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Seven Advanced Habits of Highly Effective Speakers

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Like it or not, marketing executives are expected to deliver great presentations. And while some marketing executives are competent public speakers, practicing the following advanced tips can take a communicator from “good to great”.

Public speaking, like any other craft takes discipline, commitment and plenty of practice. With customer presentations ranging from prepared to impromptu, it is often helpful for marketing executives to keep these skills current. And while many speakers concern themselves with “the basics”, some are interested and willing to take their skills to advanced levels.

In this vein, assembled are seven habits of advanced public speakers (undoubtedly there are more):

Know Your Audience

“Know your audience” initially seems like an obvious tip. However, too many public speakers give canned and non-customized presentations that show little to no knowledge of the audience. For example, if the presentation is for a customer, find out why the briefing was requested and specific customer needs. Think personalization. Surprisingly, a little homework goes a long way.

Storytell Whenever Possible

People love stories, and best of all, stories are memorable. Powerful presentations have stories sprinkled throughout, and case studies to help bring key topics to life. Undoubtedly you have seen presentation after presentation start with speaker introductions and an agenda slide. Why not consider starting and ending a presentation with a story instead?

A Smile and Laugh Go a Long Way

Must every customer or internal presentation be so serious? Do you have a funny anecdote that captures a key point? Presenters sometimes think, “I’m not a funny person, so I will leave humor out of the discussion.” Incorporating humor doesn’t mean one must tell jokes. The advanced presenter may incorporate a smile to start, humorous story, and/or self depreciating comment. Remember, a presentation is a performance, so have fun!

Engage the Audience Whenever Possible

Suppose your upcoming presentation is slotted for thirty minutes. Is there any heuristic that says a presentation must take twenty five minutes and leave five for Q&A? Mix it up! Why not incorporate feedback and questions throughout the presentation? Even better, allow for open ended questions (asked by the presenter) during the discussion. For larger audiences, some advanced presenters ask for a show of hands, or other polling device. Social media shows us we live in a world of "engagement." Your presentation should take this concept into account.

Add Vocal Variety

The advanced practice of adding vocal variety is rare for most public speakers. While a speaker may have body language and content down pat, vocal variety (rate, pitch, tone, highs/lows) is often forgotten. A well-done presentation isn’t necessarily “over the top”, and to be sure vocal variety can be exaggerated. However, adding vocal variety where appropriate can alert your audience that key points are worth their attention.

Self Modulate Based on Audience Reaction

With the exception of a presentation to an audience in a dark room, most speakers can see their audience members. Don’t pass up a golden opportunity to gauge audience reaction—during the actual talk. During your delivery, notice audience reactions—are they bored, asleep, disinterested, fiddling with their smartphone, or staring into space?

Based on audience reaction, the advanced presenter changes his or her delivery and possibly content accordingly. Stop for clarification, ask your audience questions, or consider doing something to change the direction of your speech. Your presentation isn’t actually over until it’s over, so don’t be afraid to change things up before the half-way point.

Incorporate Dramatic Use of “The Pause”

Have you ever seen a speaker incorporate a long breath before delivering a key point? If so, you have witnessed “the pause”. A pause of 1-2 seconds can alert an audience that the next phrase or sentence is worth hearing. This advanced technique is extremely rare, but can effectively be incorporated to activate a key message. However, as dramatic technique, “the pause” should not be over utilized.

These are just seven habits of highly effective presenters. What other “advanced” techniques have you witnessed from your favorite speakers?


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Paul Barsch directs services marketing programs for Teradata, the world's largest data warehousing and analytics company. Previously, Paul was marketing director for HP Enterprise Services $1.3 billion healthcare industry and a senior marketing manager at global consultancy, BearingPoint. Paul is a senior contributor to MarketingProfs, a frequent columnist for MarketingProfs DailyFix, and has published over fifteen articles in marketing, management, technology and healthcare publications. Paul earned his Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He and his family reside in San Diego, CA.

