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Friday, April 23, 2010

Why is it that some Leaders speak so well in public?

Public speaking is an invaluable skill no matter what your leadership role is, whether you are in sales, need to talk to investors or just want to be better at getting buy-in from your colleagues.

Here are three rules for successful public speaking that should help you:

The first rule is to ask the audience a lot of questions. Asking questions helps get the audience really thinking about the issues you're raising and your solutions. Now, if you are speaking to an audience of 3,000, it can't always be interactive. But you can still ask questions like, "When you are buying a car, why do you choose a Ford over a Toyota?" "What marketing campaigns do you think have failed, and why?" Those rhetorical questions help engage audiences and keep them away from their text messages and e-mails.

Similarly, try not to talk too much about yourself or your company at the beginning of a speech. Get right to what will matter to the audience. The first 30 seconds of a presentation are critical. That's when the audience decides whether to listen to you or surf for last night's football scores on its iPhones.

No one wants to hear about how big your company is or where you went to school. Just get right into the meat of your speech.

The key: Don't talk at the audience. Talk with it.

The second rule of successful public speaking is to tell stories to illustrate your points. Don't just tell people what you think; show them, with specific examples and tales.

The third rule is to go easy on the PowerPoint. It can be a useful tool for showing graphs or visual aids to complement important points, but too many people make it the focus of their presentations, in place of themselves and their actual message. Most audience members' minds go numb when they see too many slides or they're too densely packed with information. They tune out and start surfing the Web on their handhelds, especially when the animations and sound effects start.

More often than not, when someone has too many slides the audience will pay attention to what slide out of how many we are on instead of what the speaker's saying. Can we really be on slide 7 of 85? Desperation settles in.

How can you make PowerPoint effective? Be simple. Use short words and phrases to make large conceptual points, and never go longer than 20 slides. Get the audience to focus on you and your words, not the slides. When you have too many dense slides, the audience takes notes but doesn't really listen and comprehend what is going on. That is a waste. There is no better time than during a speech to make a business case for your point. Use PowerPoint as a tool to help get your ideas across.

Giving a speech is pointless if no one is paying attention. You need to grab your audience from the beginning by asking questions, telling stories and relying on your own speaking rather than a bunch of boring slides. If you can do those three things, then your battle is already half-won. 


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