Kristian Ribberstrom is Vice President of Product Development and senior consultant at The Medici Group. Outside of being an interesting guy, he delivers nearly 40 seminars, speeches and panel discussions each year, making him an expert public speaker. I asked Kristian to put together a quick list of his top 5 public speaking tips for the new year.
Tip #1: Be extremely well prepared. I know that it may sound obvious, but the most important thing any public speaker can do is prepare. It’s tempting to watch a seasoned professional seemingly ad-lib a 20-minute speech, and think that you can emulate them. Trust me, it takes years to become a seasoned impromptu speaker. In fact, anything that seems off the cuff is probably not. (Editor’s Note: This isn’t exclusive to business speaking. “I try to make it seem like I’m just getting it out,” comedian Louis CK said during a round table discussion, “but I know all the moves, every little piece of it.” If the biggest comedian in America prepares, you should too.)
You may be asking yourself, “What about impromptu speech?” After all, there are many times when we are asked to speak in business meetings or social events and we don’t have hours to develop an idea. The advice still holds true. Spend a few seconds determine your main point, and work towards it.
Tip #2: If you are using PowerPoint use as little text as possible. As a rule of thumb a visual presentation should accent your speech, not guide it. The only exception is if you are showcasing a short sentence or your thesis. Take a look at your most recent power point presentation. If you have a litany of lists or paragraphs, stop and reevaluate the speech. Try to figure out a way to describe the information in a different way. Perhaps tell a story that creates a narrative instead of a list, because every time you display text that you’ve already said you doubt your audiences’ intelligence.
Tip #3: Vary the pace: We’ve all had the monotone college professor. We’ve also had the fast-paced salesman. There’s one thing they both have in common: They are terrible to listen too. Without a change of pace you don’t give your audience a hint of the dramatic, they know exactly where you are going, and you give them a predictable ride. Instead, your speech should build the audience towards an end goal, but they should never know exactly where the goal is. If you start slow, finish fast. If you start fast, go slow, and then speed to the finish. And when you are done make sure your audience realizes it. They should not be waiting around wondering what the next slide is.
Tip #4: Start big and edit down: This is an ongoing process, but it is always easier to cut than add. Generally speaking if you can make it shorter, make it shorter. While you are practicing, record yourself and then study certain passages of the speech. While you watch, ask yourself, “Can I make it shorter? Can I get the same point across with fewer words?” After a few rounds of critical assessment you will be surprised on how direct and nuanced your points can be- with far fewer words.
Tip #5: Take all advice into consideration but don’t follow it: The biggest risk of taking someone elses advice is that you may end up sounding like the other person. I recently saw a speech where the speaker began it with a common trope. “I want to make you laugh once, learn one thing new,” he said, “and then…” It turns out he forgot what the final thing he wanted to make the audience do was. Why? Because it wasn’t his to begin with.