Here’s the secret to great business presentations: Stop giving speeches. No, really. Speeches make you nervous and they bore your audience. Discover what to do instead in this guest blog I wrote for the amazing Dan Ram. It was an honor to collaborate with him.
With much of the nation still reeling from the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush went to Ground Zero on Sept. 14, 2001, and delivered one of the most dramatic impromptu speeches ever given by a leader. What has become known as “the Bullhorn Speech” and the imagery of that moment are iconic — but it certainly didn’t start that way.
As Bush began his speech, things weren’t going well logistically. It was difficult for most in the audience of Ground Zero workers to see or hear the president, and that can be disastrous for any public speaker.
A fireman standing atop a burned-out firetruck in the rubble from the Twin Towers offered a hand up to Bush so that he could get elevated enough for his audience of Ground Zero workers to see him. Bush began to speak again, but some still couldn’t hear him, and those who could hear him didn’t seem particularly moved by the prepared remarks he was trying to deliver.
And then, Bush did something extraordinary that all speakers can learn from – he adjusted his message to fit the needs of his audience.
“We can’t hear you,” someone in the distance had just yelled. That’s when Bush departed from his prepared remarks. He went authentic. He went impromptu. “I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” The crowd burst into cheers and then began chanting “USA, USA, USA!”
Although his words were an impromptu reaction to the audience, the speech structure he used wasn’t. He used the “Power of Three” technique, with each phrase building to a crescendo: (1) I can hear you. (2) The world can hear you. (3) And soon, the bad guys are going to hear from all of us. 1-2-3 — pow! Even when you are speaking impromptu, you can employ tried and true speech techniques to add a powerful punch to your message.
When the initial chanting had subsided, Bush continued with some of his prepared remarks. At one point, someone in the audience yelled, “God bless America!” Bush, now in complete solidarity with the audience, picked up on the phrase and used it to conclude his remarks, again using the “Power of Three” technique. “Thank you for your hard work. Thank you for making the nation proud, and may God bless America.” The crowd again burst into chants of “USA, USA, USA!”
Another speech technique Bush employed was allowing the audience to voice its approval. When the crowd roared, Bush went silent; he didn’t try to yell over them. A good speech rule to follow is: don’t step on your own applause. Talking over your audience makes it hard for them to hear you and, more importantly, it robs the audience of an important emotional moment.
Throughout the speech, Bush didn’t, scream or overuse bravado. He did speak into the bullhorn louder but in a determined, controlled tone. He didn’t need a long speech to connect with his audience or convey the message that he was trying to deliver. Bush said the right words, in the right tone, at the right time and that’s what made this a great speech.
Many believe the Bullhorn Speech was the moment that the nation transformed from grief to resolve; a resolve to take the fight to the terrorists and avenge the attacks. Had Bush stuck to his prepared remarks and had he not pivoted to the needs of his audience, that moment wouldn’t have come on that day. Watch this short video of the actual event and note how the audience responds.
Here are the simple but powerful lessons public speakers and business presenters can learn from the Bullhorn Speech: Be seen. Be heard. Be authentic. Use powerful speech formulas and techniques even when speaking impromptu. And always, always, always, make your message about your audience.
Vocal expert Sharon Marrell sits down with Phoenix Public Speaking owner and founder Paul Barton to talk about how to use your voice in public speaking and business presentations to engage your audience.
HAS CORONAVIRUS changed public speaking forever? Well, our business certainly has taken a dramatic and sudden downward turn. Workshops and speaking engagements, even those booked months from now, cancelled.Personal coaching clients, wary about face-to-face contact, have all postponed or cancelled sessions. All new business came to an abrupt halt as caution turned to outright fear.
The world has suddenly turned nearly 100% virtual for business communication. Nearly every business, large and small, that we’ve talked to have all their employees working from home. For some, this isn’t new. But for many, doing business from home is uncharted territory. I believe virtual work will become a bigger part of our lives long after the virus has subsided.
But remember this: Whether you’re trying to get your point across from the board room or on a laptop from your dining room table, basic public speaking skills apply. And there are many new considerations that come into play as well.
For instance, eye contact is still important but it now means looking into the built-in camera on your laptop instead of at individuals in your live audience. Engagement is still crucial but it now means using polls, chat boxes, Q&As, and other creative ways. Body language and humor and still important but need to be approached differently because visual cues and vocal subtleties can’t be as easily detected in a virtual environment.
