When you hear the words “professional speaker,” do they conjure up a particular image in your mind? What exactly does a professional speaker look and sound like? What are some of the traits that successful speakers have in common?
Before we delve into this, let me take you back to 1997. That was the year that Dustin Hoffman was awarded the “Lifetime Achievement Award” at the Golden Globes Award Ceremony. After thanking everyone who helped him during his career, he told a story that has a great deal of relevance to public speaking.
Paraphrasing, the story went something like this:
“When I was doing a promotional tour for ‘The Graduate,’ I found myself flipping the dials in my hotel room one night. I came upon an interview of the great Russian-American composer, Igor Stravinsky. It caught my eye and after listening to it for a few minutes, I became spell-bounded. The interviewer asked Stravinsky:
‘Sir, what is the best moment for you as a composer? Is it when you have finished a newly completed work?
Stravinsky pondered the question and answered: “ No-no-no, it’s not then.”
‘Then, is it when your agent informs you that the piece will be performed at one of the concert halls of the world?’
‘No, no, no it is not then either.’
‘Then is it on opening night at Carnegie Hall or The Kennedy Center, when the last note has been played and the audience erupts into a standing ovation, is that the best moment?’
‘No-no-no. Not then either.’
‘Well, sir,’ the interviewer asked: ‘What IS the greatest moment for you?’
‘Vell, I vill tell you. Ven I’m working on my piano in a composition, looking for the melodic phrase that vill carry the movement forward. I vill be sitting at the piano, going: bee-bum; bee-bum; bee-bum.’
‘This goes on for hours, days, sometimes even weeks: bee-bum; bee-bum; bee-bum. Then miraculously, it happens: I find the note! That, for me is the moment.’
“My fellow actors, for me ‘the moment’ is not when I get cast in a major role in a blockbuster movie. The moment is not when I stand before you accepting a lifetime achievement award or even an Oscar. But when I am doing my ‘bee-bums’ to find the inner sole of the person I am portraying. Whether it be Benjamin in ‘The Graduate’ or Ratzo Rizzo in ‘Midnight Cowboy’ or ‘Papillion’, when I come upon the ‘Bee-Bum’ that makes that character work, that for me, ‘is the moment.’”
Well, my fellow tax practitioners, the “Bee-Bums” in our profession are not found when we find the answer to a mind-numbing question in the U.S. Tax Code, but instead when we discover a way to simplify it so that it can be understood by a layperson. That layperson might be our client. Or, it might be an audience that we will be delivering a presentation to.
Below is a list of tips that I’ve gathered from some of the hottest keynotes speakers out there today. Regardless of your skill level, every public speaker can benefit from these insights I’m about to share. Integrating these tips into your presentation will help you to deliver an “unforgettable” presentation (they are listed in no particular order):
(1) Overcome fear by rechanneling that energy. It’s your friend, not your enemy. Remember the catchphrase, “Prepare mentally, practice rigorously.” If you need inspiration for transcending fear, look no further than the famous quote by Mark Twain: “Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.”
(2) When you cram too much into a presentation, it will be complex and confusing. Narrow your focus and underscore one takeaway.
(3) The more you think about the audience, the less you’ll focus on yourself. “Me, me, me = Nervousness.”
(4) Are audience member’s eyes glazing over? Are heads bobbing and weaving? There’s a simple fix … tell a story! Facts don’t connect like stories. Stories move people. They touch us in our “tenders” – in those soft, vulnerable places where our decisions are made.
(5) What kind of story should you tell? Personal stories work best, particularly when it comes to those things that we all share in common. This ties directly into people’s emotional triggers.
(6) Unfortunately, just telling a story is not enough. You need to go beyond the story to a place that fully expresses the lessons you’ve learned. How does one do this? By reliving the story. Only by reliving it will you be able to emphasize the lessons that you learned. Use facial expressions, body language, and play the character. This may require you to do some soul searching to find your inner child. If you can’t, look no further than your own kids. Kids are great at telling stories in a natural, yet funny away. You can and should retell a story like a kid would – with curiosity and wonder.
(7) Be ready for anything, from technology issues to audience distractions. Shake it off and always have a backup plan.
(8) Absolutely, positively master your content. If you do, you’ll never have to worry about tech issues with your slides.
(9) Do you truly value people’s time and attention? If so, think about offering tremendous takeaway value to your audience. Have you written a blog post, article, or book that you can leverage actionable tips from?
(10) To be humorous, just be yourself. The more you try to be the next “Comedy Central” star, the more likely you’ll crash and burn. Instead, how about sharing a mistake or a time in your life when you suffered embarrassment? Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.
(11) Regularly use the word “YOU” and audience members will feel like you’re talking directly to them. Also, make your presentation an “experience” where the focus is on the audience and their needs.
(12) Start with the audience – what do they care about? What do they already know? What are you going to do to make your time with them valuable? Starting with the audience’s perspective in mind is essential for powerful communication that connects and resonates with people. You know that you’ve struck a chord when heads drop and pens begin to move swiftly across notepads (or fingers begin stroking the keys of a laptop).
(13) When it comes to interaction, audiences want to interact with each other, not the speaker. Create opportunities for dialogue between audience members, so they can reflect on the information that was shared.
(14) Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression. So, leave it all on the table when you speak.
Mastering these tips will help you to effectively connect with any audience when sharing your expertise. Remember, you belong on stage. So what are you waiting for? Go out there and knock ‘em dead!
Question: Have you ever had to give a high-stakes presentation? I’d really love to hear from you. Tell us how it went in the comments and whether you would have changed anything.