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10 Lessons from My Speaking Coach

I thought I was a decent speaker, really, I did. That was until I spent 4 hours with a speaking coach who essentially made me realize all things that should work together to make a speaker and presentation great. This is me last week at WebVisions:

The Intro

I have a long way to go, and it's hard work, but I consider my time with a coach well-spent. I've called that time "boot camp" because I felt like I my speaking was broken down and rebuilt. Here are some of the major points that came up for me:

Presentation Content:

  1. You have 2-3 minutes to hook the audience. Thank them for coming, tell them your name and give them the one big reason why they should continue to listen to you. Show them that you will help solve a problem or fill a knowledge gap. Use an analogy or story. Get their attention early with something tasty. Keep it short.
  2. Outline your talk. Creating an outline will give your talk structure and coherence. Consider the overall theme or message of your talk - it's likely your hook. Everything must relate back to the theme. Outline each slide and each point you will make for each slide. Once you have it written out, go through it and ask yourself if the slides and points support the theme. If it doesn't, scratch it. Focus, focus, focus.
  3. Remember Door Points. Think of the audience leaving the room after the talk is done. What are the major points that you want them to think about as they walk out? These are your door points. Give them a simple way to remember these points.
  4. Use photos or graphics. No one wants to see another bullet point. Rely on your words to relate the information and let the presentation support your words. Never, never, never read from your slides.

Presentation Style:

  1. Control your movement while on stage. Your legs are roots and your arms are willow branches. Stay in one place for a while and then take a few steps to make a point. Don't dance around in a "box-step" motion like I was doing. Stay still.
  2. Keep your hands at chest level. Make points with your hands and don't stick them in your pockets or cross them in front of you.
  3. Make eye contact with the audience. Audience relations is very important and often overlooked. To really connect to an audience, you have to look into the crowd and talk to individuals. Divide the crowd into quadrants and speak to a person in each quadrant.
  4. Don't look down at the floor. Keep your head up and focused on the audience. Looking down makes a poor impression.
  5. Project your voice. Use more volume than you think is necessary. Get used to being loud when you practice.
  6. Slow down. Speak clearly and slowly. It will feel strange - like you're talking to someone who doesn't speak your language - but it works. Use pauses to emphasize your points. Take breaks to drink water or take a deep breath.

I worked with a local (Seattle) coach named Cathy Banks that I highly recommend. Cathy works through a company called Communication Power. I plan to continue with the coaching - it gives me confidence that I'm building on a solid foundation. In the end, confidence is the ultimate goal.

As a part of my training, I've also been keeping an eye out for speaking tips. Here are a few informative posts (thanks to Nick for the pointers from this post ).