How to Get People to Listen: Tips for Eager (and Reluctant) Speakers

There's never been more demand, or opportunity, for women to step up and speak their mind. Here are five tips for improving your own presentation literacy (and reducing your speaking-induced stress levels).

Despite all the talk of public speaking being a fate worse than death, there are more opportunities to speak, online and off, than ever before. That means there’s a growing demand for people, women especially, to stand up and speak their minds, share their wisdom.

This is exciting for those who want to make speaking a bigger part of their career - and more than slightly terrifying for those who don’t! Fact is, there’s nothing more powerful (for your brand, business, and career) than being able to talk to a group of people - whether that’s in a closed meeting or on a conference stage.

The key to doing this more effectively is understanding that while some silver-tongued colleagues may come to it more naturally, speaking is a skill, and it can be learned.

Chris Anderson, the curator for TED and the author of The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, calls it “presentation literacy,” and he says that it’s one of the most important skills you can have.

He writes, “We live in an era where the best way to make a dent on the world may no longer be to write a letter to the editor or publish a book. It may be simply to stand up and say something.”

As a branding pro and speaker who speaks widely and coaches other people to deliver at big events, like TEDx, CES, and SXSW, I know what holds people back. And it’s not that they’re “not good enough.”

It’s that they see speaking as a pass/fail, which is flawed both ways. On one hand, you worry that if you mess up, you’re a permanently flawed speaker. On the other hand, if you got up, spoke, and people clapped, you think that’s as good as you need to be, and you don’t really need to work on anything.

Both viewpoints are wrong.

Here are five strategies for improving your own presentation literacy skills so you can be compelling while being absolutely yourself:

1. Realize just standing there makes you an expert.

It’s true! When you step up to the podium, we assume you’re supposed to be there. You’d be surprised at how little we question it. You have nothing to prove or explain to them out of the gate.

No one can give you authority; you have to take it. In fact, you have to fake it! That’s what I did when I was new; I just pretended I did this all the time. The audience is less concerned with whether you should be there, and more just ready for you to give them something they can use.

2. Don’t bury the lead.

You don’t take a talk; you give one. And your measure as a speaker is whether you gave the audience something good.

So while you don’t have to make a case for whether you’re good enough to get up there, once you are up there, you must make a case for why. The answer should be that it solves a problem (what that problem is, is for you to identify and address, depending on your audience).

Skip the prologue and get to the show! Forget the long-winded start. The sooner you can get to the point of what the audience needs to know, the better.

3. Put them in the moment (don’t just report on it).

You know where people space out and stop listening? When you’re talking about ideas they can’t grasp, speaking in generalities, or summing up things instead of showing them things.

Never underestimate the power of scene. You think, “Why would they care about that?” Well, because it’s real. There’s nothing “organic” about sitting in a hotel conference hall watching someone talk behind a podium. Bring your talk to life with real examples and scenes they can experience for themselves. Trust me, you will have them in the palm of your hand.

4. Flex your speaking muscle - every day.

Public speaking doesn’t start on day one with a keynote address, and waiting until "The Big Event" is not how you get better. Take every opportunity, even the smallest, to speak up - in meetings with colleagues and clients alike. Then do it again tomorrow.

5. Study other speakers.

Become a student of speakers. Watch them - at events you attend, online. You could literally spend the next month watching TED talks. And don’t just watch the TED superstars - watch regular people give TEDx talks so you get over this idea that you have to be special to do it. You don’t. Experiment with some of their techniques.

Also: Take advantage of all the free tutorials and courses online! I happen to be running one myself February 1 & 2, 2017: "5 Steps to a Killer TEDx Talk - Even if You Don't Have a Topic." I'd love it! It's great if you want tools for creating a compelling message to deliver at TEDx - or anywhere else!

Trust me, no time is wasted when you spend it working to become a better, more confident presenter of your ideas. I will be cheering you on from the cheap seats!

Terri Trespicio is a writer, speaker, and brand strategist in New York City. Her TEDx talk, “Stop Searching for Your Passion,” has 1.8 million views. Visit her at Register for her FREE online training session, “5 Steps to a Killer TEDx Talk—Even If You Don’t Have a Topic,” 2/1/17 @ 8p ET & 2/2/17 @ 12p ET.

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