Tips for talks that keep them engaged

 Have a speech coming up?

Want to sharpen your style?

Finding more opportunities to make presentations can bring new energy to your career. Public speaking allows you to stand out, show what you know, and connect with a wider group of people. The more talks you give, the more you build your confidence and polish your style. And the prospect of presenting helps you identify what’s important and work harder to know your stuff.

I often encourage clients to raise their profiles by finding speaking venues. This might mean offering remarks at a company meeting or sitting on a convention panel. Or it could involve inventing an event that gives you the chance you need.

If one of your goals is to do more speaking, take note of how successful delivery styles have evolved over the years.

LibbyheadshotMy favorite expert on public speaking and workplace communications is Libby Vick, who once worked on Capitol Hill and is now a member of the faculty at Northern Virginia Community College. When I asked her about recent trends, Libby (who also is my sister) said, “Speeches are shorter and the audience of today is much more visually oriented. And, for better or worse, the younger the audience the more they expect an element of ‘entertainment.’”

A format Libby now uses in her classroom is based on the increasingly popular Ignite talk videos, where the motto is “enlighten us, but make it quick.” Ignite presenters talk for exactly five minutes, and during that time the audience sees 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. Libby said, “The idea of having visuals – without words – throughout the speech is a new concept, and it seems to work.”

“Another interesting aspect of Ignite is the premise that storytelling is the key to a successful presentation. And this can be applied to any subject,” Libby said. “For example, business audiences are often bored by PowerPoint charts and graphs, even in pretty colors.”

“So let’s say the ‘story’ you want to tell is that a once thriving industry is now suffering layoffs. Instead of a graph, you can have a slide that’s a photograph showing a plant at full production, followed by a slide that shows the same plant half empty. The story is told and the point is still made, but in a way that holds the audience’s interest,” Libby said.

If you want a fresher approach for your next talk, Libby’s advice is:

  • Shorten the length of your speeches.
  • Add visuals, including photographs.
  • Know the story you want to tell and do that quickly and creatively.
  • Stretch your public speaking skill by trying to tell your story in just 5 minutes in the Ignite format. (Click here to see Libby doing just that.)

In most work-related occasions, you’ll probably need to be engaging for far more than five minutes. Here are ways to keep attendees interested during longer programs:

  • Work on keeping eye contact, which might mean choosing not to put your statements on slides.
  • Present with another person, using an interview or conversational format.
  • Create mini-breakout sessions, where participants form small groups, quickly explore a question, then report back to the whole crowd.
  • Arrange to call on specific audience members for brief comments on points where they’re expert
  • Encourage and build on audience feedback.

My final suggestion is that you finish with a bang. You miss a chance to drive home your message if your last comment is, “Well, I guess that’s all.” Instead, summarize your major points, or end with a pithy remark that you don’t want them to miss.

Libby Vick provided her photo.
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Bev, a former lawyer and Fortune 500 executive, is an executive and transitions coach, and a leadership consultant with a broad and varied practice.

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