The Best Thing You Can Do to Be a Better Speaker

When we think about speeches or presentations we have seen that were terrific, we think about how the speaker made us feel. A great speaker can make us feel excited, motivated, intrigued, moved, or compelled. The same is true when we think about presentations we endured that weren’t so great—they make us feel impatient, bored, irritated, distracted.

It makes sense, then, that when we are preparing for a speech ourselves, we need to think about how we want to make our audience feel. Do you want your audience to feel passionate about your favorite cause? Do you want them to be swayed to vote for you? Do you want them to feel enlightened about your topic?

It is impossible to adequately prepare for a speech without first answering the question: “Why am I giving this talk?” and yet most speakers never ask themselves that question, let alone spend time answering it specifically and completely. Knowing the answer to this question is the most important part of preparing to deliver a presentation. If you know why you are talking to the audience, what Executive Repertory calls your “intention,” just about everything else you need to prepare will fall into place.

Let me give you an example. Susan has a big presentation to give in front of a client committee. Not only will top executives from her biggest client be there, but her immediate bosses at her own firm will be there, too. Understandably, Susan is a little nervous.

Susan spends weeks on the content of her presentation, creating a beautiful PowerPoint deck and knitting together an airtight summary of the exemplary work her team has been doing for the client. The night before the big day, she stays up late, tweaking the fonts and rearranging a few slides she was never totally happy with.

The big day comes. Susan stands up in front of the conference room, her laptop powers up, the first slide pops up, and Susan freezes. All those faces looking back at her! Why is that senior VP frowning? Suddenly her mouth is dry and her palms are wet. Her mind goes blank.

Now, if Susan knows why she’s up there, all she has to do is take a breath and remind herself, “My job is to make these people understand the scope of the work our team has done,” and she will settle down and know what to say.

On the other hand, if Susan hasn’t practiced this presentation and hasn’t identified the effect she wants to have on her audience, here’s what may happen:

Unsure what to do, she turns to the screen where her first slide is waiting. “Uh, okay, so, this…Thank you, for being here!” she starts, then reads her slides, one after the other, distracted by the font she still doesn’t like, not making eye contact or any connection with the audience, feeling, more than anything, that she wants this whole thing to be over. Her body language and voice tell the audience clearly that she doesn’t want to be there, and they are absorbing that message at least as much as the content of her presentation.

Executive Repertory focuses on the why first, and then the how. We help you identify your intention, then align your body and voice with that intention, and then develop a practice plan just for you.

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