Four Public Speaking Lessons

Image source: Sheilaellen
Image source: Sheilaellen

I presented at three academic conferences in the last two weeks. I presented the findings of a project I did which evaluated how academics use iPads for academic practices. You can visit the project site if you are interested in knowing more about this project. I have been on a mission over the last few years to become a better presenter or public speaker. Here are some things I have learnt so far.

(1) Public speaking is a skill: It takes time and practice to develop it. To be a better public speaker, you have to constantly evaluate each presentation to figure out what worked and what didn’t. Most people mindlessly present. They give the same presentation routine every time. There is no discernible improvement in their presentational style because they don’t bother to figure out ways to improve their presentations. They are content with the way they present. This is usually the result of not studying better communicators. The more you watch polished speakers either live or online; the more you are determined to improve. I am a big fan of TED. The website has the best video collection of excellent public speakers. I watch their presentations on a regular basis to study the art of public speaking.

(2) Good balance of content, design and delivery: Good design and delivery is essential for any successful presentation. However, good content is the glue that connects these two things. Good content is information that is relevant, useful and of interest to the audience. Therefore if the design and delivery is great but the content is crap; the audience will switch off. Design is how a presenter puts the content together in a way that engages the audience’s attention. Delivery is how he communicates the designed content to the audience e.g. voice projection, pacing, gestures, tone etc.

(3) Less is more: Most presenters go for breadth rather than depth in their presentations. They try to cover as much as possible. They cram their slides with lots of text. Excellent presenters aim for one idea per slide. They use less text and more visuals. They understand that if they want their audience to remember their presentation’s key points then brevity is paramount.

(4) Tell stories: Nancy Duarte, a presentation guru, states that “most presentations lie somewhere on the continuum between a report and a story.” Average speakers design and deliver their presentations like reports while great speakers design and deliver their presentations as stories. Audiences remember a story better than a report.

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