Everyone has to do presenting from time to time. It can be in a formal setting, it could be an interview, or it could simply be in a meeting – and if it’s in a meeting it might not actually be a presentation – it could be you just want to make a point.
In any form of public speaking situations asking yourself these 3 questions beforehand could get you everything you want!
- What do I want out of this?
Setting our own bar is vital before any presentation. When you establish the point you want to make, and what you want the outcome to be for you, then you can control the content of the presentation and be confident with it.
2. What do I want them to remember?
This is about making sure your audience walks away with one clear message. And it ensures that when you are presenting you can make sure your theme shines through,
3. Who am I speaking to?
Years ago I heard Alec Baldwin say on his podcast “Here’s The Thing…” that when he interviewed people he always thought about who they were, and what they would be expecting?
In his case, he was thinking that if he was interviewing a huge record label boss versus a politician, versus a comedian, he might ask his questions in a certain way, or think of experiences he could relate to with them.
You can make some simple assumptions about the person you are going to attempt to connect with. For example, if you know the audience will all be lawyers you can make some assumptions about what is important to them that day. Or if you are going for a meeting with a CEO you can assume they are busy and not waste your time getting to your point.
These three questions never fail to help my clients through sticky situations, the content they are unsure about sharing or meetings they are nervous about. So if you are in a similar situation – these 3 questions will not let you down.
Commercial Radio Presenters have always known the pressure of being allowed to talk, for only a certain time. Over the years it has been my job to get the most out of a presenter that has to talk for only 2 minutes. Or 30 seconds. Or 10 seconds. Or 3 seconds.
In that time it’s a radio presenter’s job to get you to listen for 15 minutes more (this is to do with how audience figures are collated). It’s not easy.
Now many presenters struggled, complaining that they couldn’t get the story in in-that time. I spent many hours and days explaining that in that short time they should be thinking “what CAN I do?” Rather than “What can’t I get done?” There is nothing like a time limit to make you self edit – but self-editing is hard.
Then one day a presenter who had been resistant, bounded up to me and with a real glint in his eye said: “Kate! I listened to my Friday show and I tell you what, this shorter link thing is amazing. When you hear my voice it’s like, boom!”
He clapped his hands together “Impact!”
Making every word count is not a new concept, Mark Twain said: “I’m sorry this letter is long, but I didn’t have the time to make it short”. And the Twitter age has had us working out how to edit our complex emotions down to 140/250 characters for some time now.
It’s still not easy. So here are some tips to self edit your content.
- Remove all mitigating language
Too many words get in the way of your message.
When you look at a painting the warmer colours (yellows, oranges, reds) attract the eye first. So if you want the eye drawn to a certain part of the canvas you paint some red in that spot. But if you paint the whole canvas red, it’s just red – and nothing else stands out.
Words are the same. Too many words, and too much detail is an ineffective way of getting someone to hear your point. You are saying everything and nothing.
The first thing to do is to get rid of any wasted words:
I was thinking that
Does that make sense?
Not only do they fill in space that needs to be cleared, but they also undermine your point.
- Rehearse and hear it back
Nothing beats rehearsal and listening back to spot where an edit is required.
Record yourself on your phone, and listen back. Film yourself on your phone, and watch it back. Even practising in front of another human gets you to hear yourself back.
Trust me – you will hear your edit immediately. I usually find myself yelling “oh shush will you” at myself. And then I just hammer out the words.
- Get to the point as quickly as you can
Helen Zaltzman-Austwick is the Queen Of Podcasters. I saw her speak at a live event a couple of years ago and she advised the audience of eager podcast makers: “Start as late in the story as possible”.
The biggest mistake people make is to over explain the set up and give too much context. The story doesn’t start with the set up, it starts with the problem. The set up literally gives your audience the reason to keep listening to you.
It’s the same with any point you wish to make. Never make your boss wait 45 minutes before you deliver the point of your presentation. Get into your point as soon as you can.
Use these three tips to be heard, and create an impact in these noisy times.
You’ve got your presentation style sorted, you’re confident and you’re comfortable performing. So what happens when you throw another person into the mix? Contributors, guests, panellists, callers – they all add texture to your programme, podcast or conference, but your job is to get the best out of them for the audience.
