Working with TEDx presenters as a global executive coach has been challenging and rewarding, and it has taught me some vital truths about public speaking. While many people believe delivering a killer presentation will boost their career, giving an underprepared speech will not win an audience over.
If you have not practiced to the point where you are "over it," your ad hoc, unpolished presentation will be noticed by the audience. Even if you're typically a rock star speaker, if you think you can wing it, you are in serious trouble. I've seen presentations sink people's careers because they did not do the deep prep work upfront.
One reason speakers fail is because they don't connect to themselves to connect to their audience. You have to believe in yourself for the audience to trust you and believe you and your idea. The fulcrum moment is when someone goes from thinking "interesting idea" to "I want to do something about this idea." Being a subject matter expert is not enough to convert an audience. The activating ingredient is being you, which emotionally attracts the audience to "get you" and continue to listen.
Here's the secret: If you're not vulnerable, you are not fully believable.
Connecting With Your Audience
Your job is to persuade the audience (one to many) to consider, adopt, or take action on your idea. You can do this through storytelling, using data and personal vignettes to link to your idea.
Answering "Why is it meaningful for me, and why does it need to be meaningful for the audience?" helps to refine your idea and how you express it.
Here are three key steps I've discovered that fast-track all of my speaker coaching clients:
1. Just let go.
Let go of being right. Let go of being the expert. Let go of the perfect word or sentence. Instead, let people in to know you.
Although your favorite speakers follow this advice, your instinct will be to protect yourself by demonstrating expertise and competence and perfecting your message. But it's your imperfection that will connect with the audience.
Be yourself. Show your quirkiness. This will make your talk more memorable and relatable. Make what is unique and valuable about your idea visible by being you.
2. Make them feel you.
You have only one minute to hook the audience. You can shock and awe. You can create an emotional connection using humor, empathy, or a compelling experience. Whatever you do, make it relevant to the audience members so that they want to listen within just one minute.
I worked with one speaker -- a researcher creating robotic skin to sense touch -- who hooked the audience by discussing the importance of human touch and how robots will never replace it.
He cemented the audience's emotional connection to his talk, showing why it mattered to him and to the audience, by telling a story about Hank, his "American dad" when the speaker was an exchange student. Hank was a big hugger. The speaker never hugged in his family; it was not part of his country's culture. He confided to his audience, "I was smothered, and I loved how it made me feel. Warm, safe because Hank had a big tummy."
Sharing this experience of connecting in a way that people could relate to helped him draw the audience into his story organically.
3. Thread with three stories.
A talk can dazzle or dull an audience. Beware of adding in too much irrelevant information that distracts from your main point. Pick one topic and curate three stories that illuminate and prove your idea. Your speech will be more powerful if you pull your red thread through to the end.
Each story you tell must demonstrate the significance of your main idea. To ensure that the audience understands each point, why it matters, and how it relates to the bigger picture, you need that red thread to tie the stories together. While your three stories must relate to, align with, and support your main idea, the place where they finally come together is where you inspire your audience to take action at the end.
Giving a big presentation is an incredible but daunting opportunity. Don't take it lightly. Invest in focused speaker coaching. Practice in the car and shower. Record yourself, and listen to the recording while on your morning run. In other words, prepare obsessively so that when you speak your first words, your audience converts from listening to taking action.