Standing at a podium and reading your script has the potential to create a boring, unengaging, and frustratingly long experience for your audience. Here’s how to make sure that doesn’t happen when you’re the speaker.
If you’ve ever sat through a presentation where the speaker stands at a podium reading their notes, you know that there’s a huge potential for it to be a boring, unengaging, and sometimes frustratingly long experience for the audience.
But the fact is, when you’re asked to speak at a meeting, conference or other event, you may not have time to prepare and practice adequately, which requires you to bring – and use – your speaking notes. You may also be given the option of using a podium. And let’s be honest…a podium can be a VERY useful tool on which to put your notes, it gives you a place to put your hands, you get a little ‘protection barrier’ from the audience (unless it’s one of those clear plastic ones, in which case your audience can see EVERYTHING), and above all, you don’t have to worry about body language or any other movement, because you won’t be walking around in front of your audience.
So should you use the podium? Sure! But…
It depends on HOW you use the podium (yes, there’s always a “BUT”). Because HOW you use the podium will be the difference between a bored, unengaged, frustrated audience….and an audience that has just had a meaningful, valuable experience – because of YOU!
Here’s the problem. All too often, when a speaker is standing at a podium and reading a speech, they may do so in a rushed, disinterested or monotonous voice, barely looking up at the audience, and fidgeting their way through the entirety of their speech. Hands may tap on the podium, legs may dance around, and any show of emotion can be nonexistent. On top of that, reading your notes can bring your energy – and the energy of the room – down, because you’re not making eye contact, and therefore, not connecting with your audience.
If you’ve got a presentation coming up where you know that you’ll be speaking at a podium and using your notes, you’ve got to balance your desire to present your content in a way that’s comfortable for you, with the need to keep your audience engaged, interested, and connected with you and your topic.
With that in mind, here 8 essential elements to remember when you’re going to speak from a podium using notes – and still create a meaningful and engaging experience for your audience:
IMPACT words: Go through your script and pull out the words that you want to emphasize for impact. If you read your speech out loud – which you should certainly make the time to do before the big day – take note of which words or phrases require extra impact. This has the dual benefit of working as a ‘monotone avoidance mechanism’, ensuring that you modulate your voice and keep it more conversational, AND will highlight important points for the audience’s benefit. Consider putting these words in Bold or ALL CAPS, so that they’re easy for you to see on your script.
Know exactly when you need to look up at your audience. Look at your audience when you say “you” or “we”, when discussing a shared vision, telling a story, and during your introduction and conclusion, and you’ll have a better chance of connecting, and staying connected, with them. Consider circling these words in your script, or creating another scripting cue that will remind you to look up from your script.
Be aware of your speaking speed. Don’t speak too quickly. If people miss too many of your words, they’ll stop listening to you altogether.
Authenticity, Enunciation, Pausing….and Repeat. If you’re speaking quickly because you’re excited, or because that’s your speaking style, that’s fine. However, you must ensure that you enunciate your words, don’t let them trail off at the end of sentences, and pause more often when you make new points and between transitions. This allows your audience the time to ‘digest’ what you’re saying – and actually understand what you’re saying.
Voice modulation. Try to avoid a monotone voice, which is so easy – and so common – when reading your notes. Vary the speed, pitch and volume at which you speak, so as to keep the speech more interesting to listen to. Your audience will respond better to your content if you present it in a more conversational tone, with more interest and excitement in your voice.
Smile. Are you happy to be there? Does it even matter? When you’re on stage, you’ve got to make the effort to look like you appreciate the opportunity to speak to the audience. Try to avoid “serious resting face” that is sometimes [unknowingly] exhibited when you feel nervous.
Body language “DO’s”: Stand straight, both feet on the ground in a parallel position. Keep both feet behind the podium. Watch your posture. And this bears repeating: Don’t read your entire speech, look up at your audience often, make eye contact with people throughout the whole room, and not just those closest to – or smiling at – you.
Body language DON’T’s: Do not: Bend your knee back and forth; Lean on your hip, sway side-to-side, or shift back and forth; Lean back on your heel (so that the audience can see the bottom of your shoe); lean on your elbow; tap your fingers on the podium; let your foot stick out the side of the podium; tap your foot on the ground; cross your legs; stretch your arms out over the podium to hold the farthest end of it; hunch your shoulders.
