“Being a great public speaker isn’t a talent that you are born with, that you have or you don’t,” said Ann Searight Christiano, Director of the Center for Public Interest Communications of the University of Florida, when she began her speech to students at the University of Mississippi. “I am here to tell you, as arguably one of the world’s worst public speakers: anyone has the ability to apply a set of principles and practice, and get to a place where you are a strong presenter and you can actually enjoy it.”
Here are a few tips Christiano uses when writing her own speeches and presentations in order to engage her audience.
Know your purpose and your audience
Know who you are addressing when you are making a speech. You will not address a class of students the same way you would address experts at a conference. Be unexpected rather than expected. You have to have something of value to offer your listeners. Keep in the back of your mind: “What do I want my audience to do after hearing my speech?” Are you trying to inspire? Deliver a call to action? Teach?
“You also want to follow the golden rule, which is to never deliver a presentation you wouldn’t want to sit through. If you find yourself bored with your content, imagine how your listeners are feeling,” Christiano advises.
Knowing your audience also means knowing which terms need to be explained when to use definitions. Do not assume people know when using jargon: talk in definitions. While using acronyms may seem convenient in some cases, you might be at risk of losing your audience if people cannot remember the definition of an acronym you previously explained. Be as clear and straightforward as possible when explaining a notion, for abstraction is dangerous: people tend to insert their own bias, their own interpretation of the notion if you did not define it consistently enough.
“Another thing that you really want to watch out for is using metaphors that are associated with a particular culture or a particular demographic, because those may leave people out, people who aren’t familiar with that culture or that demographic. Sports metaphors, in particular, are a real danger area for that,” Christiano adds.
Tell a story
We are all natural storytellers. Stories are one of the most powerful tools to us as communicators; it allows us to empathize with the person who is telling a story, it allows us to learn new perspectives and it is a way of building understanding and establishing memories.
There are 6 types of stories that can be included in any talk.
- The How We Started stories can relate to why you decided to do that job, why you chose that particular company, how you got introduced to the field you are talking about. This throwback to the origins can give your listeners a powerful sense of why.
- The Our People stories are those about people you admire, luminaries in your field, people whose stories may not have been told.
- The What We Learned in Defeat stories are essential because failure and defeat are part of innovation. It is important to normalize the fact that all of us make mistakes.
- The Why We Do What We Do stories can relate to a moment that inspired you to do the work that you do, or choose the path that you have chosen.
- The How We Succeed stories obviously deal with examples of success. It is great to tell success stories but it is really important that these success stories be inclusive, and that they do not make individuals into heroes. They need to include context and the small steps that contribute to success. In not doing that, we create a false sense of how change happens.
- The How the World Will Be Looking After People Follow Your Call of Action stories are the most powerful, forward-looking stories. They relate to how the world would be if everyone followed the advice given in a speech; if everyone was not scared to do the things they are afraid to do.
Use the right emotions
Using emotions is also a great way to engage the audience, but they have different effects on the audience.
“You also want to really think about using emotion in your talk with strategy and intention. One of my favorite areas of scholarship to read is how different emotions move us to different kinds of action,” Christiano says.
Sadness has short-term effects and makes people want to feel better. Fear activates attention but causes the audience to either want to fight, freeze or flee. Anger creates arousal and focus, it is especially efficient when activating a collective. Humor is effective when done well, and makes things seem smaller, more approachable. It also connects people together when they laugh together. Pride can tie in our identities to drive positive action, it is much more motivating than guilt. Awe opens the listener up to the new and can slow perception of time. It tends to make people more generous. Hope gives people resolution, a path forward. It is one of the most powerful emotions used in a call to action.
Use visuals intentionally
The use of visuals is an easy way to catch the audience’s attention. Relatable images will make people adhere to the speech even more. One-third of our brain is dedicated to vision: talk in pictures in order to fully catch the audience’s attention. Illustrate your data with infographics rather than written numbers, for images can be more compelling and speak to your audience more.
Pictures can have an emotional effect and should be used to create “star” moments.
“Star moments are something [the audience] will always remember. Some of my students have had pretty amazing star moments: one turned her whole presentation into a song that she performed for us. … You may not always have a star moment but if you can create them they can be quite powerful and effective,” Christiano continues.
Star moments are memorable dramatizations. They are great soundbites. There might be a very evocative visual or an emotional story or a shocking statistic.
Christiano likes to organize a speech with the use of sticky notes. Yellow notes are ideas, individual points that she then groups, links and finds connections between. She uses blue for the overall structure, to bundle ideas together. Pink is for emotions she wants to use and create within her audience. Images and metaphors will be represented by orange sticky notes.
The structure will not only make it easier for you not to get lost in your presentation, but it will also make it more compelling to your audience.
Christiano highly encourages using all these tools available to you and practicing including emotions and images in your speeches. Making a presentation does not have to be boring and stressful!
“Being a good presenter is really about the mindset that you bring to it, your ability to be really intentional about each aspect of it and creating space for yourself to really get off-line, get away from the laptop and engage your creativity, and all the tools that can lead to intentional and emotional involvement with your content,” concludes Christiano. “Presenting can be really fun, and it creates a powerful opportunity to connect with others and engage them with your ideas.”