There is an art to becoming a great webinar or seminar speaker. Even the best and brightest crumble when the lights go on.
Ordinarily calm and collected individuals can turn into quivering wrecks who talk at a hundred miles an hour when they take to the stage.
Confident, sociable people can dry up in a heartbeat and deliver their lecture in a dry, husky croak.
I’ve even seen a larger than life, Type-A personality pace the stage anxiously, one hand in his pocket, jangling his loose change for the ENTIRE performance.
Public speaking is tough.
It was tough when you were at school and you had to read a report to the class. It was tough when you were at work and had to deliver a presentation to the board. And that first webinar or public-speaking opportunity is tough as well.
For most of us, public speaking isn’t something we’re trained to do. It’s just something that’s landed in front of us and we’re expected to just figure it all out.
Maybe you’ve figured out that webinars are the best way to grow your business (this is almost certainly true of everyone). Or maybe you’ve been invited to speak at an event and you impulsively said “yes” without thinking about what you just committed to doing.
And now you have to prepare to deliver a public address without falling on your face.
Perhaps getting through the experience without melting down in front of your audience is achievement enough for you. But what if you want more? What if you want to be a webinar or seminar speaker for years to come? What if you want to evolve your skills so that your delivery is smooth, stylish and memorable?
What if you want to be the one speaker at an event that everyone agrees STOLE the show?
To become a truly great speaker, here are some of the skills you need to master.
This article is focused purely on the art of delivering an informative lecture with great skill. If you’re looking for help on putting together a sales webinar, everything that follows will be useful, but you should check out some of our other guides for more specific advice.
1. Grab Attention
It seems logical to begin your delivery with an overview of what you’re going to discuss. But while there’s nothing wrong with including this in your outline, it’s a dull way to begin.
You’ll have heard lectures that start with things like…
“Tonight we’re going to discuss…”
“The title of this lecture is…”
“This presentation is all about…”
Sure, it’s informative – but half your audience hasn’t tuned in yet. They’re using the pause between speakers to check their phone, talk to their neighbor or think about what they’re going to have for dinner. You may have started but most of your audience is elsewhere.
Your opening line should always – always – be an attention-grabber.
Think of it as the headline on a sales page. You wouldn’t start a sales pitch with something mundane, and you shouldn’t start your speech this way either. Instead, go with an intriguing question, statistic or a controversial statement.
Say SOMETHING that is going to get everyone in the room to drop every physical and mental distraction, and focus on what you’re saying.
There’s the old story of the priest who begins his homily on familial love by saying, “The happiest days of my life have been spent in the arms of another man’s wife… <pause>… the arms of my mother.”
Although if you’re going to court controversy, make sure you get it right. The second half of the story is the doddery old priest who tries the same opening and gets confused: “The happiest days of my life have been spent in the arms of another man’s wife… <pause>… erm… but I can’t remember who.”
2. Make Contact With Your Audience
Acknowledging the audience, for most people, is one of the hardest parts of public speaking. It’s much easier to pretend that the audience doesn’t exist, and focus purely on your notes. But you won’t win your audience over by ignoring them.
Instead, you need to get your head up, look out at the crowd (or into the camera if you’re delivering a webinar) and talk directly to the room.
It takes practice but the real secret to maintaining good audience contact is delivering your lecture from an outline rather than a script.
Reading a script verbatim makes it hard to sound natural, and even harder to get your head up and look out at the audience. An outline, on the other hand, gives you freedom to spend more time looking up and talk naturally.
This is equally true when using presentation slides. Too much text ruins the conversational tone of your delivery.
A simple way to create an outline is to write out the script in full initially, then edit it down into a series of bullet points. The goal when delivering your speech is to be able to look down at the current bullet, look back up and say what you want to say about that particular point without having to look down again.
It takes guts to get up to speak with only an outline in front of you but it’s crucial to making contact with your audience.
3. Make Connections With Your Audience
Once you’re adept at looking out at your audience, the next step is to start making eye contact with individuals.
Begin by looking at people in the back row. Look at them as a group, then allow your eyes to pick out individuals. Then move to the middle of your audience. Pick out an individual make eye contact as you talk for a few seconds and relax your focus to go back to looking at the group.
Next, look at those closest to you and repeat the exercise. As you get more confident, periodically turn your whole body to look at the people on your left or your right.
The trick is to alternate between looking at an individual directly for a few seconds and then looking back at a portion of the audience as a group.
