, but we probably make the mistake of using them ourselves.
Learn to emphasize the right words, and you have a powerful tool at your disposal.
8. Cite examples.
The worst teachers make the simple complicated. But the best teachers make the complicated simple.
How can you be one of the best?
You may have noticed that in his presentation, Treasure doesn't speak in theoretical terms--he provides examples for just about every point he makes.
When you speak about an idea or process to your audience, you know exactly what you're talking about. But the audience doesn't. Concepts can be very abstract without concrete examples to illustrate them.
Some of the best advice I ever received was this: Whenever you're teaching, make sure a 6-year-old can understand you.
9. Use your conclusion to motivate.
The conclusion has the potential to influence the effectiveness of the rest of your presentation. Check out Treasure's conclusion, which begins at the 8:58 mark.
Treasure works hard to bring the entire talk together for us. In less than 60 seconds, he:
- Asks us questions to make us think
- Shows us where we are, and where we need to be (he gives us a goal)
- He moves us to see the bigger picture, and how we can play a role in it
- He inspires us to make a change
Motivated? I know I am.
If you want your audience to do something, give them a call to action. But don't just tell them what to do.
Show them why they should do it.
10. Be yourself.
The great thing about presenting is that you don't have to have a specific style to be successful.
Treasure is an excellent speaker. But take a look at the other most viewed talks on TED, and you'll see a variety of styles.
"But how can I be myself in front of a crowd when I get so nervous," you ask.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the key to being natural ... is to practice.
That's because when we speak in front of a crowd, we lose our words and we tend to become someone else. But if you've practiced enough to build your confidence, it's easier to show the real you.
So, work on incorporating these skills and principles into your speaking toolbox. But remember to be yourself.
Because if you can do that, we'll be listening.