7 Tips for Killer Presentations from the World Champion of Public Speaking

Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Google “public speaking” and you’ll find more than 545 million hits. When you consider that fear of public speaking is considered more than fear of death, the results aren’t as surprising. As an aspiring author and public speaker, I consider presentation skills as an indispensable competency to fulfill my vision as a thought-leader and pioneer in equipping, empowering, and transforming the next generation of leaders and organizations. Though I do not considered myself a natural, I’m always looking ways to improve my speaking. Here are seven tips from public speaking guru Darren Fleming which I hope will improve your presentation skills.

1. What do I do with my hands?

World-class speakers know that if they focus on content then controlling your hands with come naturally. When you worry about the positioning of your hands, you are focusing on the symptoms of your discomfort rather than addressing the true cause of this anxiety. Throughout your everyday life, your body moves naturally to complement your words. If you start to feel very conscious of your hands and what you are doing with them, take stock and start looking elsewhere for the source of your discomfort. Ask important questions such as “Do you have the right information?” “Are you delivering the right message for this audience?”  When you have prepared and mastered the subject you’re speaking, the problem with the movements of your hands will disappear. 

2. Impromptu Speaking

World-class speakers use what they know to make impromptu speaking look easy. First, don’t panic. Most people will panic when they are given an unprepared speech because they feel under pressure to deliver an excellent speech. The truth is the audience does not expect a great oratory performance, but rather they want an authentic speech that comes from the heart. Second, choose stories you are familiar with. Stories you’ve already shared a few times with your friends or family. You’ll probably get a good reaction when you shared something you already know very well. Third, use a basic structure to your speech.

  • Chronological (past, present, future)
  • Comparative (pros and cons
  • Six W’s (who, what, why, where, when, how)

3. Opening

World-class speakers grab the audience’s attention from the start of their presentation. Put the opening aside until you finish the main body of your presentation. The introduction will almost write itself. At the outset of your presentation, the audience wants to know what’s in it for them. Answer the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) Think about using stories, statistics, or questions to open the presentation. Never begin a presentation by saying, “Hi, thank you very much. It’s great to be here today. I’m going to be speaking at your organization today and I’m truly blessed by the fact that all you people have turned up to hear me.” This is a very dull and boring and focused on yourself than the audience. Begin your presentation instead like when you see the opening of a TV show CSI. Rather than opening with credits, they show a group of people watching a scene of dead body. This immediately captures the attention of the audience.

4. I’m Not Good Enough

World-class speakers are not perfect. When you are speaking, people are not expecting Barack Obama, Steve Jobs or Tony Robbins. Instead they are expecting you. As long as you do your preparation and engage the audience with your best ability, the audience will pardon several mistakes. Most audience wants to watch good performance. They do not watch with an intention to see what you are not doing and fail. Most of your audience would be glad that they’re not on the stage to deliver the speech. Think about models who tumble on their catwalk they get back on the feet and keep walking. Be yourself and relax. Your audience is more forgiving than you think.

5. The Adrenaline Rush

World-class speakers embrace nervous energy. They know the physiological changes that happen when giving a speech. They key to decreasing your anxiety is to understand what you are calling nervousness is a natural reaction. Rather than viewing this adrenalin rush critically. Consider it a strength that you can use to improve your performance. When you guide this energy in a positive manner, it stops being nervousness and becomes an additional strength that will assist you to be at your best.

6. Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

World-class speakers engage their audience by explaining the story behind the numbers. You find statistics everywhere such as sales figures, gross revenues etc. The audience doesn’t care merely about numbers but the meaning behind them. What do the numbers mean? What are the implications of the numbers? Why do the numbers matter to the audience? Thus, clarification is key.

7. Speak to One

World-class speakers personalize their message. When you are speaking to a group, speak as if you are conversing with one person. Make each member of your audience believe that you are directing your message to them alone. For example, rather than asking the audience, “How many of you have been to Sydney? ask, “Have you been to Sydney? The minor change in wording personalize your question. This works because even though you are in a one-to-many conversation, each audience member is a one-to-one conversation. You are speaking to a group, but they are listening to one person.

Question: What will you start doing to improve your presentation skills? 

Source: The Secrets of Highly Effective Speakers, Darren Fleming

  • These are great points, especially since I have a speaking engagement tomorrow. I’ll put the book you mentioned on my book list.

    to answer your question I’m taking the initiative to get outside of my comfort zone and start to public speak. I have learned practice and actually speaking in public can greatly improve our presentation skills.

    • Hope your speaking engagement goes well tomorrow. Do you mind if I ask what will you be speaking about? I started joining the Toastmasters program for the first time this year. With the crazy schedule, it’s been difficult attending the sessions on a regular basis, but I’ve seen people’s performance utterly transformed by programs like this.
      Thanks for joining the conversation Dan, and I look forward to connecting with you more as well.

      • Thank you Paul. The title is The Difference Maker: How Leadership relates to getting and excelling within a job! It’s a workshop I’m doing for a company that helps people with job placement and gaining the skills to be self sufficient. It’s local (In San Diego) so should be some great practice. I also recently joined Toastmasters and have been trying to make it when I can, I’ve given 2 speeches their.

