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Nine Tips to Improve the Impact and Return from your Talks

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In my last column we broke business development down into its 4 constituent elements – networking (of the formal and informal varieties), writing, speaking and research.

If you’re anything like me the speaking one is the one most likely to fill you with dread, so what I’d like to do is pass on some of the tips I’ve used to help not only our clients but also improve my own presentations.

Is “chalk and talk” the right choice?

The first thing I do when I’m faced with a speaking opportunity is to work out whether a traditional ‘chalk and talk’ style presentation is actually the right format.  If like me you have an inherent dislike of giving a traditional ‘chalk and talk’ style presentation, there are many more format choices these days depending on:

– The formality or informality of the event

Could a “chalk and talk” delivery overwhelm your audience?

– The size of the audience

– The preferences of the sector

– The age of the audience

– The objectives the organisers have set for their event

The alternatives are many, but the ones we are see that work best at the moment are:

Industry roundtables   A small gathering of clients, prospects and industry figures who discuss 3 key points affecting their sector in an open forum.

A facilitated panel discussion   An audience gathers to see a panel made up of people with a different background/specialism but a shared interest debate the key issues and answer audience questions.

A before/after dinner speech   Key clients/contacts/targets are invited to a select dinner and a speaker gives an informal talk on a pressing issue either before the starter or just before coffee.

However if the ‘chalk and talk’ can’t be avoided here are 7 very practical tips that will immediately improve both your presentation and the results it generates for you which, at the end of the day, is why you’re giving your talk.

My Nine Tips for Delivering a Great Talk
1 Three is the Magic Number

Deliver just three well integrated key points

What are the 3 key messages that you want people to take away from your talk?  Peoples’ ability to retain information from talks is poor so break your talk down and base it around 3 key points.  You can always provide more detail after your talk by email or in a hard-copy hand-out.

2  Start Strong

First impressions count for everything

People will form a view of you in the first 30 seconds and that’ll rarely change.  As a less than enthusiastic public speaker I always walk round the block a few times to memorise what’ll I’ll say over my first two slides so I’m world perfect and confident enough to start strong.

3 Be Enthusiastic
Enthusiasm is critical to audience engagement (Image Credit: Simon Davis/DFID)

Enthusiasm is key to Engagement 

People are more likely to believe what you say if you look like you believe what you are saying and are more likely to maintain their interest if you are genuinely enthusiastic about your subject.   You can also increase your audience’s attention levels further by varying your pitch and intonation and adding a few pauses for dramatic effect.

4 Look Right

Dress to match your audience

If you are selling high value services to a corporate audience, you’ll need to dress well but if you’re selling to a public sector audience you can’t afford to dress too well.

5 Use your Whole Body

Walk the Talk

Use your hands for amplification and to express yourself fully and move around a bit; your audience’s eyes will follow you and again that will increase their engagement and help maintain their attention.

6 Never just Read your Slides

Reading slides = “death by PowerPoint”

Reading from many slides could overwhelm your audience and reduce engagement

Your slides should support your message; they are not a substitute for you. If all you are doing is reading material you don’t need to be there!

And on the subject of reading, try not to stand holding your notes.  Your eyes will be drawn to them – albeit subconsciously – and once that happens, it’s all too easy to succumb to reading them.  You can make this easier by losing the lectern.  Coming out from behind that particular physical barrier makes it much easier to connect with your audience and speak to them in a more natural, conversational way.

7 Invest in your Slides

Your Slides are your Scenery

Your slides should be creative and attractive and support what you’re saying, but they should never take over or distract your audience from you.  Here are some basic rules:

Choosing great pictures, even from your hols, will improve engagement

– Bin the bullet points and use words in windows instead

– Use images, schematics, charts and diagrams instead of words wherever possible

– Keep sentences short and text to a minimum.

– Use as large a font as possible

And never, ever use an overbearing design template and/or logo on every slide – the first and last slide is plenty.

8. Don’t rely Solely on Slides

Vary the format of your delivery

Talking at your audience for too long will overwhelm them

As well as your slides you should also have a think about how best to keep your audience’s attention for the duration of your talk.  On average after 18 minutes there will be a dramatic drop in attention so it could be a good idea to mix up your delivery.  Here are some ideas that may help:

– Try to utilise new media like props and video

– Try to make sure you are addressing all of the different ways to communicate (e.g. visual, aural, kinaesthetic and numerate)

– Have a break

– Involve the audience by asking questions or adding group exercises

9 Tell a Story

Make a Personal Connection with a Story

Could you invite a member of the audience to tell a story related to your subject?

Stories are not just a good way to maintain your audience’s attention and engagement. They are also the perfect way for you to show the person behind the suit which will help you establish more of a personal connection which in turn will make it more likely your audience will want to continue the conversation with you afterwards.

However, on a more physical level, because when you tell stories you are effectively rewinding a tape in your brain, you can recall the detail without having to look at the screen behind you. This makes it much easier for you to strengthen your connection with your audience because you’ll be maintaining consistent eye-contact.

If you’d like to discuss how you could tweak a presentation you’ve got coming up (or anything else to do with business development please email me and we can arrange your first free 45 minute session.

Alternatively if you’d like a free copy of our special report “How do you get better results from presentations to any audience?” please click here.

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Doug McPherson

Douglas is a director of Size 10½ Boots, a specialist business development agency that works solely with the professional services, helping firms grow by winning more new clients and more work from the clients they already have. Although every project is different our work generally falls into one of three camps - strategic marketing support, BD training and 1on1 coaching and independent client research.

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