When I was 21 years old, I was the facilitator of a large event at my university. The weekend itself grossed over $250,000, and I was in charge of most of the logistics for registration, payment, marketing, customer care, and weekend activities (save one large fundraising event on Saturday evening).
At the time, it was custom for my role to introduce the President of the university. At the time, I didn't know that I should have been afraid of public speaking. So I wrote out a two-minute introduction, delivered it like you would deliver a monologue you had prepped for an audition, and walked off stage.
And when I reflected back on the experience? I SUCKED!
It was so boring. I talked all about myself and my achievements. And you could tell. Other than my parents, no one was terribly engaged or gave an ounce about what I was saying.
Fortunately, I've learned a thing or two in the last 8 years about creating a really engaging speaking experience. And the first rule is:
Get over yourself.
No one wants to listen to someone get up onstage, talk about herself for 20 minutes, talk about how awesome her products are, and then get off stage. That's a recipe for a poor talk.
The best speakers always make the audience feel like the number one priority. They engage the audience, ask questions, repeat key takeaways, or tells jokes to get them warmed up and laughing.
A few ways that you can do this are:
1. Open with a joke.
This is seemingly a cheesy trick, but people want you to entertain them, and a joke is the fastest way to do this. It could be a self-deprecating story about how you're a terrible speaker (see joke above) that leads into your main talk, or simply a funny knock knock joke that your kid told you.
Either way, the audience will appreciate a more casual opening which will encourage them to know, like and trust you enough to listen to your speech.
2. Make sure you're asking for their opinion.
Even if it's a simple "Raise your hand if..." or "Say yes if you've ever...". This allows the audience to identify with you AND with their peers. A rule I read recently was that you should be checking in with your audience every 2 - 5 minutes of your speech. Otherwise, they'll tune out.
3. Pretend you're having a conversation.
I'm always a fan of memorizing speeches or at least giving yourself written bullet points. That way, if you can imagine yourself having a conversation with your audience, it feels more congenial than if you have a 20-minute prepped speech that you've memorized verbatim.
Also, be sure to solidify key points by a) pausing after you've made that key point and b) repeating it so your audience knows how powerful that specific that piece of information is. This is another trick that keeps audiences engaged and listening.
4. Identify with them.
People love a rags to riches story, so if your audience is trying to overcome some sort of obstacle or get to the next level in something (which most audiences are), give them a little peek into some struggle you've had in your career or life.
Telling your own story is a powerful way to get your audience to identify with you from bottom to top and, after you've gained their trust with the above tips, makes for an awesome speech.
Have you ever listened to a talk that's so inspiring? What made it awesome?