Speaking at events is a great way to spread your important messages and cement your status as an expert.  However, being a great speaker is an art, not a science.  Here are five ways you can quickly become a better speaker.

Don’t memorize your speech: You may think that the best way to give a flawless speech is to memorize the content word-for-word. In reality, that is a myth and is not recommended. Memorization not only lends itself to sounding over-rehearsed (aka not natural), but also, if your mind goes blank at any point during the presentation, you will lose your place and potentially create an awkward silence (or worse, start to panic).

Instead, create bullet points of the content, stories, data and key takeaways that you want to get across in each part of your presentation.  Then, speak naturally about them.  If you remember all of those key points, great, but if you forget some, no sweat- you can move on to another next point.  Having a looser structure also gives you the flexibility to change up stories and information in your speech based on the audience. And, as an extra bonus, you will deliver a more natural sounding, engaging presentation.

Talk to the audience before the presentation: Meeting with the people you are going to be speaking with before you give your speech has several benefits.  First, it warms them up to you.  Second, it lets you gauge their sense of humor, which is particularly critical if you are a speaker that tends to let a curse word fly or uses off-beat stories or language.  Finally, you can get feedback to incorporate into the presentation.  It’s incredibly effective to use audience members as examples or transitions in a speech because it creates intimacy with the audience and more engagement.  If you are talking to small business owners about marketing and Mary told you a great story about how she used an unusual marketing tactic, incorporate Mary and her story into your presentation.  “Speaking of clever marketing, earlier I was talking to Mary, who is sitting in the third row, and she told me how she used a PR stunt with 400 puppies to get new clients…”.

Amp up your visuals: I think most speakers know to not read directly from slides (and if you didn’t before, you do now).  But if you do use slides during your presentation, use them in an unexpected way. Include a short, fun video or use some photos with humor.  I saw John Morgan present recently and when he was talking about how people want to do business with trusted brands, he had a photo of a beat-up old van with “Want some candy?” spray painted on its side to illustrate why you don’t do business with strangers.  Maybe consider having an illustrator like Jocelyn Wallace do some great art for key messages or just consider having your presentation done professionally.  This can take your entire presentation up a level.

Take the pressure off: Even the most seasoned speakers get nervous prior to presenting.  The most effective way to take the pressure off of you is to flip your mindset and think about your audience (rather than yourself or the speech).  Remember that you are there to provide them with valuable information and if the audience members leave with one or two new items, reminders or a new perspective, you have made it worth their while.  Focusing on being helpful or in service of the audience will help you to relax.

Get interactive:  One of the best speakers around is Michael Port, who takes audience participation to a whole new level.  During the presentation, he has the audience repeat back to him or make gestures back of the key points of his speech.  This keeps the audience involved, but even more brilliantly, it gives them devices to remember the material. I often will stop in the middle of the speech to ask audience members to throw out examples of ideas that I present as well.  As you plan your speech, think about where you can involve the audience and what devices you can use to involve them in the presentation so that you are talking with them, not just to them.


What are your favorite speaking secrets? Share them below.