Here’s how the experts do it: This commencement address from Navy Seal XYZ is a SHINING example of a speech given from a podium, with the speaker using his notes, while still delivering a very engaging, interesting presentation. The speech was given by a Navy Seal at a university commencement address. If you watch only the first 2-4 minutes to get a sense of proper use of the podium (although it’s a fascinating speech, you may want to hear more).
As a speaker, are you aware of just how much impact you have on the audience? (hint: your speech can make it or break it).
A presentation is about much more than getting up on stage, giving your speech, and “getting it done.” As a speaker, you have the opportunity to educate, inspire and persuade your audience, and create amazing results. So even if you’re going to be speaking at a podium and relying on your notes to get through it — remember that it’s not only about WHAT you say, but HOW you say it. Make the most of your time in front of your audience, because this time is crucial to the success of your presentation – and to the value that you can pass onto your audience.
I had the pleasure to be a guest for Episode #80 on the Claim the Stage podcast with Angela Lussier, founder of the Speaker Sisterhood. We chatted about how to cut through the “fluff,” how to make your talk relevant to your audience for optimal impact, and how to apply the so-necessary-but-so-rarely-used “WHO/WHAT/WHY” approach to decide what stays in a presentation…. and what goes.
3 ways to make sure you're choosing the right stories for your presentations - YouTube
We all know the value that stories can bring to a speech. They add colour and life, they add interest and fun, they back up the key points, show a concept in action, and most importantly, they add audience engagement and connection.
But – they can also be self-serving, drag on, and lose your audience, so knowing which stories to use – and how and where to use them – is really important.
So how do you know which ones you should avoid, and which ones will deliver extraordinary meaning and value to your audience?
Here are 3 things to think about when looking for the right stories for your presentations:
1. If you want to share some of YOUR stories. Start by looking back at your life….. the good, the bad, and the ugly, the stories of challenge, mistakes, success, learning, the people or places that have made a difference in your life. You don’t have to have climbed Mount Everest, been in the Olympics or overcome a big trauma – or experienced a huge success – to have a compelling story.
What you’re looking for are the TRANSFORMATIONAL moments, and the events that led up to the transformational moments. These are the moments where something fundamentally changed, where you came to a new realization, where things just shifted in your world, your perspective. And new stories are happening to us every day! Be aware of them, what’s making a difference to you, and what might make a difference to your audience….
2. What if you want to use another person’s story, perhaps a client or organization that you’ve worked with?
You’ve got to start by setting the stage. What was their problem BEFORE they met you, what did you do to help them solve it, how did it help, and where are they now? A story can just as easily be a RELEVANT EXAMPLE of something that you did for someone else, or something that you witnessed.
Don’t fall into the trap of sharing a story or example simply because it’s entertaining or funny. It MUST be relevant to your audience, and relevant to your presentation topic.
3. Choose your stories carefully. Don’t be the hero of all your stories, where everything that happened to you worked out exactly as you planned, and was just fabulous. That’s not interesting or engaging –and your audience won’t connect with it.
Once you’ve got a handle on the story – or stories – that you’re going to use, then you can step out and share them in a way that adds great value to your presentation, and allows your audience to really connect with you and your message.
A super-fun (and early) morning on Global TV Montreal, discussing how to prepare for a speech, why telling a joke at the beginning is a BAD idea, and how to be gentle (yet still helpful) if someone asks for YOUR feedback on their speech.
A great time was had by all on CJAD800 Montreal radio on the Life Unrehearsed program (I come on in the last half hour in this video).
We talked about common myths of public speaking, how to shift your mindset so that you could approach your presentation with more confidence, and the best first steps for moving forward.
At the end, they asked “Where can our listeners go from here?” And while I suggested getting a coach and checking out Toastmasters, I should also have suggested that that they (and you!) check out the TONS of speaking resources available on my website — articles, posts, and most importantly, a variety of 2-minute videos that address some of the most common public speaking questions that I get asked.
Now THIS is an example of speaking with impact, from a podium no less. I got goosebumps watching it. Watch this video, take note of your heart beating faster as he shares his story….and watch the hairs on your arms stand up!
