I’ve given thousands of talks in front of audiences of all sizes. My standard topics include things like professional networking, executive presence, professional etiquette, and the like. Though I sometimes coach clients in one-on-one settings on the art of effective communication, none of my presentations has anything to do with presentation skills themselves. Funny enough, during Q&A, I am often asked where I picked up my own presentation skills.
When asked, I usually tell people about my parents’ stellar presentation skills (my dad, for example, is a professional speaker; my mom has mad skills when it comes to delivering a speech) which I grew up witnessing. Sometimes I share details on the youth summer acting camps my brothers and I attended. Other times I talk about coaching I received from my pal, Eric Morgenstern, when I was preparing to give my first TEDxTalk. All that said, probably the most important thing I share is that I simply love conveying a message and connecting with the audience.
No doubt, there is an art to this. And, in a sea of presentations, it can be a challenge to stand out.
In his book, The Art of Making Memories, Happiness Research Institute founder and CEO, Meik Wiking, suggests that, “if you are giving a talk, take a pineapple on stage with you,” under the theory that “if you want people to remember you, you need to give them something to remember them by.” It may seem a bit outlandish, but sometimes daring to be odd or unusual is the thing that makes you unforgettable. For Meik, he notes that when the conference is over and everyone returns home, attendees are more likely to remember the guy with the pineapple!
Here are a few of my own favorite public speaking tips – they may be a lot less memorable than carrying a pineapple onto the dais with you, but they will drive audience engagement and help people to remember your expertise:
- No notes. I mean it – no notes. Don’t type out your talk. Don’t bring bullets along with you. Don’t write little notes on the palm of your hand. Don’t do it. You know what you’re there to talk about. If you don’t remember one line or one point or one joke… the only person who will know is you! If you need a gentle reminder to keep you and the audience on track, create a few simple slides – by simple, I mean very few words, perhaps one big image. The slides should simply be the background noise to the thing you are currently talking about. Rather than reading to your audience, talk with them. Wow ‘em with your command of your topic. You’ll be glad you did. They will be impressed.
- Be among the audience. Is there a podium on stage? Ignore it. If you must use it, use it only as a place to keep a glass of water in case you need to wet your whistle during your presentation. Whatever you do, do NOT stand behind it. Instead, come out from around the podium and be among the people. In fact, unless you are presenting in an auditorium, in an expansive space, or the audience is very large, skip the riser or the stage and be on the same level as your audience. Make them part of your presentation. Look them in the eyes. Walk around to be near them.
- Use your hands. In her 2017 TEDxLondon Talk, “You are contagious,” Vanessa Van Edwards shared her research on what makes TED Talks so memorable. She discovered that the more hand gestures – big movements that caught people’s attention, the more viral the talk was. In fact, the speakers of the most viewed TED Talks used an average of 465 hand gestures in 18 minutes. It turns out that the first thing we notice about people is actually their hands because we subconsciously look to the hands to determine whether someone seems trustworthy or not. So, in terms of your presentations, keep your hands where your audience can see them. Show your audience your expertise by telling them with your words what you are going to say and then emphasize the importance of those words by punctuating them with your hand gestures. Your audience will be listening – and watching – for both.
So, to give a memorable presentation, bring a pineapple along if you have one and make sure you connect with your audience.