5 Tips for Giving Amazing Speeches and Presentations

Last Updated Mar 9, 2011 3:03 PM EST

Much of our success rides on persuading people to do a certain thing, make a particular decision, or behave a certain way. That persuasion is almost always in the form of verbal communication -- presentations in a meeting room, with a PowerPoint deck glowing in the background. But despite the importance of giving great presentations, few people put a lot of energy into becoming a better public speaker. Most folks I know are outright dismissive -- "I'm not a good speaker," they say, as if you're born that way and can't change.

That's unfortunate, because public speaking is a learned ability. Recently in the Harvard Business Review, Dan Pallotta enumerated the things you need to do to be a great public speaker. As someone who considers himself a pretty good public speaker, I heartily agree with most of his points. Follow these, and you can go from an insecure mumbler to taking the lead role in The King's Speech.

Know the goal of the speech. What do you want your audience to think or do? Understand that and craft your presentation with that in mind. As Pallotta points out, many speakers never even ask themselves this fundamental question.

Memorize it. This might run counter to advice you've heard before, but it's critical. Memorize your speech word for word. Because only then can you add emotion and emphasis to it. If you're struggling to remember what you're saying, it's impossible to be persuasive.

Practice your transitions. Know your speech inside and out, but in particular, you should know exactly how to get from one main point to the next. Be able to do that smoothly, without verbal pauses.

Don't rely on PowerPoint as your notes. The PowerPoint slides are for your audience, not for you. Never, ever stare at them to get "recentered" or read bullets of slides like a shopping list.

Don't speak in abstractions. Say exactly what you mean, avoiding buzzwords and corporate lexicon. Put your speech in plain English, as if you were talking to actual human beings.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Matthew Hurst
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