New Approaches to Public Speaking
Approaching this new way to communicate is not as easy as flipping a switch. You cannot just do everything you used to do only now do it via video-conferring and expect it to translate fully. And that’s assuming it was done perfectly before!
Meanwhile, some of you know that I also operate Paul Barton Communications, a business communication consulting firm. I’m busy right now helping to craft coronavirus messaging for employees of a large healthcare provider. We’re available to help you and your organization as well.
The single most important constant, whether live or virtual business communication, is this: It’s always, always, always about your audience. And for those of us at Phoenix Public Speaking, that means you. Let us know how we can help.
Together, we’ll all get through this. Be safe, be well.
Every speech and every business presentation should be built upon a solid structure to keep you on point and on time, and to help the audience make sense of what you’re talking about. Every speech and every presentation should have three main parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end.
In public speaking, we often think of that three-step structure as an Introduction, a Body, and a Conclusion. We must set the stage with an introduction, then present our content, and then wrap everything up. This is a good way to think about your speech or presentation when you are putting together your content.
But there are some other ways to think of those same three parts that might help you think about and frame your content even better. Here’s a summary of four other approaches to consider.
1) Problem, Solution, Result. What is the problem, what is the solution, and what great outcomes happen when we fix it. This one works well for problem-solving presentations.
2) What, So What, What Next. What is the situation is, why does it matter, and what action should we take as a result of it. This one works well for persuasive presentations.
3) Curiosity, Insights, Commitment. First, hook your audience in with curiosity, then provide new information, and fi9nally ask for a commitment and the specific actions you want them to take. This approach works well for a storytelling presentation that seeks to persuade.
4) Empathy, Suspense, Surprise. Begin by connecting with the audience emotionally, then build suspense with nee information, and concludes with a surprise that makes the important point you are trying to make. This one works well with storytelling that seeks to enlighten an audience.
Note that in all of these potential structures, the sequence of the steps is crucial; you can’t skip steps. The situation, problems, action steps, and positive outcomes must be clearly defined.
Great speeches and presentations are built upon solid structures. Find the one that best fits your content and you will set yourself up for great speaking success.
Is it best to talk slow or talk fast when giving a business presentation? Is it best to talk loud or soft when public speaking? How about your pitch — low or high? And how about no noise at all or talking constantly? The answer to all these questions is — “Yes!” That’s right. Audiences want it all. Too much of the same becomes boring and your audience will quit listening to you.
What audiences want is vocal variety. It’s vocal variety that adds the energy to your content. I’ve broken down vocal variety in these four categories: Pace, Power, Pitch, and Pause. Here’s a look at how you can use each to be a great speaker.
The 4Ps of Public Speaking
Pace — It’s easy to get into a rhythm when speaking and that can become boring to your audience. Slow down to emphasize key points. Speak a little faster when presenting supporting thoughts or to convey excitement.
Power — We know we can get attention by raising our voice for emphasis, but sometimes you can get more attention by whispering, especially if you’re saying something in a soft voice like “Do you want to know the secret?”
Pitch — No one likes to listen to a monotone. We all like to hear pitch variations. Change your pitch slightly when quoting someone when you’re telling a story. Questions are another natural way to vary our pitch. You can use rhetorical questions or self-questioning (“Should we do it? You bet we should. Can we do it? You bet we can!”) to achieve this effect. While we like pitch variety, no one likes “upspeak” (adding an up pitch at the end of a declarative sentence making it sound like a question.)
Pause — Perhaps the most powerful tool in a public speaker’s toolbox is saying nothing at all. Pause after key points to let the message sink in. Pause after questions to let the audience consider how they feel. Here is some more detail about how to use the power of the pause.
Vocal variety brings your content to life. Learn how to incorporate your vocal variety into an authentic, conversational tone, and your presentations will rock!
Sometimes fewer is better. Sometimes nothing means a lot. Sometimes, you don’t need to have a PowerPoint slide to go with each and every point in your presentation.
It’s easy for public speakers and business presenters to fall into that trap and you can find yourself wasting hours upon hours trying to find images and putting together needless slides when perhaps a few key slides are all your audience really needs. (Notice we said “your audience” because they are who really matters in content decisions.)
Great Slides Add Value
Good slides support and enhance your points. Great slides add value. If you need a chart, a graph or an image to explain or strengthen your point, then, by all means, use it. But what if all you really need is a graph and your other slides are really just filler?
Consider this solution: Sandwich the slide you actually want to show between two blank slides. Here’s how: Create a slide with a solid black background. The solid color will keep the projection screen from being a distraction. Now insert the graph you actually need after your blank slide and then create another blank slide to go after the graph.