Yes, it’s tough to do, and the first time you try it, you may find yourself getting distracted and lose track of what you’re saying. Don’t panic – just look down at your outline to remind yourself where you’re at, take a breath and continue as if nothing happened.
Once you master this technique, it raises the perception of your delivery to a whole other level. When individual audience members feel like you’re talking directly to them and them alone, it creates a powerful connection that will make everything you say that much more memorable.
3. Slow it Right Down
Pauses are powerful.
A dramatic pause, timed correctly, can be more impactful than anything you say out loud.
Making use of the “power pause” starts by reducing how much content you try to deliver in the time allotted. If you’re trying to cram too much in, you’ll naturally start to rush – even if you’ve timed everything to the minute.
Aim to fill about 90% of the time you have, and give yourself plenty of room to slow down and follow big questions and bold statements with pregnant pauses.
If you really want to own this technique, make your statement loudly, earnestly and passionately, and then make the pause last a little longer than feels comfortable. Really let the silence sit. When you start talking again, speak your next few sentences at a lower volume so everyone almost has to mentally lean forward to hear you.
Get this right and your audience will get the kind of goosebumps they will remember.
4. Get Your Hands Involved
Fear makes us freeze. This is why many rookie public speakers stand rigid, hands by their side or clasped behind their back. It doesn’t feel natural nor does it look natural because, almost with exception, hand gestures are a natural accompaniment to our speech.
The next time you have an exciting or funny story to tell someone, try telling it with your hands in your pockets. You’ll quickly wind up looking like Houdini trying to escape from a straitjacket.
To present yourself as natural and enthused about your subject matter, hand gestures are essential. If you’re relaxed and speaking extemporaneously from an outline, you should gesture naturally. But if you’re finding it difficult to let your hands talk, there are a couple of tricks you can employ.
The simplest is to plan a few hand gestures. Identify some points in your speech where a hand gesture is appropriate and practice it in advance. It’s hard to make this look natural but it’s a fine place to start.
The next step is to put your hands together and hold them up in front of you when you start to speak. It’ll feel strange if you just keep them there and it will force you to separate your hands and move them in coordination with what you’re saying.
It’s a bit like jumping in the deep end. Sink or swim. Hold your hands up and you either have to gesture or look a bit stupid.
5. Tell Stories
Sitting and listening attentively to storytelling is in our DNA. Every generation of every civilization has always had storytelling as part of their culture.
When a speaker segues into a story – whether it’s an anecdote, a fable or an illustration – not only does the attention of the audience peak, but it’s the part of your speech they’re most likely to remember tomorrow.
Stories are powerful. And even when they’re not, your audience will appreciate the color and entertainment value they add to your presentation.
I would go so far as to say that you should never deliver any lecture without featuring at least one story.
They’re also a great tool for your introduction. Opening with a story is dramatic, crowd-pleasing and a very easy way to get everyone relaxed and paying attention.
Next time you’re delivering a talk, try opening with the words (delivered, slightly ironically) “Once upon a time…”
6. Motivate Your Audience
Conclusions are critical. A limp ending can ruin the goodwill you’ve built up. Conversely, a great conclusion can turn audience opinion if what came before was below par.
Don’t over-complicate your conclusion. Just keep two things in mind…
First, don’t try and review everything you’ve covered so far. A brief summary at the end is fine, but it’s easy to labor the repetition and irritate your listeners. At best, your audience is only going to remember one or two things from your speech, so decide what you want those one or two things to be and hit them hard in your closing moments.
Secondly, try and finish with a call-to-action. Don’t mistakenly conclude that this is only for sales pitches. Every speech can be improved by closing with a motivational statement that urges the audience to do something, feel something, remember something or strive for something.
When harnessed correctly, a concluding call-to-action will leave your audience with a slight lift to cap off your delivery and will, easily, add extra energy to your audience’s applause.
One final secret. It’s obvious, but most people can’t be bothered to do it – which is why most public speakers rarely rise above the mean.
The truly great speakers… always practice significantly before every talk.
Practice in front of the mirror. Record yourself and watch the playback. Practice in front of friends. Practice in front of colleagues. Practice in front of your significant other.
Then ask for honest feedback.
Being great at anything takes hard work and commitment. And if you want to be a GREAT webinar or seminar speaker, be prepared to practice all of the above.
Your audience will appreciate the effort.
For more information on how WebinarJam can improve your customer relationships, visit www.webinarjam.com.