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  • by Claire Ratushny Tue Mar 2, 2010 via blog

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for this post. It's a nice refresher. As you say, all marketers must be able to make presentations. I'd add another tip: East coasters like me tend to talk way too fast. We do everything at Mach speed in the Northeast. When giving a speech or a presentation, it's important not to sound like we're rattling things off so quickly, it comes off as rehearsed and lifeless. The audience can't catch it all or doesn't have the time to absorb what we're saying. The cadence of a speech is very important. It enables us to be more animated and passionate about our subject matter. This is something I've personally had to learn.

  • by Paul Barsch Tue Mar 2, 2010 via blog

    Claire, what a terrific point about regional dialects and cadences. Upon reflection, there may also be regional phrases and/or local slang to watch out for in presentations as well. Thanks for adding to this column!

  • by Ted Mininni Tue Mar 2, 2010 via blog

    Nice post, Paul. Take it from a guy who goes all over the country presenting design concepts to clients: everything you've said here is right on the money. You know, we all do so much communicating electronically today, we've lost some of the human element along the way. We're all very busy and sometimes it seems as though we're living a virtual, rather than a "real" life when it comes to our business relationships. That's why anything I can do to inject a bit of humor, a self-deprecating bit or an "aside" that makes each person in the room feel I'm speaking directly to them is so important. It makes everybody relax and connect in a very human manner. I sense we're all hungry for that. So my first rule is: think of what I can say or do to inject humanity and warmth into my presentation as I go along.

  • by Paul Barsch Tue Mar 2, 2010 via blog

    Ted, in my opinion, the ability to present to colleagues, customers, or other audiences is slowly becoming a lost art. It's one of the ways that marketers can differentiate themselves, but it is a craft and not something that can be dusted off for a moments notice.

    I appreciate your advice on the personal touch in communications - as you point out, it's so much more than simply eye contact!

  • by Elaine Fogel Tue Mar 2, 2010 via blog

    Paul, a great resource on speaking is the National Speakers Association (www.nsaspeaker.org). As a professional member myself, I would encourage marketers who speak, even occasionally, to attend some of their professional development workshops at the chapter level. They can pick up some valuable lessons and pointers.

    I've seen many conference presenters do a lackluster job because speaking isn't their gig, but if they followed your advice and even got some feedback from other speakers, they'd come across a lot more professionally.

  • by Michael E. Rubin Wed Mar 3, 2010 via blog

    Terrific post, Paul. "Engage the Audience Whenever Possible" is the #1 most effective tip for me.

    Sadly, there are presenters who speak about themselves, their company, and their service to an absurdly nauseous degree that, for all intents and purposes, the audience could just as well as be on Mars.

    I've dubbed these speakers "Shoegazers" after the early 90's alt-music movement that featured performers (mostly British, natch) who stood up on stage for two hours playing their instruments while staring at their shoes. Their music was droning, and the audience just didn't exist.

    Don't be a shoegazer.

  • by Paul Barsch Wed Mar 3, 2010 via blog

    Michael, really appreciate your input. How many presentations have you seen where for all intents and purposes, the audience didn't exist? What a dangerous strategy, especially since these days audiences can easily fiddle with their laptop, blackberry etc, or worse, use their iPhone Twitter app to talk about your presentation while it's occurring. Engage or perish?

    Thank you for taking the time to comment!

  • by Paul Barsch Wed Mar 3, 2010 via blog

    Elaine, the ability to speak in public (and speak well) - in my opinion - is table stakes for business professionals. I really appreciate the resource you listed and I hope that marketers will not only take a look at NSA, but other global communication organizations such as Toastmasters or Dale Carnegie Training.

