25 tips to give a good talk

The 25 best tips to give a good talk

We've asked dozens of specialists in public speaking their tips to give a very good talk and here are the answers they gave.

1) Slides are for glancing, not for reading. If your audience will be "reading" your slides, the slides are too wordy. Think about TED Talks -- the camera is on the speaker almost all the time. The camera might cut to the slides for about five to eight seconds, but then it cuts right back to the speaker. (Christian Gilbert, Assistant Professor of Speech and Communication at Leeward Community College in the University of Hawaii System)

2) Add 20% more You. The biggest killer of a presentation is low-energy, like a monotone delivery. You don't need to ham it up like a radio DJ or a game show host, but it may feel like you're overdoing it at first if you aren't accustomed to presenting. You don't need to pretend you're someone else, like a favorite celebrity. Be yourself, plus about 20% more You. This is especially vital in virtual presentations. There's a reason radio DJs ham-up their voices -- the more limiting the medium, the more energy needs to be packed into the delivery. (Christian Gilbert)

2 bis) One of the most important elements of giving a good talk is energy. Every speaker needs to be energetic and passionate about what they are saying in order for the audience to enthusiastically engage. Some people are naturally energetic and others tend to remain more passive in not only their business presentations, but in their personal interactions as well. Regardless of whether an individual naturally radiates high or low energy the simplest, fastest and most effective way for anyone and everyone to raise their energy level is to "dance it out!". Yes, I did say "dance it out!". Create a playlist with 3-5 songs that get you going and dance to them. Put movement in your body, get your blood flowing, smile and enjoy yourself. This will 100% guaranteed change the quality of your presentation and you will inevitably be a more dynamic speaker following this exercise. Don’t hurt yourself, don’t wear yourself out, don’t scream the lyrics because you need your voice (you can mouth the words), but put some joy into your body and on your face. Find a private space to do this, put earbuds in if need be. This exercise works for both live and virtual talks and presentations. (Jennifer Lieberman)

3) Another tip about giving a good talk is to slow down and breathe. When we are nervous we all have a tendency to speed up, especially when talking in front of a crowd. Even if you go at half the speed that feels normal, you are probably still rushing through to some extent. Remind yourself you have time and there is no need to rush. Don’t confuse slowing down with having low energy, we can still present with high energy and slow down the pace of our speech. Speaking on the breath is a skill professional actors practice and work on regularly in order to have enough steam to make it to the end of a thought. We cannot make sounds when we run out of air so it is important to breath and go slow in order to convey our message. (Jennifer Lieberman)

4) Engage the audience to participate actively. You can do this with technology like live polling (which is one of the tools that CarbonFreeConf has in store), or even ask the attendees to complete a survey in advance and report the results in your talk. But, you can also actively engage participants in other non-tech ways, with "show of hands" questions, or even asking them to break for 5 minutes to try out an idea in a small group and report back. And definitely, don’t just answer questions at the end of your talk. Break midway and take a few questions. Engaging an audience to participate, actively, and early in a talk is crucial. (Brian Gawor, Vice President for Research at RNL)

5) Starting the talk with a cliffhanger that won't be resolved until the end of the presentation and dropping in thought experiments along the way. (Debra Mashek)

6) If you have words on the slide: read them. It's really hard for the human brain to simultaneously process what it reads and listen to what's being said. By talking about one thing, while showing a slide that says something different, you're asking your readers to choose which channel to pay attention to. (Debra Mashek)

7) Remember that people connect more to experiences vs. ideas. How can you turn your ideas into a "movie in the heads" of your audience? (Lori Hamilton)

8) Know your audience. When speaking to a group, you need to understand who that group will be, and tailor your presentation to them. What do they know about your topic, and how are their language skills? Do you need to explain the basics and avoid using jargon, or are they ready for a more complex and nuanced presentation? (Deb Geller, a Higher Ed consultant and retired University administrator/faculty member and former Toastmasters Area Governor)

9) If the format is like a workshop - ask questions. This is easily done over virtual meetings - ask the attendees to send answers over the chat. In a room, you can ask them to raise their hands or just speak up. If the room is big - walk to them and repeat their answer if you have a mike. (Nisha Talagala)

10) The first 5-10 min of your talk is when you have most of the audience's attention. Make sure to get key information across in those 5-10 min. (Nisha Talagala)

