Top 10 tips to create a stunning speech or presentation

Top 10 tips to create a stunning speech or presentation1. The worst part of giving a speech is thinking about it beforehand.
In fact, if you prepare properly, once you get started the jitters disappear. Many people say that it’s good to get slightly nervous before you start because the rise in your adrenaline levels puts you in peak form to perform.  (But not if you’re so hyped you’re chewing the furniture. So prepare …. and relax.)

2. Never use language you wouldn’t use in normal conversation.
That’s because it makes you sound stilted, artificial, and boring. People often try to give themselves a personality transplant before they speak in public and talk as they think a public speaker “should” talk.  This doesn’t work, especially if you’re a beginner. ALWAYS be yourself.

3. The best speakers always talk to audiences as if they were talking to a friend over a cup of coffee.
This means in a natural, friendly, personal style. They make it look and sound easy, but usually that’s because of the work that’s gone into it beforehand. No matter how pompous or snobbish they may be in real life (think politicians) their speeches are usually natural and friendly because they know that works best.

4. So how do you achieve this smooth, seamless, natural style?
Start by writing yourself a list of points – a structure that includes a beginning, a middle and an end. Strengthen that structure with a few short, relevant and above all true stories from your own experience.  Audiences appreciate honesty and, being naturally voyeuristic (in the nicest possible way…) enjoy sharing your innermost experiences.

5. Then talk through the structure into an audio recorder. 
Don’t worry about style or grammar at this stage, just chat it through as if you were talking to that friend over the cup of coffee.  Finally rewind the tape and then transcribe it. It’s a terrible job. I hate transcribing, but the benefits make all the tedium worthwhile. Talk nicely to your PA or secretary if you have one….

6. Now, get to work editing that transcript.
Assuming it has been transcribed directly into your PC the process should be easy. (And make a copy before you start, in case things go wrong.) Above all else, don’t take out the natural pauses or less-than-grammatically-perfect-but-totally-“you”-content. Be sure, however, to clean up any sections that sound lumpy and awkward.  Give the rest a gentle tidy-up.

7. Depending on the occasion, it helps to add in some humor to illustrate the points you make.
But be careful with humor, because if it’s even a little bit inappropriate for the occasion it can spoil the whole presentation. Bad or tasteless jokes take a lot of recovering from. Also avoid humor if it isn’t something you use or sympathize with normally. There’s nothing worse than a joke told by someone who doesn’t think it’s funny.

8. Writing your speech, as opposed to working only from notes, stops you running under or over your allotted time slot.
This can be embarrassing.  By all means develop bullet points to work from, but write up in full what you’re going to say before you get out there. That helps to lodge the content firmly in your mind.  Well worth it.

9. To calculate how many words fit into a given time slot, here’s the formula:
People speak at 120 – 150 words per minute. Multiply your speed (make a judgment on whether you speak slowly or quickly) by the number of minutes, and that’s how many words you need. If you want to be particularly scientific about gauging your own speed, time a section of your taped material, mark that section on your written transcript, run a word count on it via your word processing software and then do the calculation.

10. Most important of all is to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
Not too early, or you’ll be fed up with the speech, but not the night before either. Never be ashamed of rehearsing. I know it’s hard when your partner is waiting impatiently for you to mow the lawn, cook dinner or anything else for that matter – or your kids scream with laughter when they hear your performance from behind the bathroom door. I’ve been there. But tell them all to get lost, nicely, rehearse until you feel comfortable with your presentation, then go out there on the day and knock ’em dead.  And enjoy!

All the answers you need about speeches and presentations:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

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  1. I love these tips and wholeheartedly agree with No. 1!

    Once I get started, I feel fine and about 90 percent of my anxiety goes away.

    I proceed a little differently. I begin by writing out everything I think I want to say, attempting to write it in a conversational tone. Then I read it and am able to hear what needs to be improved and what doesn’t sound conversational.

  2. That way works too, Mary, provided you’re a logical and linear thinker as I’m sure you are! Some people (like me) are rather more like grasshoppers, and a structure helps to keep us moving in fairly disciplined way. And reading it aloud to yourself – or someone else – as you do, is a great way to check for any lumpy sections; if you find it difficult to say when you read it quietly, you can bet your boots you’ll stumble over it in the actual presentation. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. All great points, Suze!

    There’s the belief that imagining your audience thoroughly enjoying your speech/ appreciating the information/ etc., etc. will also help to quell nerves and enable you to enjoy the experience, too – though I wouldn’t try that in place of any of your tips… 🙁

    And, on a practical note, having somebody in the audience to silently and unobtrusively “count you down” and keep you within your allotted time frame is really worthwhile 😉

    • ‘having somebody in the audience to silently and unobtrusively “count you down” and keep you within your allotted time frame’ shouldn’t be necessary if you write yourself a full script, because you can time yourself from that. If you don’t want to read the script from paper or a teleprompter device, you can work back from it into bullet points – because you have logged the full script in your mind, you’re unlikely to run over or under time this way.

      People who work from a structure but then ad lib here and there can get themselves into deep doo-doo, because often they will wander ahead into subject matter that doesn’t come up in their structure until later. So when they return to the script, it doesn’t make sense any more.

      Ad libbing and presenting in free fall should only be done by people who are very, very good at what they do, and also who have given the same presentation over and over again – e.g. teachers, lecturers, professional speakers and possibly politicians! Because of their past experience they know that, provided they don’t deviate from the original material, their presentations will run roughly to time, every time.

    • God, no! 🙂

      As soon as there’s someone in the audience that you need to pay attention to, only the most experienced/talented of presenters can manage to engage everyone else as much as they should and – only slightly tongue in cheek here – if they’re that experienced they should know enough about presenting not to need such a person!

      There are, needless to say, tools and techniques for doing exactly that which we teach on our training courses (such as using your peripheral vision) but it’s far better to use (drumroll please)…..

      a/ a clock in the room, or
      b/ rehearsals (obviously!)
      c/ presenter view – it is, after all, what it was *designed* for.

      The latter is ugly as hell in Powerpoint (compared to proper presentation software) but it does work, very nicely, despite that! 😉

  4. Excellent tips, Suze. I hate giving presentations but I totally agree with point 1, that the worst part is thinking and worrying about it before the event! When I was giving presentations as part of my teacher training we often had someone giving us signals about the amount of time we had left and I found this incredibly distracting – as you say, it’s much better to thoroughly practise your whole speech / presentation beforehand.

    • I can think of nothing that would terrify me more, Angela, than getting up and speaking to a classroom full of children … you have my heartfelt admiration! At least with adult audiences there’s a good chance that they’re there because they want to be, whereas children are there whether they like it or not. How you teachers manage to capture and keep their attention and interest is beyond me…

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