You may have been there before; halfway through your talk or lecture and you realize… I’VE LOST THEM! Glazed eyes. Glancing at watches. Big yawns. Oh crap. While there are ways to get your audience back if you’ve lost them, it’s a difficult thing to pull off. It’s best to create a vivid topic while crafting your speech to avoid boredom. Here are three mistakes to avoid while creating a topic for a TED speech (or a TED-style speech):
- Don’t use your TED Talk as a way to plug your business – I’m shocked at how many people think that their TED speech is really just an opportunity to sell themselves. Great TED talkers find a unique, original, spin on a topic, and delve into with great detail. Often they are professors, educators, or tech wizards. You will not be able to hold your audience if you are merely trying to plug your company. Think about what you know well, what is arcane in that subject matter, and get curious!
- Keep things personal – The quickest, easiest way to win an audience is to add your story, your life, to your topic. Don’t get me wrong, your topic needs to be thoroughly researched, have an intellectual spin, and be highly unique (see #1), but you can use your life as a way of shaping the material. Jill Bolte Taylor’s speech “My Stroke of Insight” is a great example of this. She uses her story of a health crisis to illuminate fascinating details about the working of the brain.
- Test it out – Challenge yourself to write your topic down. Use active verbs and focus on what you would like your audience to DO after hearing the speech. Call them to action. Then test it out. Run your topic by co-workers, peers, and friends. Run it by strangers at Starbucks. Run it by your in-laws (ok maybe just SOME of your in-laws). Run it by everyone you meet. Get FEEDBACK. See if there is interest in what you have to say BEFORE you say it. The applause will make it worth the while.
Simon Sinek is one of the most watched TED Talk presenters of all time. An introvert by nature, Sinek honed his public speaking craft through hard work and trial and error. His speeches are a favorite of many of my public speaking clients in New York City and New Jersey. Here are some of the techniques he learned to perfect his craft, and speak with confidence:
- Wait to talk – Sinek says that most people begin a speech by speaking out of a sense of nervousness and anxiety. It’s best to pause at the beginning of your speech, settle, take a breath, and then speak. The silence may seem like an eternity to you, but it won’t feel that way to your audience.
- Make eye contact with audience members one by one – It’s a simple truism to say that making eye contact is important, but do you really look into the eyes of those you are speaking to? Or do you just pan across the audience, as if they were so many heads of cattle? Sinek says it is best to give each person you are speaking to an entire sentence or thought.
- Speak VERY slowly – I’ve always said that if you are ok with a pause onstage, your audience will be ok with it as well. Sinek believes it’s impossible to speak too slowly on stage:
“It’s incredible that you can stand on stage and speak so slowly that there are several seconds between each of your words and people… will… hang… on… your… every… word. It really works.
Turn nervousness into excitement – Sinek learned this trick from watching the Olympics. Every time an athlete was interviewed, he was asked if he was nervous. “No, I was excited.” was the answer. The athletes interpreted the bodies’ response to stress as excitement rather than anxiety. This gave them the competitive advantage.
- Always thank the audience – This should be a no brainer, but it is often overlooked. The audience is there to support you, they deserve your attention. Give them the respect they deserve! A simple “Thank you for your time” at the end of your speech will do.
I recently did a presentation skills workshop in New York City for a group of ten sales executives. I’ve come to the conclusion that sales executives face unique challenges when it comes to presentations. Here are some tips for handling those challenges:
- Be Ready to Change Direction – Be sure you are checking in on your audience’s non-verbal communication while pitching. If you are getting folded arms, and quizzical looks… for the Love of God Stop! Ask if there are questions. Get some feedback. It might be that your audience wants information about a different product, or got lost half way through. Be flexible.
- Start with an Icebreaker – One of my workshop attendees was feeling that her delivery was too canned while pitching her products (organic condiments). To help her, I asked her to think of the pitch as a conversation and just start talking to her audience. She started with a series of questions; “What are your favorite restaurants? What type of condiments do you like?”. Her delivery was smoothe and conversational.
- Project your Voice More – I have noticed that people tend to be a little soft with their vocal projection. Try doing some breathing and vocal warm up exercises before presenting. It’s important to have great articulation.
Well the first is…
- Don’t stick your tongue out like this:
Trump does it at moments of high tension as if to say “Hey I’m just kidding!!” Not a good idea. Be aware of your non-verbal tics. This is national television people!
2. Know your facts cold – If you are speaking in an impromptu format (debates, q and a, etc) you need to know your facts better than if you are giving a planned speech. Ted Cruz seems to have an encyclopedic mind for facts and figures. He used it to great effect when he nailed the Donald on the birther issue.
3. Don’t Rush – This means you Senator Rubio. Rubio tends to speak very, very quickly. It cost him when he got his facts mixed up in regard to gun violence. Take your time and pace yourself out.
4. Use Bold Hand Gestures
One of my presentation training clients in New York City recently asked me why some TED talks gather millions of views, while others with similar content languish? I did some research. It turns out a human behavior consultancy called “Science of People” set out to answer this question. They asked volunteers to rate hundreds of hours of TED talks, and here are the conclusions they came to:
- The volunteers rated speakers comparably whether the sound was on or not! What does this mean? It means your non-verbal communication matters…. a lot! How you gesture, and the tone of your voice can make or break your speech.
- SOP also found that there is a direct correlation between the number of times a speaker gestures and the number of views the talk gets. This is why Italians make such great speakers! Remember to use bold gestures.
- Keep it loose! People who ad-libbed in their speeches rated higher than those who stayed on script. In addition, vocal variety boosted ratings on charisma and credibility.
- Did you know smiling makes you look smarter? The more TED talkers smiled, the higher their perceived intelligence.
- As we all know, first impressions matter a lot. SOP found that people largely formed their opinion about a speaker based on the first several seconds. So come out blazing!