        • The Difference Maker. Sounds like one of John Maxwell’s book as well. Are you based in San Diego? I know you lived in Portland and attended Warner Pacific College. Do you have any family here or by any chance visiting Portland soon? I’d love to get to meet with you in person. I’ve been in Portland for 2.5 years now working for Boeing and Portland Leadership Foundation.

          • Ya, he has a book titled The Difference Maker and it focuses on attitude. Thought the title fit well with what I was presenting, but did not think about John’s book until you said it:)

            Yes, I am. I move down with my wife about 3 years ago. I don’t know when I’ll be back up again (though I did recently send a speaking proposal to a conference). When I do come into town I’ll let you know. It would be great to meet over coffee. Do you know of anyone looking for a speaker?

          • Sounds good. I’ll definitely be looking for opportunities where you could be a potential speaker. I have some friends in the San Diego area as well. If I have a chance, I’ll try to visit SD and we could meet up.

          • I also have family who live in Portland so will be up at some point but just don’t know when. Thank you for keeping your eyes out:)

  • i really like #2 Paul, i am currently writing some messages and crafting a signature talk. And one thing I’ve struggled with is the opening. I love this “Put the opening aside until you finish the main body of your presentation.” I’ve just let out a sigh of relief 🙂

    • That’s great Ngina! I’m going to be working on a similar speech specifically for social media or blogging conferences.

      • That’s awesome Dan! I know you will nail it and deliver! You have lots to offer in that area. I love the area and topic you are delivering tomorrow. I am yet to start with toastmasters myself, a few things haven’t worked out as planned. Still, am working on what i can right now!

        • Thank you:) I’m looking forward to it! I would highly recommend Toastmasters or look for local speaking engagements where you can give a speech for free or low cost so you can get experience.

          • I agree, am planning to start looking soonest am near-done with the speech (es). I know it’ll boost the profile and confidence. thanks for that tip 🙂

          • That’s great!

          • Absolutely agreed with Dan. Once you join Toastmasters, you’ll connect with like-minded leaders who are willing to support you in whichever way.

    • Would be interested to learn more about your signature talk. Let me know if I can help you in anyway. I love your focus on living intentionally. In fact, I’m writing a book on intentional living for those in their 20’s. Would love to bounce off some ideas if you don’t mind.

      • Paul, you have to check out Ngina’s blog she writes great content!

        • Absolutely Dan. I love Ngina’s theme on intentional living. I’m always eager to learn from people who are living intentionally.

      • Thank you Paul. It’s on Overcoming the odds/ God interrupting the rhythm of our life (still working on the title 🙂 ).
        I’d appreciate that input 🙂 I am self-taught when it comes to crafting talks.
        Would love to hear/discuss the book ideas.

        • Glad you’re able to join the conversation Ngina. I’m excited for the book. I love the theme around ‘overcoming the odds/ God interrupting the rhythm of our life.” Do you have a specific target audience in mind?

          The book I’m considering is on ‘intentional living’ for those in their 20’s. I define intentional living as living as if you have a gps in life. The gps will show you your final destination, current destination, and the steps to take to your destination. I wrote an article while back around this theme here: http://wp.me/p2umX0-i1

  • DS

    One of the things I keep in mind is “what am I wanting the audience to do when I’m finished speaking,” (am I trying to motivate, to actuate, to get them to think)? Then I remind myself of that overall goal as I work through my presentation. I’m also a big believer in outlining my thoughts for any speech.

    • Great thoughts David. You’re right in that when you know the objective of the communication, you get to tailor your message more clearly and appropriately.

  • Definitely need to be more conversative in my talks. Instead of speaking to an entire room make it so that Its like I’m speaking to one person. Great advice Paul. One thing I’ve noticed when I speak is I use allot of umm’s as filler. I am working on improving that filler by being more prepared when I speak. My thoughts come so fast, that I try to get them out too quickly.

    • One of the things I’m working on is filler words as well. What I’m trying to do is be conscious of how I structure my sentences, observing my tonal voice, and thinking how my voice will be heard if I was being interviewed in a world-wide TV show. To become a better communicator, I believe it’s having the growth mindset plugged in you, so you can always continuously improve yourself.

  • These are very good points. When speaking I gesticulate and No 1 point is spot on, I don’t think much about what my hands are doing because i’m focused on the content, and my hands naturally react to that. However, I also know sometimes it can be distracting to the audience (from feedback) so I am more conscious to manage it.

    Great post Paul

  • Lynn Hare

    When I saw Darren Fleming speak in Brooks, Oregon at a Toastmasters conference October 2012, I picked up this book. It’s a valuable resource. The tips on impromptu speaking and speaking to an audience of one transformed my speaking skills. I successfully used them in the Toastmasters club I was in. I’m sure I’ll use them in my future speaking. Excellent post, Paul.

    • Yes, you’re tips and pointers has been instrumental Lynn. Thanks for sharing those with me. I look forward to our upcoming platform discussions!