Public Speaking: 10 Practical Tips
As you know, financial planning is about two sides of an equation. Income and expenses. Let’s work today on increasing your income. How? If you’re going to be a leader that others look up to, you’ll need to be a great public speaker. Here’s how.
If you’ve seen me, you know I have a face for radio. However, I made a great living off of my ability to speak in front of people. During my advising years, not only did I work in public relations, handling media interviews and questions, but I was a hired gun. Other advisors would pay me to give speeches for them. Why? My results were so good that I could sell people on working with you better than you could sell yourself!
How did I do it? The basics aren’t hard, but they’re surprising to many non-speakers. When you read these tips something should strike you right away: most of them aren’t about the speech…they’re about what most would call peripheral areas of the talk.
1) Look the part. I was a financial advisor who was supposed to be trustworthy with your money. I needed to wear a suit that looked clean, freshly pressed and with polished shoes. My hair needed to be groomed. No expensive watches or over-the-top ties. Good money managers aren’t wasteful with other’s money. Ask yourself this: what does your audience want to see?
I practiced neuro-linguistic programming methods made famous by Anthony Robbins but practiced by most of the of top speakers and sales professionals of the world. It’s roots are grounded into hypnotism. Wear the right colors (hunter green and a deep blue are nice “trustworthy” colors. Model your favorite speakers, copying the traits that make them stand out. Watch the audience to see if they’re mimicking your movements slightly (I move left, people lean left). There are many subconscious ways to stack the deck in your favor.
2) Own the room. If the talk stinks, people aren’t going to blame the people who set up the room. They’ll simply say, “That speaker was horrible!” They won’t analyze the countless things that worked against the advisor. Come early enough to set up the room before you speak. I had a list of criteria I reviewed with the people who hired me to make sure I was able to win.
Here are a few:
- Set tables up in half-moons so guests can see me without craning their neck.
- The temperature should be slightly cool when the room is empty. If it feels great empty, people will be sweating when it’s full of breathers.
- Play soft music before the talk. People feel awkward when the room is silent.
- Set up the podium or microphone so it’s already at the right height and you don’t have to fiddle with it to begin your talk.
- Disappear before the show. You’re the main event, not the greeter.
3) Warm up. Speech writer Peggy Noonan (1000 points of light) made me a believer in this one. In physical education classes or any strenuous activity, people warm up first. Don’t use the first several minutes of your speech to get your blood pumping. I used to do 25 quick jumping jacks about 3 minutes before I took the stage. Find a quiet, out of the way spot (I only got caught once!) and get ready to start your speech with a BANG!
4) Have someone else introduce you. Work with the person introducing you to make sure they start the speech off correctly. Usually, they’re not used to standing in front of the room. You don’t want to trust whatever comes into their head. It won’t be good. Write an intro for them and tell them “most people just read this as-is. People don’t know that I wrote it for you.”
5) Stories beat facts. A funny story. One top advisor complained that he created a seminar with brilliance and nobody would buy. Then he started hiring me after he heard how good I was. According to him, “Then Joe comes in and tells a few funny stories, throws in a couple facts everyone already knows, and the whole room signs up to work with us.”
Why? It’s a little technical, but boils down to this: people don’t actually come to a financial seminar to learn. They come because they want to know if the advisor knows what they’re doing and to see if they can glean one or two things. The room is going to have two types of people: amiable people and analytical people. The amiables want to like me. The analyticals want to know if I know what I’m doing. Therefore, I structured me speech (roughly) this way:
See how it’s front loaded? Marriot once performed a study that showed people decide if they like the hotel in the first five minutes. They haven’t even reached the room yet! It’s the same with your speech. Amiables (most of those in the survey) just want to like you and are going to decide quickly. Therefore, I front load the speech to win those people. I have many, many friends who are engineers. I’ve often joked that if I hadn’t been so naïve in high school and thought that engineers were just train drivers, I would have been one also. People who are analytical know the game, but they also want to know what you know. They’ll wait through a few stories that they could care less about, as long as you bring home the bacon at the end. That’s why it’s fact fact at the end (and usually my best stuff that they didn’t know before coming).
6) Don’t try to be a comedian. I’m naturally someone who likes to laugh and share jokes. I found that my biggest issue was to make sure that I didn’t come across as “goofy” during my presentations. Humor, sparingly, is good, but unless you’re at Caroline’s Comedy Club, a little goes a long way.
7) Choreograph your talk. I had three positions when I talked:
- Knowledge: When I was doling out facts my feet were together, shoulders square, and I used my left hand to point at the facts on my screen (left hand because you want to stand to the audience’s left of the screen, so they subconsciously look at you first and then your data. If you stand on the other side, they’ll spend the whole time focused on the data and then come to you).
- Story: I’d move toward the audience, feet apart, and move my arms to reflect the story. My face would become more casual.
- “So What?” – To make your biggest points, move up toward the audience, lean forward, and slowly move your head from audience member to audience member. Don’t overdo it. This position should be reserved for a couple of major milestones and your call to action ONLY.
8) Chuck the script. I’ve been to too many speeches where the person reads to me. Just email me that and let me go home. If you’re speaking to me, work from your main points! Don’t think of exact words, think of the actual meaning of your talk. What are you trying to convey? If you start with a script, learn it cold and then work to unlearn it. You’ll find that the most important phrases from the script stick and the rest melts away.
9) Rehearse your open and close. In the book Lions Don’t Need to Roar, author D.A. Benton talks about the difference between how CEOs and underlings give presentations. While an underling is already speaking as they’re being introduced, the CEO shakes the hand of the person performing the introduction. Slowly strolls to the podium, shifts through their notes, squares their shoulders, and then delivers a powerful opening. Why? It’s all an act to show who’s in charge!
Rehearse your close for another reason. I had a fantastic story at the end of my speech after my two big facts. This created an applause moment. My goal? To walk out of the room with people really applauding hard. I created that by working over and over on milking the last three minutes of my speech.
10) Less is better. For awhile (when I was a new speaker), I thought I could WOW people with more stuff. Yeah, that’s not the case. People don’t want more. They want better. A speech is poetry. Less words, more choreography, more fun for the audience.