Reluctant Speakers – Here’s How To Make Powerful Speeches

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It’s R in the #AtoZchallenge and today I’m focusing on Reluctant Speakers.

I used to be a reluctant speaker. It seems strange now but I was 29 when I delivered my first presentation. 29! I had gone all the way through school and three years of a degree and never given a presentation. How education has changed!  My first presentation was for half the marks on a module for my Masters degree so it had to be good. I practiced lots in front of my antique teddy bears which I scattered on chairs around my living room. I made eye contact with each and every one of them and they all looked back at me with encouraging expressions on their faces!  I still remember that I got 66% for that presentation and ended up with a distinction in my MA so I obviously got the hang of it.

I became accustomed to standing up in front of people as I was teaching and lecturing and always enjoyed it. Then after a couple of years break, I was asked to present to a women’s group and I floundered. I don’t think anyone in the group noticed and the feedback was positive. However, while I might usually be nervous for the first couple of minutes, I would usually then settle in to it and enjoy it. This presentation lasted an hour and I felt like I was on tenterhooks for every second. I wanted to get back to enjoying public speaking again so I went to Toastmasters for two years and achieved my Competent Communicator status.

I always enjoy listening to good speakers. If a speaker is poor, it doesn’t matter how useful the information is, nobody is going to be able to concentrate. Death by powerpoint – we have all experienced one of those and watched people fidget and squirm (or leave) around us.  I’m going to a Charisma Bootcamp next weekend and one of the reasons I’m really looking forward to it is because the presenters are so good at delivering their presentations.

How to make powerful speeches Eamonn O’Brien is another accomplished speaker and he trains people in improving their public speaking with his business The Reluctant Speakers Club (see where the ‘R’ comes in!) . I’m reading his book How To Make Powerful Speeches at the moment and it is excellent, not just for all the useful information it provides but also because it contains so much common sense that is easy to digest.

Here’s  points that particularly I enjoyed in the book (and it brought home to me that training for speech making is very similar to blog writing as I teach many of these points when teaching people how to blog effectively). There’s much more material in the book though – this is just a snapshot.

Storytelling – People love stories, they latch on to them, stories can become the most memorable part of your speech but as Eamonn says, many speakers make their stories about Me Me Me rather than using the story to teach the audience something or make something clear. How many times have you heard a speaker tell the story of how they got where they did, how they climbed the ladder to success and how many times have they been boring?  It’s all very interesting if it is humourous or if they are telling you about an error they made to prevent you making the same mistake but if it is Me Me Me, stop after a few minutes. As Eamonn points out, choose stories you know your audience will enjoy and learn from.

Audience – Eamonn uses many examples to show us how to ground everything from the audience’s perspective, to learn about the audience beforehand so your speech is prepared from them and only them. Plenty of pointers are provided to help you prepare for your audience.

First Impressions Count – To make your audience sit up and take  note, particularly if you have the 4pm graveyard slot, you have to remember that impression count and create the right impression, that your speech wilou are contain information that they value and that you are sincere and credible.

The Important 10% – It is rather sobering to think that people won’t remember more than 10% of what you say so make your main and most important message crystal clear, again and again and again.

Dispels Myths – Eamonn explain various ways to capture attention by hooking your audience from the start and concluding with a strong finish. It is good to read that the advice one often hears of ‘tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you told them’ is nonsense, it will just bore them.

Death by Powerpoint – As I mentioned above, we will all have attended presentations when the slides were chock full with text, so much that we couldn’t even read it and seen people’s eyes glaze over as they tried to read and listen. Eamonn devotes a section to this and shows how to make the most of your powerpoint slides.  Props and video are also useful tools within presentations – if used well.

There’s much more to this book than I have suggested. If you have to make presentations or speeches in the future – get yourself a copy of How To Make Powerful Speeches. Its strength is its common sense and straightforward approach, all couched in easy to follow language and layout. Even those who consider themselves experienced speakers need to read a copy in my humble opinion. The delivery of the presentation is just as important as the information within it. An excellent step by step guide. I’ve just noticed it is now available in paperback as well as kindle so you can purchase both on the links within this post.

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Posted in Blogs, Marketing, Tips, Tools for Conferences
  • Amanda Webb

    Nice review Lorna. I read this book too as I was lucky enough to get a preview copy from Eamonn. I was preparing a speech for a conference at the time and I have to say it was very helpful. Not just at telling me what I should do but also to reassure me that some of the techniques I already use are effective.

    The biggest thing I got from it was the importance of planning. I’m getting much better at this!

    • Lorna Sixsmith

      I agree, sometimes people can make it look so effortless that we forget many hours of preparation and practice may have been needed to get them to that stage and Eamonn makes that very clear.

  • marieennisoconnor

    Very helpful tips – sounds like a great book! I agree that great stories make great presentations. Also talking in a conversational and relaxed style works well too.

    • Lorna Sixsmith

      Hi Marie, yes, Eamonn goes into great detail on tone and posture etc too. What I also loved was the dispelling of many myths too. An excellent book.

  • Dee Sewell

    That’s a great review Lorna and definitely a book I’ll be buying now as a result. Practice, practice, practice seems to be the key but I was interested to see some of the points you highlighted, such as use stories but not all about me, me, me!

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