I recently poised the question, “is it possible to speak too slow while presenting“? My answer was “no”, but Brian Little’s pace of speaking would challenge that assumption. I think he picks up the pace adequately around the middle of his TED Talk, but I found my mind wandering off at the beginning. This is because he is speaking just a bittoo slowly, and because he doesn’t have a good story up front in order to attract the audience’s attention.
This changes dramatically half way through the speech. At about the ten minute mark, we get a series of wonderful, hilarious stories, starting with this gem, and the speech really comes to life. Its amazing how a few small changes can lift a speech from good to great. When it comes to presenting, the devil is in the details.
Do you speak on a regular basis about a dry topic? Do you find the audience’s eyes glazing over? Do you feel you are boing yourself with your topic? I once had a client who was putting together a presentation about a complex set of laws that govern rules pertaining to investing in pension funds. The presentation was heavy on statistics and facts but little else. We decided to use a simple analogy…a bar! The manager became the SEC, the patrons became the investors, and the waiters became the hedge fund executives. Suddenly, the presentation came to life, and this complicated subject became much more digestible. I had another client who used her childhood experience of witnessing the aftermath of a tornado as an analogy for the aftermath of the 2008 stock market collapse. Her presentation was excellent.
Many people think that it’s enough to simply relay the facts in a presentation. It’s not. We must challenge ourselves to make our presentations digestible, and interesting. Analogies serve these purposes.
Before making your next presentation, make a list of five analogies that might work for your topic. You can use one blanket analogy for the entire presentation or a series of analogies for multiple concepts in your presentation. Keep in mind the more personal your analogy, the more likely you will catch your audience’s attention!
As a public speaking coach I talk a lot about how non-verbal communication impacts a speaker’s audience. But can powerful non-verbal communication make you feel more confident while speaking? The short answer is yes.
Amy Cuddy’s TED talk above demonstrates how certain poses influence the way we feel. Wide or open gestures tend to boost our testosterone and our endorphins, while closed gestures tend to increase cortisol levels (stress hormones) in our body. This is good news for those of you that feel uncomfortable presenting. By taking a “fake it until you make it” approach, you can learn to develop more confidence. Check out the video above, and try some of the 2 minute “posing” exercises before you speak. Research suggests that over a period of time you will gain more confidence, and lower your public speaking anxiety.
As a public speaking coach, I often get asked the question, “should I tell my story in my presentation?”. As Sting illustrates above, almost every good presentation is illuminated by the personal touch. It adds color, nuance and personality to our topic. Speaking from a personal place also serves to bring us to life non-verbally, helping us to engage our voice and body in surprising and powerful ways.
But how much should we tell, and in what order? These are difficult questions. In short, we need to think first about what the audience’s expectations are for our speech. Are they looking for information? Emotional transformation? Inspiration? Knowledge? Knowing what the audience wants can help us choose what stories to tell. Second, we need to think about how comfortable we are with what we plan to reveal. The more we reveal about ourselves in a public speaking setting, the greater the possibility of transformation. But we all have our limits. Check in with yourself and ask, “how comfortable am I telling this story?”. If the discomfort is more than a seven on a scale of one to ten, I would put the story aside, and consider coming back to it at a different time.