There is such a proliferation of content available on just about any topic now that if your content is not interesting and well presented – be it written or spoken, it is unlikely to receive much attention. This applies not only to the written word where the reader can simply stop reading, but also to verbal presentations where listeners literally switch off and redirect their attention to an ever present mobile device.
Because of the sheer volume of content around, even well presented material often get’s overlooked. Many excellent books fail to make it to the bestseller lists for various reasons. For instance an average book by a well known writer often has a better chance of being noticed than a good book by an unknown writer. That’s how marketing works. It’s why movies sign on big names to draw cinema goers.
How does this principle affect public speaking or live presentations? Well, in much the same way a celebrity speaker is more likely to be offered a platform than a subject expert speaker – the exception being when the subject expert speaker becomes a celebrity or well known in their own right. So how do speakers with great content make their speeches more compelling so that they become noticed? What does it take to keep an audience riveted throughout your presentation?
1. Be enthusiastic. If you’ve taken the trouble to put together a speech, it can be assumed that you feel your topic is important and relevant. You have every right to show your audience exactly how you feel. Don’t hold back. You can’t expect them to buy your message if you fail to convey your own conviction. I’d go so far as to advise that unless you are enthused about your topic, avoid presenting it.
2. Speak clearly. This is vitally important, and it involves primarily pace, diction and volume. The size of the room and the length of the presentation has a bearing on whether you will require a microphone or not. The audience should be able to hear you clearly and follow you easily. This becomes more difficult if any of these 3 elements are not properly synchronized.
3. Use Emphasis. You can use emphasis to highlight key words or phrases, and inflection to make your voice more interesting. Humans have the unique gift of mimicry, which allows us to change our voices in many ways depending on the person we’re speaking to or the character we’re portraying.
4. Structure your content. There needs to be a logical flow that leads your audience to where your message intends them to go. The structure will be influenced by the context, but you need to start somewhere and go somewhere. If you cannot provide a logical structure, it’s just babble.
5. Use natural gestures. We do this spontaneously during a conversation, especially when there is emotion involved. If you could be secretly filmed during an animated conversation, play it back and see how natural it looks. This is what you are striving for with your gestures during a speech.
6. Engage your audience. You do this by speaking to them, not by shouting or preaching at them. Audiences have always been discerning. With all the choices out there, they are becoming even more so. Find new, novel and intelligent ways to get them involved. Asking questions is a favourite engagement tool, but do so only if you know what the answer is likely to be.
7. Pause between sentences. The human brain assimilates information quicker than you can speak, but no one listens to every single word you say. Immediately after hearing an interesting concept, a listener may temporarily “leave you” while they think about it. A pause of no more than 2 to 3 seconds allows them that time, without losing the thread of your next sentence.
8. Add a story or two. People, both young, old and in between just love stories! There is no better way to illustrate a key point than to use a story. It may be humorous or it may not be, but your story should be interesting. A story helps people to remember a key point.
9. Cut the waffle. You should get to the point without an extended preamble. Avoid getting bogged down in unnecessary detail. What does your audience need to know to “get it”? Give them just that and no more. Once your point is made, it’s made.
All but the last 2 items relate to the manner in which you deliver your content. Delivery is so important that skilful delivery can often compensate for less than brilliant content. Ideally you want both – and short of being an established brilliant orator, there is only one way to achieve compelling delivery.
You have to rehearse – but with clear intent. Familiarizing yourself with your flow and structure whilst timing your presentation may get you smoothly through, but you need to do more to produce a great speech.
Critically assess the components above. If you can get them all in place simultaneously with your great content, you should keep them riveted.