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Chris LoCurto

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August 30, 2011

How Not To Bomb At Speaking

August 30, 2011 | By | 34 Comments">34 Comments

People consistently rank public speaking as their number-one fear. Why? Because we have a tendency to wonder, and sometimes worry about what our audience thinks of us.

Do they think I’m a dork? Do they hate what I’m saying? Are my gestures too small or too big? Do I sound like an expert or a moron? Do my jeans make me look fat? Okay, maybe not the last one. Our fear of being judged is what makes public speaking so tough. The funny thing is, most of the time people aren’t thinking about the speaker anyway. They’re thinking of the content.

But every now and then, you come across someone who forces you to think of them as a speaker. Recently I had the opportunity to listen to someone present on a subject I consider myself to be advanced in. His presentation wasn’t as strong as it could have been. In fact, I spent a lot of time thinking about giving this person a hug.

Now, if you’re not a speaker, you might have spent your time focused on how bad the speaker was. As a speaker, I spent most of my time wanting to help him. With a few tweaks, it could have been a much better presentation. Here are some of my tips for making a presentation the best it can be—whether it’s in front of a crowd of thousands or simply in your next team meeting:

  • Talk to me, Goose – (Yes, that’s a favorite line.) One of the biggest mistake speakers make is being over the top. If you’re not Zig Ziglar, don’t try to be. Be you. Some people try to go so big that they end up sounding like bad salespeople. Instead of selling me, talk to me. Have a high-energy conversation that fits the size of your crowd.
  • Clip Art rocks! – Make sure your presentation is up-to-date. It doesn’t cost that much to purchase great presentation software nowadays, and there is a whole world of templates being created every day. If yours looks outdated, it will take my focus away from what you’re saying, especially if I know what a good presentation looks like.
  • Heeey, what’s in this? – To me, content is the most important thing. If people are going to spend their time in front of me, then I better deliver something that can change their lives. I say it this way: Everything you say on stage, even if it’s a joke, must have a purpose. Otherwise you are wasting my time. Evaluate your entire presentation, and if there’s fluff, cut it!
  • Is this a sleepover? – You have to be cognizant of your time! Unfortunately, I am a repeat offender of this. If you have 45 minutes to speak, tailor to presentation to your time. Otherwise you start losing your crowd at 46 minutes. Plus, if you take too long, you have to cram the rest of your info towards the end.
  • Practice really does make perfect – You MUST know your material. Your audience will forgive a couple of bobbles, but if you can’t remember what slides are next, it tells me that I wasn’t important enough for you to practice your presentation.
  • You can’t make me do that – Crowd interaction is fantastic . But if it’s forced upon the crowd, it’s annoying. It’s okay to ask for something from me as an audience member, but don’t make me respond. If I’m comfortable enough with you and my surroundings, I’ll react.
  • Um…uh…ok – How you say your presentation also depends on how distracted I can be. In How To Speak Gooder I share an exercise I came up with years ago to train myself to speak fluidly by teaching my brain to think ahead while I speak.
  • Who are you again? – Make sure that you absolutely understand who it is you’re speaking to. What do they do? Where are they from? Who are their clients? And most importantly, do they already know your material?

There is a lot more to being a good or great speaker, but this should help you avoid the common pitfalls.

Question: What areas do you think speakers need to work on?

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  • Paul Post

    Chris, I have a great deal of dry and complex information to present and I do very well presenting it because I am passionate and have passion about the subject.

    • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Amen Paul. If you don’t believe in your subject, how can you convince me?

  • http://twitter.com/ZackTN Zack Bennett (@ZackTN)

    I enjoyed this post immensely. It was recommended to me by a friend.

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Hahaha….what were they trying to say?!

  • http://gravatar.com/lgthaxton Louise Thaxton

    Since I read Ken Davis’ book “Secrets of Dynamic Communication” and he laid out his S.C.O.R.R.E. method of preparing and giving a presentation – I have found myself “grading” other’s presentation! One of the things I remember is that he said to focus on ONE topic and not try to tell everything you know in one talk!

    And this was a great blog!

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      He’s right. If you’re an expert enough to speak on a subject, you probably have too much info to cram into a speech.

  • http://ginasmom.wordpress.com ginasmom

    I once listened to a speaker (preacher) at my local church, who looked awesome on paper, and had a very special message to share with the church about children. (It was a family service with special emphasis on children – who were not present at the event). It was a great message (i think), but i noticed right away, he used a lot of ‘like’, ‘you know’, ‘it’s kinda like’, ‘it’s totally..’, which i recognized right away as the Vocabularly of a 12-13 year old speaking to his/her friends. The sad thing is, this got in the way of his message, making it very difficult to appreciate the content, and i found myself getting irritated with every minute. I compared notes with a friend after service, and their reaction was similar to mine. I learned a great lesson that day, anytime you stand up to give any formal speech, ensure your speech is ‘completely formal’, and you maybe able to get away with a few other things. Thanks for the recap Chris, this will make for a great review before any public speaking gigs.

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Excellent point!!

  • Anonymous

    …always try to put the line “this one time at band camp” to liven up the presentation…

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      HAAAAAA!!! I love that line!!!