Here are the things to consider before you get into it…
1.Research Your Guest
A sure fire way to make your interview go on longer than you need it to is to get your guest to tell their story ‘from the beginning’. This is fine if you are pre-recording and you have the time to edit. But if you are live you are going to need to get to the point as soon as you can.
Researching your guest means you can set the scene for them in your introduction. I say to my clients “you hold the who and what, your guest holds the why and the how”.
A well-researched interview can drive the conversation forward faster too. Imagine being able to say “you must have been having a tough time then because you were also trying to launch a community centre” rather than “so what was that like?”
Tip: It’s not always possible, but it’s good to speak to your guest before you interview them. It reassures them and it means you can suss out some of the best stories before you are on stage / on air with them.
2. The Basics: Who, What, Where, Why, When, How?
When working up your research and deciding what to ask, start with the basic questions. Make sure your audience understands who you are talking to, what they are talking about (the when and where fits in here). This is the information you need to be able to run a great interview.
One of my clients had a guest on their panel show talking about a vegan festival he was running. It wasn’t until he got on air that she discovered he wasn’t vegan. In listening back we realised there were no vegans in the room, but all the prep assumed there would be a vegan in the room. The whole segment lost its credibility. Even with the biggest of production teams, it’s easy to assume you have all the information – so questions like what, where, when, who questions will uncover all the context you need.
Stories hide in the hows, whys and “what reason”. Questions like “How did you make that happen?” or “why did you decide to do that?” then get the answers you need from your guest. Note that “what was the reason?” is a softer way of asking “why?”
3. Make It A Conversation: Listen
Have clarity about what you want to hear your guest speak about, come with a list of well-researched questions, and then the key to a great interview is to listen to what the guest says to get that second question in. This makes it more like a conversation.
Listen out for chunked up language and get the detail on it. For example:
Interviewer: “What were you like as a child?”
Guest: “I grew up in Birmingham, and my parents would probably tell you I was a wild child, but I remember it being a happy time.”
Interviewer: “When you say wild child, what did you get up to?” or “What was it like in Birmingham at that time?” or “what made it a happy time?”
The stories are in the examples, listening allows you to ask the follow-up question (which may also be a challenging question too – see 5)
4. Open, Closed and Non-Question-Questions
Open questions allow your guest to tell a story, create opinion, share knowledge and experience. Closed questions have one word or short answers. Both are useful and a mixture of both questions can make for a good interview. Closed questions are particularly good for wrapping up an interview.
Depending on your guest you might find that they are keen to talk, in which case even a closed question will bear fruitful answers. One of the best ways to bring something out of your guest is to share your own experience or story as part of the question – this is the Non-Question-Question. These questions don’t really have a question mark at the end and can start a bit like: “In my experience” or “I’ve done that before and I found x y z” makes it sound like you are chatting and it gives the guest the opportunity to share their story.
I’ve written about this before – confrontation is something people avoid, but by failing to challenge your guest you are failing to give them the opportunity to give a stronger more thought out answer.
You can soften the challenge with language like “What do you say to people who say…?” or “Some people may be thinking…”.
Often the challenge is about being curious and hunting down the why and the how of your guest’s point of view.
6. Know When To Move It On
While you should listen and acknowledge your guest, sometimes you are on a time limit and you have to wrap it up. And sometimes they are saying the same thing over and over again – it’s time to move it on. Don’t be afraid to politely interrupt them, challenge them or ask a closed question.
Ultimately, a good interview is about getting the guest to enlighten the audience. Researching, challenging and being curious will help you to get to the gold and fast.
Here’s the thing: people can tell when you are reading.
I should caveat that with: people can tell when you are reading unless you have done the work to be sure you don’t sound like you are reading.
My personal preference is that you should go without a script where you can, but the reality is that you will be reading a script at some point.
So if you are going to read from a script – how do you sound like you are talking rather than reading??
- Check the Words
This is key to it sounding like you aren’t reading. The aim for all presenting is that you sound like you’re talking to your audience as if you were in the pub plus 10%. The language you use to write is significantly different to the spoken word.