What makes this so speech from former Navy Seal Commander, Naval Admiral William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, so powerful, and what lessons can we learn from it? Take note of:
– The “Bold Claim” Introduction After opening his speech with the University’s slogan — “What starts here changes the world” — he makes a claim that if every one of the people in his audience changes the lives of another 10 people, then in 5 generations, they will have changed the lives of 800 million people. That’s a pretty big number, one that many may think is a bit outlandish. But then he goes on to tell his story, about how has seen, and experienced, changing people’s lives during his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
– Body language (he doesn’t sway, step forward or backwards — he stays perfectly straight)
– Pausing. He lets his words land…and then waits for you (the audience) to take in their meaning.
(Here’s the 6-minute version of the speech — the full video is at the bottom of this post).
US Navy Admiral, William H. McRaven, conquers his day with this one small task in the morning - YouTube
– Story. He tells a compelling, moving, dramatic story with lots of details that allows the audience to easily visualize the situation. And VERY importantly, the story has a point that relates directly to the topic! (more below…)
– Voice. Modulates, it gets louder and quieter depending on what he’s saying. He is ‘less loud’ when he’s leading up to his point, and louder when he wants to create an impact,
– Use of the podium (also related to “body language”, above). Stands straight, hands on podium, holding it lightly. He doesn’t sway, and he also doesn’t grip the podium too tightly.
– Use of notes. He looks at them quickly, then looks up at his audience to make his point. Also note that he is ALWAYS looking up at the audience when he makes his point.
– Clothing. Talk about an outfit that inspires confidence, trust and strength. And while most of us may not have a uniform adorned with medals, awards and proof of valour and bravery as US Navy Admiral William H. McRaven does, there’s no doubt that what you choose to wear will have an impact on how your audience views you. So choose wisely…
– Not JUST a Strong Conclusion, but a Visionary one. He refers back to his introduction, especially the bold claim of changing the lives of 800 million people. He then quickly recaps his points, all of which lead to the Visionary Conclusion, where he creates a vision of what the future will look like if everyone in his audience does what he suggests, and the impact that they will have on the world. And it is SO powerful.
I’m so excited to have been interviewed byTop Hat, a teaching platform that helps professors engage students with compelling content, tools and activities.
“With class back in session, first-time profs may be feeling the pressure. An expert weighs in on how to deliver your best lecture possible, and minimize nerves in the process…”
Subjects in this very well-written article include how to prepare properly to enhance your content and delivery, how to build trust among your audience with audience-centric content, and how to squash nerves. That’s right…SQUASH them!
In August 2017, Manoj Vasudevan was crowned the 2017 Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking. Manoj rose above 30,000 contestants to take this prestigious title in the finals of the world’s largest public speaking contest.
Manoj Vasudevan, 2017 Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking. Click to watch video.
Business Insider Magazine provides a very thorough, insightful analysis of WHY this particular speech edged out the competition, and is definitely worth a read, simply for the ‘deconstruction’ of the speech. The one extra thing that stood out for me was how he approached the dialogue of his stories; especially the technique of having his mother in one particular location “on the stage,” and always looking or pointing in that particular location every time he’s telling a story about her.
I’m also a big fan of his “phrase that pays,” ie. “Pull less, bend more.” Repeated often, and associated with a particular gesture each time, makes it very memorable.
What do you think made this speech worthy of the win? And if you were to compare it to the 2016 winner Darren Tay (memorable because he was wearing underwear over his suit) or the 2015 winner Mohamed Quatani (memorable because he smoked a cigarette on stage….but even MORE memorable when it was revealed that he was unable to speak until the age of 6), do you think that they’re all the same calibre and quality?
Have you ever worked so hard on a presentation, one that took you hours and hours to create, and then you delivered it well, and enjoyed great applause and feedback from the audience…but then — nothing changes, and you simply do not get the results you want?
Time, energy and money is being spent on presentations that simply do not get the results they were designed to achieve.
Check out this one essential tip that will allow you to approach your presentation in a way that helps you build a solid connection with your audience — and ensure that the time, energy & money invested in your presentations pay off (2.5 minutes).
Something is Broken in Presentation-Land (and here's how YOU can fix it!) - YouTube
(Apologies for all the background noise. I was in a hotel, and the staff decided that the best time to set up dishes was at the EXACT MOMENT that I started filming. Ah well…people have to eat, I suppose! )
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