Want to improve your public speaking? Then learn to trust your inner storyteller. If you’ve ever read a book to a kid and paused for dramatic effect when the big black bear arrived on the scene, you’ve already got the right idea, says Syd Atlas, a coach with public speaking consultancy Own the Room. “Channel those instincts.” Here are Atlas’s tips for a powerful presentation:
1. Be authentic. There’s no single definition of a great speaker, Atlas says, so if winsome charm or intellectual passion is your strong suit, play to it. If you try to imitate someone else’s style, you’ll likely fall flat.
2. Plan a great opener. The best presentations begin like an episode of CSI — they pack a powerful dramatic punch. “Always start with the dead body in the parking lot,” Atlas advises. When she steps on stage to launch her own presentations, the first word she utters isn’t “Hello” or her name, it’s “Imagine.” Asking audience members to close their eyes, she tells them to imagine the most amazing place they can think of on Earth. Then she invites several to describe what they’re picturing in vivid detail. “With one simple word — imagine — you can transport your audience anywhere,” she says. And with one arresting opening, Atlas demonstrates the power of an effective presentation.
3. Cut out weak language. Ums, you knows, and sort ofs detract from the ideas you want to convey. Yet half of what people say is weak language, says Atlas. “In my opinion … at the end of the day … they don’t say anything.” To cut out the weak links in your presentation, have a friend listen to your delivery and signal every time they hear ineffective language.
4. Play with volume. Raise your voice to punch up a key word, or lower it to a whisper to add drama and passion. Shifts in volume add colour to a speech. Without them, Atlas says, “it’s like you’re a painter and you’re just painting with white paint.”
5. Don’t be afraid of silence. An extended pause will grab an audience and have it hanging on your words. Atlas advises counting to three slowly before continuing.
6. Fill the space you’ve got. Gestures enliven delivery, so use your entire body to give your presentation. Try doing your speech non-verbally: Do your best Marcel Marceau and mime the words and ideas, and then incorporate the best movements into your talk.
7. Finish with a power pose. TED talk star Amy Cuddy has it right when she touts the psychological benefits of a powerful stance, says Atlas. How you hold your body affects how you feel about yourself and how your audience feels about you. A two-minute power pose can get you in the right frame of mind to rock the stage. And finishing with your hands on your hips lets your audience know that you owned it.