When a crowd is staring blankly at you, how will you engage them?
We’ve learned that the biggest challenge for any public speaker is connecting with the people in the room. which is why the best speakers make their presentations feel like a conversation with the audience. Gaining this kind of engagement takes practice and experience.
But even if you’ve never had any public speaking training and you’re new to public speaking, there are simple steps you can implement to make any public speaking engagement as interesting as possible.
First of all, it’s necessary to understand that your presentation starts not on the stage, but on paper. We recommend starting by brainstorming, then writing, all intimately guided by the following seven questions:
1. Public Speaking Training 101: Who is my audience?
When putting together your presentation, write from the seats, not from the stage.
This requires a performance from the speaker, and a performance that’s attentive to the needs of those listening.
That’s why the most important question you need to ask yourself while preparing for a public speaking opportunity is not “what is my topic?” but “who is my audience?” Until you understand the composition of your listeners, how do you know what to say to them?
Public speaking training can’t answer this as a general rule because each audience is different – every single time you give a presentation.
So, your first step to achieving your goals with an audience is knowing who you’re dealing with. Yet, too often, presenters leap onto the information delivery bandwagon without pausing for a moment’s reflection on the make-up of their audience. This is key to success.
Each talk should change depending on the age, level of knowledge, demographics and profession of your listeners, along with how they will use the information you provide. Your most critical concerns for audience analysis are:
“Exactly who is your audience?”
“Why do they need to hear what you have to share with them?”
By simply answering these questions, you’ll be much better armed as you approach your engagement. Not only will you be able to present the exact content that your listeners need to hear on this particular occasion, but you’ll also have a leg up on succeeding with this and every audience. And the added bonus? This can only increase your confidence.
2. Public Speaking Training 101: Why am I talking to them?
Once you understand your listeners, you must decide on the specific purpose in speaking to this audience.
It is easy to neglect this step! A novice public speaker may spend all of his or her time gathering the content, while omitting the essential task of stepping back and asking,
“Why am I speaking to these people and what do I want to accomplish with them?”
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the data speaks for itself (no matter how convincing, obvious, or solid it seems.) You may have the best product or rock solid research, but without a clear and impactful purpose, you will lose your audience.
3. Public Speaking 101: What components do I need to include in my speech?
The best presentations target both the right brain (emotion) and the left brain (logic.)
Most of our clients work with a speechwriter and designer, and have also graduated from our public speaking training, but every speaker should know what a good speech requires. The secrets of persuasion have been passed down for two millennia now, and are just as effective today as in Aristotle’s time.
Aristotle noted that good public speaking can be broken into three parts:
- Appeals to reason
- Appeals to emotion
- Appeals based on credibility and personality of speaker
To further explain, we will share a lesson on everyone’s favorite dead language, Latin:
Ethos – Establishing Credibility
Ethos brings us back to the why, answering the question:
“Why should the audience be listening to this speech?”
Build credibility at the outset by explaining your authority on your subject. Does it come from your job title? Your experience? Your backstory? Your research?
Credentials should follow an opening that immediately engages your audience to eliminate doubts about why your voice should be heard. Connect, then lead.
Pathos – Engaging Emotions
Don’t speak like Spock. Address your audience’s emotions.
We lead textured emotional lives: we laugh, we cry, we bristle at injustice, we crave nachos. Your words should engage that entire emotional range.
Just remember: authenticity is nowhere more essential than with emotional appeals. The only feeling stirred by canned jokes and insincere stories is awkwardness.
Pathos is where we get the English word “pathetic,” which originally meant simply, “relating to the emotions.”
So, how do you find the right emotional components for your speech or talk?
This can only be discovered by drawing from the core of who you are.
We’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t easy. All of us have some heavy, secret stuff down in the dark.
And furthermore, not every presentation needs you to bare your soul! There’s a reason you won’t find Kleenex on the boardroom table.
Yet, every powertalk connects with the audience’s emotions. Yes, even your corporate audience.
Though you may be tempted to skip the pathos, remember that it’s emotion that triggers memory.
Logos- Explaining with Clarity
We get our word “logic” from the Greek logos.
The logic of your speech is what holds it together.
These days we don’t usually think of speeches as having a logic, but they do! In a well-designed speech, the structure is obvious; each point builds on the last, the evidence is rigorous, charity is shown to critics.
Logos is consistently the weakest element in the speeches we hear today, but it needn’t be.
Carefully consider the structure and support of your message, and you’ll lock in the power of logos.
Narrative – Your Tale
In his book TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, Chris Anderson writes, “One of the biggest reasons we turn down applications to speak at TED is when we’re offered compelling anecdotes but no central idea that wraps that narrative together.”
That matches our experience at Moxie. All talks- especially at TED- demand clear storylines, and everyone notices when they’re gone.
Why? Because we all love a good story, and because good stories are drawn from the heart. A good story is the sort that can be woven into ethos, pathos, and logos themselves: a narrative that establishes authority, captures the imagination, and illuminates your topic.
Like Anderson, we’ve found that compelling presentations need good stories. Narratives aren’t second-class citizens to the classical features Aristotle described- they’re the glue that binds the whole presentation together.
If your speech is built around your personal story, then dive into the deeps.
What your audience wants is authenticity and vulnerability here, so if you’re talking about hard stuff, they’ll understand if it’s difficult.