    • http://allaboutfocus.com Patrick Allmond

      It’s a cute line, but it seems somewhat lazy. Especially if you use it all of the time. I am sure others would agree – try to be original and find humor in your own stories and you can keep yourself a class above ‘American Pie’

  • http://twitter.com/ibnabeeomar ibn abee omar (@ibnabeeomar)

    One of my favorite books on the subject is Confession of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun, its a must read if you havent checked it out

  • http://www.adonislenzy.com Adonis Lenzy

    It all makes much more sense now!

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      HAHAHA…I’m glad it does. Great job this morning!!

  • http://medicalaccountsolutions.wordpress.com medicalaccountsolutions

    Great post Chris! I especially liked the tips about being you and our fear of being judged. You are so correct on this! I spoke to a whole new audience this past Saturday…on a topic I know very well, but you have thoughts running through your mind and you question was I effective? Did I do my best? Did they understand? How could I have helped more? Did I talk to fast? I always get nervous in anticipation of the event, but when it happens, I am cool. Everyone handles it different and I agree it is a learning experience that you only get better at each time you take the opportunity to learn from the feedback.

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Amen sister. I bet you knocked it out of the park!

  • http://allaboutfocus.com Patrick Allmond

    Great invaluable information.

    On the time thing – If you have 45 minutes to speak get that number 45 minutes out of your head. You really have 35 minutes to present the body of your material, a few minutes to do your summary, and a few minutes for Q&A. Going over time is a deadly sin for a professional speaker.

    Join an organization that fosters continuous improvement. The two largest ones are Toastmasters and National Speakers Association. Use Toastmasters to practice and enhance your ability to present. Use NSA to learn about how to run your speaking business. I am a member of both and I don’t know what I’d do without them.

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Great stuff Patrick!

  • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com Michele Cushatt

    Great post. My favorite part? “Everything you say on stage, even if it’s a joke, must have a purpose. Otherwise you are wasting my time. Evaluate your entire presentation, and if there’s fluff, cut it!” This is some of the best advice out there for speakers — and probably the least adhered to!

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      So true. Too many think it’s about them as a speaker. Thanks Michele!

  • http://kentlapp.com Kent Lapp

    Great post Chris! I can attribute most of this to my personality but I can sniff out a time-killing speaker pretty quick and it bothers me a lot when I have to sit there wasting time. So if it’s simply conversations or speaking I always try to respect people’s time.

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Absolutely Kent. Some speakers think it’s about them. It’s actually about the people you’re presenting to.

  • http://twitter.com/tbric Tom Brichacek (@tbric)

    Thanks for the pointers Chris. Here’s a question for you… How do you speak in front of a large audience when you can’t see them? I have spoken a few times in our local auditorium, they have the lights pointing on the stage at full blast, and no lighting for the audience. This makes me just about faint! I can speak in front of large audiences as long as I can see them.

    • Chris Johnston

      I’ve never been completely blind when speaking to a large group when the house lights are down but the stage lights are up. I can generally find a face to connect with as I speak to and work the room.

      And sometimes I do work the spots where illumination doesn’t happen. But I also quickly scan an area before the house lights dim so I won’t select and area where no one is seating and try to do interaction with that area.

      And honestly, sometimes it’s easier because you don’t see from the corner or your eyes some of the distractions that happen that can sometimes break your cadence and concentration

      • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

        Good point Chris. You do have to still scan the entire room and present to every spot you believe is out there. Otherwise you just connect with the people on the front row and everyone else feels left out.

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      You have to be in a place where you’re comfortable speaking to a brick wall. There are always possible distractions that will come your way. Your goal is to have practiced your material so much, that the distraction isn’t a crisis, it’s an inconvenience. Does that make sense?

      • Chris Johnston

        Oh absolutely.

        I think speaking before a real life audience tempers you to learn to deal with the distractions as if they never occurred.

        I haven’t had the honor of speaking often enough or consistently enough on one topic to have developed a true maturity in mental discipline necessary to shut out a flicker of negative body language or some other similar distraction. So while it isn’t a melt down, it is a momentary mental distraction that sometimes makes you think twice about something that doesn’t require a second thought.

        But I’m working on that.
        .

      • http://twitter.com/tbric Tom Brichacek (@tbric)

        I think it is maybe the interaction thing. The distractions don’t bother me at all. I just spoke this spring to a group of 450 that I could see. Felt like I was talking to everyone. I can look people in the eye, and have some sort of connection with them. A different venue the lights went out when I started, I was much more tense. I guess I’ll have to practice talking to the brick wall!

        • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

          HAAAA!!! Yeah, the don’t give feedback either, which is good. ;-)

        • Chris Johnston

          Just mentally project a happy and engaged imaginary audience that can’t wait to meet you after you’re finished speaking.

  • http://ericspeir.com/ Eric Speir

    This is some good information. I spend a lot of my time speaking to people as well. I think one of the most important issues is knowing your audience. I have learned that I have to tailor my approach to my audience. I can’t talk the same way to every group. One day I might be talking to youth, the next day college students and then another time a group of adults. The message stays essentially the same but my audience is usually never constant.

    • http://Chrislocurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Unfortunately, some people only have one speed. Thanks Eric.