Tips and Advice from Presentation Professionals
By David DempseyPowerful speakers share many characteristics: they speak with confidence and conviction every time they speak; they deliver their messages with compelling stories that have universal appeal; they organize their points clearly and concisely; they maintain an audience focus, studying and understanding the audience to which they will speak and carefully reading and reacting to the audience as they deliver the presentation. Typically, they are exceptional speakers because they devote the time and energy required to ensure that their message is delivered forcefully. When they stand to speak, their message is crystal clear, their delivery carefully planned. Speakers who master these qualities enjoy a distinct advantage every time they speak, in every forum.
Unfortunately, truly riveting speakers are the exception, not the rule. It is a rarity to listen to a speaker who delivers a message with an impact more lasting than a ripple on the water. For most speakers, their delivery is often robotic and indecisive. There is no connection with the audience, and the audience may even seem irrelevant to the speaker. There appears to be no logical organization to their presentations, and the points are often lost in a thicket of words that their listeners must hack through to determine their meaning.
While no one can wave a magic wand over our heads or hand us a enchanted elixir to swallow that will instantly transform us into excellent communicators, everyone can dramatically improve their presentation skills with practice, discipline, and determination. Here are eight ideas:
1. Constantly Learn & Evolve: Learning to communicate with power and conviction is a journey, not a destination. It requires constant experimentation and critical, honest assessment of your performance. You must constantly hone your skills and polish your speaking style. Study the finest recorded speeches, and you will understand common speaking techniques (vocal variety, pacing, body language, etc.) that are the hallmarks of the powerful communication.
2. Know Your Audience: It is essential that you know as much as possible about your audience members before you speak. Ask thoughtful questions: what is their level of understanding of your topic? What is their education level? What are their values, beliefs, and attitudes? Know your audience so you are able to craft a concise, focused presentation to meet its needs.
3. Ruthlessly Revise: Truman Capote wrote: "Good writing is rewriting," and good writing is essential to persuasive speaking. We rarely produce our best work on the first draft. Polish and refine your presentation for maximum impact. Distill the speech to its essence using colorful words that create vivid images, not dull or dreary words or abstract concepts.
4. Become a Masterful Storyteller: Great speakers are engaging storytellers. Stories captivate an audience, and they will be remembered long after a presentation is completed. A powerful story sparks the imagination of the audience members.
5. Polish with Practice: There is no better way to ensure that you are fully prepared to speak than to practice, practice, practice. There is no substitute. Videotape your presentation and honestly critique it before you actually deliver it.
6. Project Power: You should project confidence from the moment that your listeners first see you, even before you begin to speak. Eliminate any distracting mannerisms, such as nervous shuffling, wandering eye contact, or rapid-fire delivery. Pause at critical points in your presentation, such as when you ask a question or after a startling revelation or challenge. Make every movement and every word you utter convince the audience: "I need to hear what this speaker has to say."
7. Open & Close with Conviction: What you say first and last dramatically affects the success of your presentation. Do not equivocate, fumble for words, or formulate your thoughts as the spirit moves you. Since openings and closings are critical portions of every presentation, the rule is simple: know them and nail them.
8. Master Your Visual Aid: Visual aids (flip charts, overhead transparencies, models, electronic presentations) are exceptional learning tools, and if used correctly, they will greatly enhance the chance that the audience will focus on and retain much more of your message. Unfortunately they can be tricky to use, and they are inherently unreliable. Practice using the visual aid so that you are very comfortable with it; do not wait to iron out the details when you are making your presentation under the watchful eyes of the audience members.
Communicating with confidence will give you a distinct advantage over your competition. The skills are not easily acquired, but the dividends are enormous.
Bio of David Dempsey A practicing trial attorney in the Atlanta law firm of Coleman & Dempsey, LLP, a commercial practice that focuses on the representation of commercial landlords in complex lease negotiations and commercial litigation.
Tried over 50 cases and argued over 100 motions at the state and federal level.
Awarded Distinguished Toastmaster, the highest distinction obtained by fewer than five percent of the hundreds of thousands of Toastmasters International members.
Teaches beginning and advanced public speaking at Oglethorpe University since 1987.
Two-time Georgia state champion of the Toastmasters International speaking competition (1987 and 2000).
Won Southeastern United States Toastmasters International Evaluation Contest (1987).
Is a professional speaker and CEO of Dempsey Communications, LLC, an executive training and consulting company which works with the legal and business communities to teach individuals how to communicate with confidence and conviction.