The difference between a know it all and subject matter expert is that the latter says to the audience, “I’ve been in your shoes, I’ve had the same problems. I’m here to tell you how I figured it out so you can too.”
And that is powerfully persuasive.
4. Public Speaking Training 101: How do I start my speech?
A good opening earns your audience.
You will gain or lose your audience’s trust and attention from the very moment you start speaking (in fact, from the very moment you step on stage.)
The introduction to your speech thus has one goal: to persuade the audience to give you their most precious resources – their time and attention.
Your intro doesn’t need to solve world peace or sound like Shakespeare. It simply needs to convince your listeners that you’re someone worth listening to (it’s ethos again!)
This makes it even more critical to ask the question, “How should I open my speech?”
Yet, speechwriting is an art, not a science. In all art – and I learned this early on in my acting career – the only true answer to the question “what should I choose?” is “whatever works!”
So experiment. See what works for your setting and message. Maybe it’s a song lyric, or maybe a poem, or maybe a shocking statistic from your latest whitepaper. Try them all out on friends and determine what’s most effective for you. At Moxie, we love telling stories.
You’ll know your audience is hooked when they’re ready for more, when they’ve decided your message makes it worth sticking around. Another clue is when they are not looking at their phones.
The key to a killer opening, then, is this: make it worthy of your audience, so that they know it’s worth their time.
After that, they’re all yours.
5. Public Speaking Training 101: How do I organize the body of my speech?
Every presentation should be built around one big idea…and only one.
Think back on every speech you’ve ever heard. Can you remember what the speaker’s main point was?
If you can’t…well, in our book that speech wasn’t a complete success.
A powertalk has a central message so clear and concise and catchy that the audience can’t help but remember it.
Then, make sure the central idea of the speech is clearly stated in the introduction, mentioned in each of the points in the body, and then restated as close to the last line of the speech as possible.
Once you’ve got your speech’s core idea, you can build the main points of the speech around it.
Expert tip: Do use an old-fashioned outline! Many clients start their presentations in Powerpoint, which is the worst way to order your thoughts. Start on paper, then move to the screen only once your talk is scripted and ready to rehearse.
Do you want to change hearts and minds through your presentations? If your answer is yes, then you also need to think specifically how you will engage, entice, and entertain your audience. You don’t have to immediately enroll in a public speaking training or become an Oscar-worthy actor or actress. But you do need to incorporate activities, questions, exercises, visuals, improvisations, or other elements that go beyond information delivery to actively keep your audience hooked and enjoying every minute (and a public speaking training can provide some exciting tips on how to do this.)
6. Public Speaking Training 101: How do I edit my speech?
Every word of your talk should have to fight for existence. That’s because your time – and your audience’s time – isn’t unlimited.
With only a few minutes to speak, you’ve got to make sure that each phrase supports your speech’s message.
Start by clearly identifying the purpose of your speech. Got it? Good. Now strike from the possibilities for your outline all that isn’t essential to that point.
In speaking, less is more. First, cut the fat and trim everything that’s unrelated to your central idea. Then get close to the bone, going deep into why your message is important, and what you need to convey.
And don’t forget, we can always help you write or edit your speech if you’d like some assistance.
Excellent presentations, no less than excellent novels, require their authors to “murder their darlings.” That means that you have to be so ruthless in honing your message that even some clever bits get saved for another occasion.
(And trust us, there’s always another occasion. Phrases of genius are never lost, just postponed.)
The script- the speech you’ve just written- is now a set of polished phrases that help your audience along their journey, but you’re not tied down. The individual words will evolve as you practice.
7. Speaker Training 101: How do I conclude my speech?
A good closing moves your audience, so you can close by looking forward.
A weak ending can sabotage everything that came before.
Imagine a guide who takes you on a safari- showing you some of the most beautiful sites on the planet- and then forcing everyone to end the tour with a Slurpee-chugging contest at his uncle’s 7-Eleven.
Bad endings have a way of ruining good journeys.
The last words of the speech are vital for one reason: that’s when the audience decides what to do with the message they’ve just been given.
The opening can’t do that, because the audience doesn’t know the message yet.
The middle of the speech can’t do it, because that’s where the message is being built.
Only the ending can thrust the audience forward to a place that’s better than where they started.
Every talk needs to engage the audience’s emotions. As you prepare yours, ask yourself: how should your audience be moved? To a new way of thinking? A new outlook? Toward specific acts like protesting, or buying, or winning a war?
You’ll know you’ve perfected your ending when that call to action – or that feeling- is both compelling and clear.
Another very powerful tactic is to use your final lines to reinforce and revisit the speech’s theme. In other words, return to the place you started.
Bring it home.
Did you start the talk with a story about the company’s founder? Reintroduce that person at the end in a new, slightly different way, and in a way that mirrors the journey on which you’ve led the audience in your talk.
Has there been a recurring joke throughout the presentation? Rather than overusing it, turn it on its head at the end – it’ll be unexpected, and it’ll make the audience rethink what’s come before.
The closing is where the entire talk comes together for a final statement of the reason for your talk.
Use that statement well, along with all the techniques you’ve just learned, and you’re sure to leave your audience with something unforgettable.
Love it? Dive deeper with a worksheet on How to Conduct an Audience Analysis from our Masterclass for Public Speaking.
The ideas shared in this article are an excerpt from our Speak with Moxie e-book. To get the full action-packed book immediately at your fingertips, you can find it here.