It might look easy, but the ability to engage an audience is a skill that’s difficult to master. Even naturally gifted public speakers understand that it takes practice to master the art of speaking in public and having an audience hang on your every word.
Whether you like it or not, you will need to speak in public if you wish to climb the corporate ladder. Whether you’re promoting or announcing a product, sharing study findings, or trying to rally your company behind a common cause, knowing how to speak at a conference will boost not just your reputation but also establish the business you’re representing as a force to be reckoned with.
Effective public speaking is more than just rattling off a series of facts and expecting your audience to believe you. To be a truly effective public speaker, you need to acquire a set of habits that will boost your confidence and make you an effective communicator. Let’s go over a few tips to get you ready for your next conference.
1. Learn about your audience.
Every successful business knows its customer base. As a public speaker, you should also know your audience. If you wish to connect with your audience, you’ll need to understand how they think and what they want to hear. Doing so will allow you to craft your talk in a way that is empathetic with your audience.
You may start with a basic understanding of the audience at the speaking event. You may know things like the type of person who is likely to be there, and maybe some knowledge of the audience demographics.
Try to dig a little deeper. Gather as much information as you can about your audience before the big day.
Spend time learning about your audience, their pain points, and goals. One way to do this is to create an audience persona. This is a great aid in crafting a speech that will interest them.
2. Take the time to create an engaging script.
If you want to be a great public speaker, you’ll need a good script.
The script provides your talks with structure. That structure will keep your audience engaged and give you a format to follow. Now...
Think back on the memorable TED talks, Oscar acceptance speeches, and product presentations that you’ve watched on YouTube. What do the best of them have in common?
Most great speeches draw in the audience. Whether you’re speaking at a physical conference or virtual meeting, engagement is the one thing that will help your audience focus on your message.
How do you create a great script that engages your audience?
Well, it takes time. TED suggests speakers create a thesis and basic outline for a talk six months before the presentation. Here is how they suggest speakers prepare.
6 months before the event’s day: Thesis and basic outline due
5 months out: A script or detailed outline due
4 months out: Second draft and first rehearsals
3 months out: Final draft and more rehearsals
2 months out: Bi-weekly rehearsals
1 month out: Weekly rehearsals
2 weeks out: Take a break. (Don’t think about the talk)
1 week out: Rehearsals
1-2 days out: Dress rehearsals
The point I’m making here is that the great talks you see aren’t created overnight. People spend months creating a good script for a public speech. They craft an outline, get feedback, and then practice the delivery.
3. Use proven script formulas.
You will have an end goal in mind for your presentation. You might want to educate your audience and share information about your industry. Alternatively, your goal might be to entertain the audience, or perhaps you want to generate sales.
Regardless of your goal, there will be a format that great public speakers use that you can imitate. Let me provide you with an example.
If I wanted to sell a product or service as a public speaker, I’d probably use the webinar sales formula developed by Russell Brunson. The webinar formula has a format that you can follow and imitate. It provides you with the kind of structure you need, especially if you are new to public speaking.
The following video on YouTube provides you with a nice overview of the perfect webinar formula. If this is the first time you’re making a presentation, you can follow this formula as is. Over time you can adapt the formula so it works for you.
You can apply this same approach to any type of public speaking.
First, research the sector. For example, if you plan to give a best man’s speech, spend a day watching great examples of these. Note down the structure that these speeches follow.
Then, imitate the structure when writing your script.
4. Entertain your audience.
If you want to keep your audience engaged, you need to make your story entertaining. Here are a couple of suggestions of ways to accomplish this goal.
One approach that will always work is to make people laugh.
If you can make your audience laugh, you’ll get people on your side. That’s important because once people engage with your speech, you’ll keep them hooked on your every word.
Of course, humor isn’t suitable for every public speaking situation. You need to find an approach that will work for your particular talk. For example, you could weave storytelling into your speech.
Stories and personal anecdotes are a great way to engage your audience and illustrate points. Rather than just sharing a bunch of facts, for example, you can share a story that highlights why the facts you are sharing are important.
5 Perfect your delivery.
Think about a great public speaker for a moment. Some great speakers and speeches will probably come to mind. For example, Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech is memorable. Or Winston Churchill, when he said that Britain would never surrender.
The speeches are memorable because they are based on a great script. However, they are also memorable because of the delivery.
As a public speaker, you need to control your diction. You need to change the tone and speed of your speech. If you don’t, you will sound boring, and your speech will sound monotonous (regardless of how great the speech is).
It’s not just about the delivery, though.
There are a lot of things you will need to practice. For example, you need to consider your breathing.
For more information about how to practice delivery, I highly recommend this interview of Roger Love by Marie Forleo. It’s a 35-minute talk that is interesting and informative. I promise you, you’ll learn a lot by watching this video.
6. Create engaging slides
Way before people started writing, our ancestors communicated in sounds and imagery.
This means that we shouldn’t be surprised that we’re consuming more visual content than ever, as humans are visual animals.
Adding relevant visuals to your conference talk will usually make it stronger.
What kind of visuals should you add to your speech?
Well, visuals that support your presentation, of course.
If you use visuals that are entertaining and eye-catching, this will help keep people engaged in your presentation because they have two external stimuli. They are looking at something stimulating and interesting while also focusing on your voice.
A picture (or a video) is worth a thousand words, so you shouldn’t think twice about using them in your conference speeches if you feel they’ll reinforce your message.
7. Relax and enjoy the moment.
My final and most important tip is to relax and enjoy the experience.
Relaxed people are better public speakers.
If you’re stressed out, the audience will pick up on the signs. They’ll see it in your body language. It will impact how they perceive your speech.
Relaxed public speakers, on the other hand, seem more approachable. As a member of the audience, you can see if someone is enjoying themselves, making you naturally more likely to enjoy the experience. An engaging speaker encourages audience participation and projects their positive energy onto their audience.
Many people believe that they’re not made for public speaking. However, most of the time it’s because they’ve not tried it or when they have they’ve been unprepared.
Just like any other skill, speaking at a conference or other event takes a lot of time and effort to prepare for and get right. You can’t afford to wait until you find yourself having to speak before you learn how to do it.
About the author:
Owen Baker is a content marketer for Voila Norbert, an online email verification tool. He has spent most of the last decade working online for a range of marketing companies. When he’s not busy writing, you can find him in the kitchen mastering new dishes.