11) Be authentic. Be you. Stand out with your own way of presenting (Julie Menden)

12) Make eye contact with the audience or look into the camera (if virtual) so people feel like you are looking at them (Julie Menden)

13) Don't rush and say there is too much to cover in such a short time. Plan for remarks to end to leave time for questions. The rushing feels awful to listeners. Practice timing in advance if one is new at speaking. (Karen Gross)

14) Don't over-prepare. It's tempting, especially if you're someone who's anxious about giving talks, to really plan out everything you'll say and rehearse it several times. But I've found that this can often lead to feeling more anxious and not connecting with the audience. If the goal of the talk is to persuade or inspire, this just won't work. Leave some room to wing it. It may seem daunting at first, but trust yourself. You know what you're going to be talking about, likely better than anyone else in the talk. Trust in yourself and improvise a little. (Jeremy Yamaguchi)

15) Use humour carefully and sparingly. Best and safest jokes are about oneself.  One time a speaker came to address a small group of my colleagues and started with a joke about a stutterer. What he didn't know was that one member of the group had a stutter and thus the speaker got off on the wrong foot. And no, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. (Howard Rankin, Director of Science at Intuality Inc.)

16) Understand the seven fundamental motivators and how you will use them: Reciprocity, Authority, Liking, Social Proof, Commitment, Consistency, Scarcity. (Howard Rankin)

17) Vary the pacing - No one wants to sit and be talked to for hours. As a teacher, we know there's only a certain amount of time students can physically and mentally pay attention without a change of pace. In our world, the rule is to change things up every 5-7 minutes. Adults can pay attention for longer than kids, but still, keep this idea in mind. At a certain point, they won't be able to pay attention as well as they used to. For most, 10-12 minutes is a good rule of thumb. After this time, mix things up by: a) Moving around, b) Having people discuss with others around them, c) Switching media or form of delivery (i.e., lecture, video, demonstration), d) Make people switch seats. (Zach VanderGraaff)

18) Use personal stories. Have you ever gone to watch the presentation of a friend of yours? Chances are if you did, you paid close attention to them even if their talk was the most boring thing you've ever heard. I love my friend Stephanie, but listening to a lecture on why teaching fractions before multiplication may be good is sure to put almost anyone to sleep. Still, I paid attention the whole darn time. Why? Because I cared about her, and I had a connection with her. While we can't build an instant, deep connection with people we're presenting to, we can build something of a connection by sharing personal stories around a topic. (Zach VanderGraaff)

19) Be sure to warm up beforehand – physically, vocally, and psychologically – like stretching, hydrating, tongue twisters, and deep breathing. Be as well rested as you can be. Always have a backup plan – if your projector or screen share fails, can you still tell your story without your slides? If you use the notes section to prompt yourself, make sure you have a printed backup. (Jessica Ellis-Wilson)

20) Start your talk by making a good impression. Ditch the usual starter greetings and thank yous as well as disclaimers. You can start with a relevant story, capturing their attention, and make it your goal to make them stay through the whole duration of your talk. (Michael Humphreys)

21) Do not just read your PowerPoint slides. You are in front of a (virtual) crowd of human beings. Forge a connection with your audience by being your most authentic self. Think that you are giving a talk, something that is of value to your listeners. When you shift your focus to giving value and your pure intention is to provide help and solution, you will feel more confident. (Michael Humphreys)

22) As much as possible, smile throughout your talk. During face-to-face gatherings, you may be able to convey your message both through verbal and non-verbal communication. However, the pandemic posed a challenge to our conferences and facing the screen may be a daunting task. (Michael Humphreys)

23) For virtual meetings, make sure you are in a quiet place with no distractions/pets/kids/phones ringing, good lighting really makes a difference (Paige Arnof-Fenn)

24) Record yourself practicing then watch the playback from the audience point of view. (Nina Irani Surya)

25) Go through your presentation with a trusted colleague who knows the point of view of an audience member. Together, see if you can anticipate questions, areas that need redirection, clarification, or areas with too much detail. (Nina Irani Surya)

—CarbonFreeConf Team

Comments (1)

Unknown user picture Inaya 16 Jul 2022 01:07

Thank you! It helped me a lot for my latest talk in front of a large audience!

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