Here’s how this scenario might play out: You begin your presentation and quickly grab the attention of your audience. There is a blank slide on the screen but the audience probably doesn’t realize that the projector is even turned on. Your audience is focused on you and what you’re saying. You are the center of attention, not the slides. Then, you click your presentation remote and, viola, there is your graph. The graph stands out and makes your point clearer. The graph adds value. You then click the remote again to another blank slide and continue speaking. All eyes are on you. Now, you’re ready for your big finish.
Of course, there are many situations when you’ll want a full slide deck complete with a title slide, numerous points, and final thoughts. As in all good design, the form should always follow the function. But always ask yourself these questions before settling on a slide strategy: Who is the star of this presentation, me or the slides? Am I running the slides or are they running me? What’s best for my audience?
The answers to those questions will help you to create a more powerful, more persuasive presentation.
Small, medium, large. Past, present, future. On your marks, get set..GO!
We like hearing things in threes. Our brains are hardwired for them. After all, we count to three before taking a group photo right? You’d surely count to three before plunging off a zipline tower for the first time, wouldn’t you? And, of course, as any Monty Python fan can tell you, you must count to three before lobbing the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. Think about the classic Western movie “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Ugly doesn’t logically fit but it seems like it does because we like the pattern of three so much.
Want more proof? The Three Stooges. The Three Amigos. The Three Musketeers. Ho, ho, ho. Ha, ha, ha. Hee, hee, hee. A, B, C and 1, 2, 3. Oh, and don’t forget: the third time is a charm.
Yep, three is perfection. Three is completion. Three means business.
In public speaking, things said in threes help you land your important points in a memorable, persuasive, and powerful way. The trinity tool is a good one to keep in your verbal vault.
So, here are (you guessed it) three ways you can use the awesome Power of Three in your presentations:
Make a point by constructing a superlative sentence, such as, “That was good, this is better, our proposal will be the BEST!”
Build to three with the third item being a powerful payoff, as in this line from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.”
Create a humorous line by building to an unexpected third item, such as, “When I was young I had hopes, I had dreams, I had HAIR!”
Learn how to use the Power of Three and you’ll be a more powerful, polished presenter. And that’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
What’s on the last slide in your business presentation? For many, it’s a slide that says “Thank You!” Well, that’s simply not as powerful or as useful for your audience as it could be. Instead, we suggest using that space for something fresh and more meaningful. Think of it this way: The final slide should stay on the screen until every last member of the audience has left the room. It’s the last opportunity to communicate with them. What information, what thoughts and what feelings do you want your audience to leave the room with?
Here are seven suggestions for slides you can use to have a fantastic finish:
(1) Business Card. A close-up photo of your business card, perhaps with your hand holding it as in the photo at left. This reminds your audience of what you do for business when not presenting and gives them the opportunity to take a photo of the slide for future reference.
(2) Contact Information. If not a business card, perhaps a list of various ways to connect and stay in contact with you to “keep the conversation going.” This could include your social media channels, a mail list signup, or a private group on LinkedIn or Facebook.
(3) Summary of Key Points. A brief listing of the key messages you really want your audience to remember.
(4) Call to Action. The one thing you want the audience members to do or to remember above all else.
(5) Next Steps. A list of the action steps audience members should take following the presentation.
(6)Final Thoughts. A final thought, such as the fortune cookie photo at the top of this post, or a powerful closing quote. Leave your audience feeling hopeful about the future.
(7) Bookend Thought. If your presentation began with a provocative question or thought, you could return to that question or thought on your final slide and bring it all full circle for your audience.
People tend to remember the first and the last thing you say the most so you want to end strong. By choosing a slide that has some meaning for your audience, you’ll have a much more powerful finish and a much better chance of leaving a lasting impression.
Do you have an idea for a final slide that isn’t listed here? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. We’d love to hear them.
How loud should you talk without a microphone in a room full of people? Here’s how to determine just the right volume so that you can influence and persuade your audience when public speaking in a meeting space or making your next business presentation in a conference room.
First, locate the person furthest away from you in the room. Yep, that person waaaay in the back. Now, how loud do you need to talk to be heard by that person? Adjust your volume to that level. If you’re a quiet talker, you might have to “use your outside voice” or you can try these tricks.
But wait, there’s more. Yep, you don’t want that person to simply hear you; you want to be able to influence them with the sound of your voice. So, adjust your volume up a little bit more. There you go. That’s it!
Now you’ll be able to be heard and influence everyone in the room.