May 24, 2012

5 Ways to Deliver a Better Speech/Presentation

I posted the book review of How to deliver a TED talk recently. While the book review talked about the book in general, in this post I share with you five lessons from the book. These five things will help you improve your next speech/presentation.

#1 Choosing a topic for your talk
You have been asked to give a speech or make a presentation. You have to choose one topic and give a 10 minute talk. What do you speak about? You want to inspire your audience and want to share a story. Which story will you share? Don't ask yourself 'What is the most amazing story I can tell?' Ask yourself 'What is the greatest lesson I have learned?' or 'What is the greatest joy/misery I have experienced?' This will guide you a much better topic to speak on. Once you have found it out, encapsulate the topic into one core message. The crux of what you will speak about. Once you have a single message, build a story around it.

#2 Connecting with your audience
You want your story to connect with your audience. You want the audience to care about you, listen to you and do something about it. In order for all of this to happen, you need to connect with their inner need. The author has identified four needs which a speaker can harness and address.

  1. Physical health and safety
  2. Love and belonging
  3. Desire and self interest
  4. Hope in a better tomorrow
You need to address atleast one of the needs in your talk. When Obama spoke he spoke of a better tomorrow. If you are going to talk of overcoming challenges, you will target desire and self interest.

#3 Opening your talk
There are three ways to open your talk. First, share a personal story. Second, make a shocking statement and third, ask a powerful question.

Share a personal story - Watch this opening by Richard St. John. The entire presentation is only three minutes and Richard starts with a personal story. When sharing a story, ensure it is your personal story and the story directly relates to the core message of your talk (as discussed in point 1 above). Make sure the story is emotional and has a few dialogues and not totally in passive voice.

Make a shocking statement - Jamie Oliver, a chef gave this opening statement at TED 2010. He made a shocking statement. In the time that he will complete his talk, four Americans would have died because of the food they eat. When you start with something shocking, you are assured of getting your audience attention. What's important is to ensure the statement relates directly to the theme of your talk. The statement should also be relevant to your audience and it should target one of the four needs mentioned in point 2. In Jamie's case it was about physical health and safety, something very relevant to everyone in the audience.

Ask a powerful question - In this opening by Simon Sinek, he asks a question to his audience. When we ask questions which are interesting, we make other crave for answers. It is what is called 'opening up knowledge gaps' by Chip and Dan Heath in their classic book Made to Stick. When we ask questions to start a talk, we must ask 'Why' or 'How'. These are more enticing.

#4 Getting introduced
Every speaker gets introduced and most of us do not worry much about the introduction. No one plans and gets worried about how to get introduced by the host (emcee). Jeremey Donovan insists we start planning the introduction as well. Your introduction is where your audience starts its journey. The introduction should be short, should talk about things which are relevant to the main message of the presentation, should focus on the benefit audience is going to get out from your speech and should not put you on a high pedestal.

We trust people who are like us. We are more likely to act on a message if it comes from someone who was one of us before he took this step and achieved something extraordinary. Write your own introduction and give it to the organisers and ensure you are not portrayed as a super human.

[I have chosen this point above many others in the book because this is something unique and we must not ignore it. Most of us never bother to plan out our introduction and our organisers take too much liberty and talk too much about us. Let's take charge of what is going to be said about us]

#5 Storytelling
This is the biggest challenge for most presenters. We know we have to narrate a story in our speech. Stories make people pay attention, makes them care and makes them remember and take action. But how do we say a story?

A story is a hero's journey. He is a person like us. He has needs and desires. He faces some obstacles, makes a choice and comes out victorious.

Start with introducing a hero. He should not be you. You should act as the guide. The hero is someone else. Someone who the audience can identify with. Then only will they get moved by the whole thing. Start by elaborately describing the hero. What does he do, what does he want and what he looks like. Make him come to life visually. Once the needs and desires are established, bring in the obstacles and at the end the hero needs to overcome each obstacle one by one before he comes out victorious. Stories with a positive ending are good for inspiration and ones with a bad ending good for teaching (what could have been avoided).


  1. Hello
    Thanks a lot, this article has helped me a lot in my presentation.I feel that voice modulation, gestures, eye contact etc is also important .I want to know how much impact would the non verbal communication have in a presentation?

    Heshena Sema

  2. Non-verbal communication definitely has a role to play. How well you dress, how confidently you make eye contact and talk. All these matter.

    If you dress poorly, it means you are not respecting the audience who has come to listen to you.

    If you do not speak confidently and do not establish eye contact, your credibility suffers. Even if someone lies but does so confidently, we will believe it.

    However, my view is that we must first get our content in place and only then worry about non-verbal communication.