Speechless in Seattle: How to Make a Great Presentation

Dear Debra: I’ve been asked to present at a high-profile company event. My bosses, colleagues, donors, and board members will be attending. I’m petrified. Help!

Practice until you can’t stand the sound of your own voice. Practice breeds confidence. It’s impossible to over-rehearse.

Avoid preparing more material than will fit in your allotted time. This will keep you from rushing, running out of time and missing key points, or running over. Rule of thumb: for every hour, prepare 40 minutes of material. This allows time for interaction and discussion. Speakers prepare excess material hoping to leave no time for fielding dreaded questions; don’t make this mistake. Embrace questions: audience participation brings presentations to life. Afraid of being stumped? Simply say, “Great question. I don’t have the answer, but I’ll get back to you stat, later, after I’ve done some digging.”

Arrange for U-shaped audience seating, facing you. This allows listeners to see, in their peripheral vision, others who are laughing, nodding, or even standing to applaud; these exuberant displays are infectious, so setting up chairs in this way sets you up for contagious enthusiasm.

Get your hands on the list of attendees and email them beforehand, or pop by their office, or ask at the coffee bar: “What burning question would you like to have addressed?” This gets buy in, plus attendees will feel that you’ve custom-tailored your talk to their needs.

Enlist plants: prevail upon trusted colleagues to ask questions at designated times, including when you ask, “Any questions?”, and no one speaks up. This will get the Q & A rolling and eliminate uncomfortable silences.

Something embarrassing happens? Try, “Whoops. I have egg on my face. I hear it’s good for the complexion, but next time I’ll stick with a professional facial.” Non-defensiveness and self-deprecating humor renders you human and irresistible because people can relate to and empathize with you. They may just beg for an encore.


Note: I learned several of the tips above from my favorite professional speaking mentor, Tom Antion. Since I first took his in-depth audio and video course five years ago, I was hooked. I now build in time – no matter what – for a refresher repeat before each and every keynote or presentation I deliver. Being a student of Tom’s advice has made all the difference in my success as a keynote speaker. I can’t say enough great things about his gold-standard speaking strategies and I highly recommend that you, too, take the time to read about his course offerings. What Tom offers isn’t an easy sort-cut: it takes time and hard work. But work his program and you will emerge as a confident, powerful speaker who knows how to fill a room and how to deliver a moving, powerful message. And there’s no better feeling than knowing that you’ve inspired others to go out and make a difference. The world deserves to hear from us.

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