When we write we use lots of words we don’t need. When we speak we get to the point quicker. We also write in the first person (I / we went to the pub) or the third person (she went to the pub). We we speak we use the first and second person (you).
When you write you tend to put descriptions up front and the subject last. When speaking the subject goes up front and then you may add some description after.
Written: However, this week the dynamic and hairy lead singer of the Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl, did go to the post office
Spoken: “Dave Grohl, the lead singer of the Foo Fighters, went to the post office this week – which was surprising…”
It is worth going through your script and checking that it reads in a way that you would actually talk.
2. Read, Read, and Read Again
Chris Anderson says in his book “TED Talks: The official TED guide to public speaking” that most TED speakers write then memorise their talks. The rehearsal process of repetition makes it sound like you are speaking. And this is the case for those that purely rehearse rather than script too.
You will need to read a script at least 5 or 6 times before it sounds like it has become part of your spoken word.
3. Work Out Your Emphasis and Intonation
With reading written word, ironically, you need to put the natural emphasis and intonation back in. When I played the flute in orchestras we were regularly making notes all over our music, and for reading the written word, you need to do the same.
There is a fantastic technique called The Hudson Voice Technique, developed by the BBC voice over artist Steve Hudson. His technique includes two elements you can use really easily.
Firstly, pause at the end of your sentences (and even more so at the end of your points) and energise the beginning of the next sentence (point).
Secondly, mentally break the script up beyond the punctuation. In a sentence you are likely to find a bit of a natural lull every 3 to 4 words, then get your pencil and draw a line in hose breaks. This will help you slow up your reading so you are not racing ahead, and it will get you to think about where the emphasis is in a sentence.
Mostly, you need to find your natural voice rather than your natural voice, and to do that you can watch my video about finding your authentic voice here: https://youtu.be/ltnQy744B9g
In summary the pros of scripting is that you can remember what you are going to say, you can shorten your prep, and you can even delegate the writing part.
I wanted to leave you with this. I used to think that no script for speaking in public was the thing to aim for. Then I saw this great performance from Richard Huntington at Next Radio in 2016 https://youtu.be/8UIVpD5V0Xs and his energy made me wonder if you could do great presenting with a script in your hand.
Engaging your audience is the primary challenge for any presenter, on stage, on screen, and on air. (Keep reading to find out about a new tool I have created that will help you)
The good news is that we humans are hardwired to connect with each other so as long as your audience is captive, they are pretty much ready to connect with you from the start. Your job as presenter is to keep their attention.
Choosing content that is relevant to your audience is important.
Making your content relevant to your audience is essential.
You are always trying to create moments of connection. One way to do that is to get topical. Get in your audience’s “zeitgeist”. If you can, understand where their head is at, from what is going on for them culturally. When you reference it in your content, it will go a long way to keep them engaged.
Ever noticed how when someone starts talking about Christmas in May, it jars doesn’t it?
But when the first Christmas cups appear in Starbucks in November time, you know Christmas is on the way and you can get excited about it!
This is how being topical can help you be relevant.
Basic topicality is acknowledging the day, is it a Monday vibe or a Friday vibe? Then you can think about whether you are in the midst of their holidays like Easter, Valentines Day or Christmas. Then there are specifics in the news or entertainment world.
I recently did a workshop for some lawyers right at the deadline of the new GDPR proceedures. I used the opportunity to make jokes around the amount of emails we were all getting, and the amount of work they were having to do for their clients. It was an easy win, and the response from the participants was unprecedented.
If you are presenting regularly on air, on social media or on stage, then you start to get good at knowing what your audiences will like. You get good at finding your “go to” websites (BBC News / TMZ / BuzzFeed etc.) to inspire your content ideas.
As a content creator I often like to get ahead with my web content, so it’s good to be able to plan ahead the topicality.
To help you with this I have pulled together a Content Calendar for reference. I will share this information with you in my weekly newsletter (sign up here
- celebrity birthdays
- national “days”
- school terms
- and more…
Use the information as you wish, as long as your audience recognises it.