Once you have a compelling story and breathtaking visual design, presentation preparation eventually comes down to one final thing: you. You stepping up, taking the stage, and communicating with your audience. But before anyone can become a powerful public speaker, there are several qualities they must master.
Picture in your mind the most powerful public speaker you’ve ever seen. Maybe it was a TED Talk, or a sermon, or maybe it was even a rock concert (those are presentations, too). Picture that person in your mind, someone who steps on the stage and seems to have this uncanny ability to deliver their presentation with confidence, to own the whole stage, to speak directly to you among hundreds or thousands of people and, amidst all of that, to hold your attention as long as they want. It’s powerful, isn’t it?
Now, what’s the value of getting the delivery of your presentation, right? You may get some applause, some new Twitter followers, or high marks on your speaker evaluation form. But, the most important value of getting your delivery right is this: it gives your idea the very best chance it can possibly have to impact your audience.
When we build a presentation for a speaker, we want to give them the best possible chance at being their own version of a powerful public speaker. How do we do that? Well, we start here. These are the three qualities we see in powerful speakers every day: comfortable, dynamic, and empathetic.
We approached Roger Sant’s speaker coaching for his presentation on climate change for The Sant Foundation through these three lenses, and we’ll use that as our example here.
Becoming a Comfortable, Qualified Speaker
A comfortable speaker is a speaker who feels well prepared, confident, and relaxed. They command the stage they stand on with assurance, but they never command it with arrogance. They appear to the audience as qualified as anyone could be on that particular subject.
A comfortable presenter is comfortable with their presentation, with themselves, and with their audience.
With Roger Sant, we did a couple of things to help him practice being comfortable on stage. The first thing we practiced was repetition. When I say repetition, I’m not just talking about reading through your presentation over and over. This type of repetition involves actually standing up, projecting your slides on the wall behind you, holding a clicker in your hand, and imagining that there are hundreds of people out there listening to you give your presentation.
We had Roger do this several times, practicing the slide transitions on a big screen with a clicker and adjusting his speaker notes when we had to so they would give him just enough to remember the story but not so many speaker notes that he felt tempted to read them.
Bringing Life and Passion to a Presentation Through Dynamism
The second thing we had Roger do to prepare for his presentation was become dynamic, or adapt as he went along.
This meant we ended up changing some of his content in the rehearsal stage to make him more comfortable. We had gone through the story over weeks and weeks and Roger seemed pretty comfortable with it, but when he stood up in front of his imagined audience, he had trouble with some of the material. For example, we originally had an ending that just didn’t quite resonate with him, so we sat there in our rehearsal space and we went looking for a different story to make the same point, the point that humans are natural problem solvers.
Suddenly, in that moment, Roger remembered the Apollo 13 story. He remembered that crisis in American history really vividly as it was the year that his twins were born. The fact that as a country we came together to solve a problem like that always resonated deeply with him as a story of optimism. So, we found our new ending.
A dynamic presenter uses contrast to keep the audience interested and engaged. They alter their voice and they alter their movements to provide variety, accentuation, and energy. Their voice might get higher and then their voice might get lower. They might pause for dramatic effect once in a while. But, whatever they do, they bring life and passion to their presentation. The bottom line is people enjoy listening to a dynamic presenter.
What Does It Mean to be an Empathetic Communicator?
An empathetic communicator is one who focuses on the audience’s needs instead of their own, and they change their delivery style as necessary to communicate in a way the audience will receive it best. For Roger, this meant bringing in an actual audience to practice with. We brought in a group of Duartians, filled up our town hall, and Roger delivered his presentation.
Practicing in front of a live audience is different than practicing in front of the mirror because you get real-time responses in the form of facial expressions, laughter, and even clapping. Practicing in front of an audience is also a better approximation of how it will feel to give the presentation live. You’re not going to be able to recreate it perfectly, but it’s going to get you a lot farther. By rehearsing his presentation in front of our audience, Roger got to experience that.
All great speakers deliver these qualities to a high degree. They’re comfortable, they’re dynamic, and they’re empathetic. If you follow these tips, you’ll be well on your way to being a powerful public speaker.
Illustrated by Juanly Cabrera