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The well-dressed announcer reads your introduction into the microphone. She finally signals for you to join her on stage. As you walk toward the podium, the audience gives you its best courtesy applause. You reach the podium. You clear your throat. Everyone is staring at you. You worry your voice will fail, so you try to envision the audience naked. You heard this mental image would help. Instead it makes you queasy.
Time to stop worrying and start delivering! This is your moment to shine, to share a message, to influence and inspire. Your mind clears, and you deliver the best speech of your life.
Because you have what it takes to be an amazing, persuasive public speaker. All you have to do is act on the secrets that bring any audience to its feet. Before I reveal five of my favorite public speaking secrets, let me share a little background.
I became a professional speaker at age 18. Since then I’ve delivered more than 3,000 presentations around the globe. I’ve spoken in huge arenas, top-secret executive meetings and remote villages in India. Along the way I’ve experienced the highs, lows and “uh-ohs” of anyone who regularly gives presentations. I’ve received standing ovations from 13,000 people while fireworks exploded around me. Later that same week, I gave a speech and the power went out, the room went dark, and I had to finish my presentation to 1,000 people while holding a flashlight. It happens.
All these experiences taught me how to walk into any room and know what to do to connect, influence, entertain and inspire. I want you to have the same instinct without learning it the hard way. Below are a few secrets I’ve discovered to being a persuasive speaker (hint—you’re not going to find these in a traditional speaking class):
Step 1: It’s not about you.
It’s only about the audience. This is the toughest part for most people to get. No matter who the audience is—even if it’s you giving a toast at a family wedding—the most important people to the audience members are themselves. Start by putting yourself in their shoes, seats and mindset. Ask yourself, If I were in the audience, what is the most urgent, important message I need to hear? Then take your persuasion objective and align it with their goals. Now you have alignment with their perspective, pain and hope before you ever speak. In other words, show genuine interest in your listeners and they will show genuine interest in you.
Step 2: Omit those needless PowerPoint slides.
If you have to use PowerPoint, my suggestion is one slide for every five minutes of talk time. The best PowerPoint slides have less than 10 words or no words at all—just a picture. If you find yourself reading your slides to your listeners, stop speaking and email it to them. They’re adults. They can read it themselves.
Step 3: The unexpected will happen.
Act like it’s not important. If a cellphone rings, keep talking. If a door slams, ignore it. If someone sneezes, don’t say, “Bless you.” The audience will focus on whatever you do and how you react. Stay focused on your message and so will they.
Step 4: Don’t write your speech word for word and then try to memorize it.
You’ll sound like a computer and be anxious about forgetting even a single sentence. Instead, write out your three key points as precisely as possible—you can even draw them if you’re visual like me—and practice connecting those points with a natural pacing. Here’s what the pros know: No one will know that you flubbed a line or forgot a point unless you tell them so.
Step 5: Close strong no matter how you feel the speech went.
You don’t have to read a poem someone famous wrote. Instead tell your listeners why they are important. Focus on them and how your message will affect their job, family or lives. Humanize your message at the end, and people will leave with a connection that goes beyond the meeting.
And, worst case, if you fall off the stage and land face down on the carpet, just say, “I will now take questions from the floor.”