  • by Jen Kuhn Wed Mar 3, 2010 via blog

    Excellent refresher and great points. I especially appreciate a story over the traditional introductions. Most speakers lose their audience before they even begin to speak. Someone introduces them, with all of their credentials while the audience withers away. Imagine if every time you spoke with a colleague or client, you first recited points on your resume? The typical introduction is not too far off that example.
    Engaging the audience is also a critical point. Sometimes, I simply say, "Stand up if..." If people have been sitting for a long time, this is much appreciated and a point of engagement. It allows the speaker and audience to connect (common interests if we stood together); and it's voluntary.
    Respectfully,
    Jen

  • by Paul Barsch Wed Mar 3, 2010 via blog

    Jen, regarding the "stand up if" -- what a terrific idea for audience engagement. I will try that approach sometime, esp if I am third or fourth speaker of the day.

    I also appreciate when you said, "Most speakers lose their audience before they even begin to speak." Isn't this the case? We need to bring something compelling to start a presentation -- a story, audience engagement via key question, or other device. How one starts a talk is critically important!

  • by Don Wed Mar 3, 2010 via blog

    Hi Paul:

    *Engage the Audience Whenever Possible*

    Suppose your upcoming presentation is slotted for thirty minutes. Is there any
    heuristic that says a presentation must take twenty five minutes and leave five
    for Q&A? Mix it up! Why not incorporate feedback and questions throughout the
    presentation? Even better, allow for open ended questions (asked by the
    presenter) during the discussion. For larger audiences, some advanced presenters ask for a show of hands, or other polling device. Social media shows us we live in a world of “engagement.” Your presentation should take this concept into account.

    Actually more and more we see "clickers" or other electronic devices that actually graph the responses (much like poll the audience in Millionaire).

    Another thing I like to do is have people ask questions in written form at or before I begin and then try to answer them in context.

  • by Paul Barsch Wed Mar 3, 2010 via blog

    Don, thank you for commenting! Indeed polling via clickers - if they are available for larger audiences is a terrific avenue for gaining instant feedback. They are also very valuable in online settings--and most of major webinar toolsets incorporate this feature. Questions - in advance is another good idea to gaining audience engagement. Appreciate the sharing of best practices!

  • by Larry Allen Thu Mar 4, 2010 via blog

    Great post...and many points to use when speaking or presenting. In particular, I loved your inclusion of the "dramatic pause".

    I recently heard a speaker who used a couple of phrases combined with a pause. For example, he might say "and don't miss this..." or "are you listening..." as a pre-cursor to the pause. Really effective for underscoring his key points.

  • by Paul Barsch Thu Mar 4, 2010 via blog

    Larry, thank you for adding your input! Honestly, I struggle with the "dramatic pause", as probably do many speakers.

    I included this device because I have a colleague who is terrific at the effect and he's someone I try to emulate.

  • by Eric Novinson Sun Mar 7, 2010 via blog

    This is really helpful. It's good to know about techniques like adding humor and telling a story to make the presentation more memorable. The tip I remember most from speech class was based on an Aristotle saying, that credibility depended on knowledge about the topic, intent to help the listener, and trust. Can't remember the Greek words for these, but it makes the tip a lot shorter, just three words.

  • by Paul Barsch Sun Mar 7, 2010 via blog

    Eric, what helpful tips! My favorite was, "intent to help the listener." This why "Know Your Audience" is so important, and an often disregarded tip for speakers. A presenter should always ask, "Who is my audience? Why am I presenting? What do they want from the presentation? How can I help them learn (and not just push content)!

    Appreciate your comments and thank you for adding to the discussion!

  • by BK Mahapatro Tue Mar 9, 2010 via blog

    Hi paul it is a great refresher, 'engaging the audience' is the most interesting part.
    Not only they receive you ,but also, in the process, you too learn a point or two.

    In one recent session I started with a question to the audience as to "who needs this discussion?" and lowered the voice to say ' if there is non, why should we spend time!'

    Obviously they did not expect this. Hence came a big reply "we need it"

    I followed it up with another question "ask me a few questions" as to "what is bothering you" (relating to the topic ,of course)?.

    surprisingly I got a set of questions.

    And then, you know, "relating" with the audience became that much easier.

    Thanks again for the crisp refresher.

  • by joseph d'souza Tue Mar 16, 2010 via blog

    It is really good and helpful, especially for people like me.

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