How to Give A Great Talk

April 28, 2011

Here are professional tips to shift your talk from ho hum to wow.

Before you speak set your stage. position the chairs so everyone can see with ease. Avoid what most speakers do which is light up their screen and speak from the shadows. Stand in the best light because you can’t shine in the dark. Do a dry run before people arrive speaking to each quadrant in the room. When you are read, have music playing as people come in. Great tunes convey welcome energy.  When it’s time, stand at the door  and greet each person as they come in. Small talk before the big talk makes everyone feel at home.  Here are the next five 5 lessons to wow your audience.

1. Affirm Before You Inform: Speaking is not about you; it’s about your audience. Before you dive into your topic and deliver value make your audience feel valued. National Speaker’s Association founder Cavett Roberts said “People won’t care about what you know unless they know you care.” Start with heart.

2. Use a Ho Hum Crasher: Engage your audience’s ATTENTION. Before you start to speak many audiences are thinking ho hum, another speaker. So wake them up: “If Princess Diana had worn a seat belt she would have been at the wedding.” This would be a killer opening for a talk on personal decisions. Pun intended, sadly.

3. Highlight the ROI: ROI is the Return on Involvement for the audience. Engage their INTEREST by tuning into their WII-FM channel – What’s In It For Me.  Briefly reveal why the topic matters to you and to them. Be explicit about what they will gain.

4. Build an Elegant Talk: Create a DESIRE in your audience to lean in and make it easy to learn. Consider using the OK structure: ONE big idea supported by three KEY concepts.  Elegant talks reach diverse learners by engaging the right side of the brain (stories, quotes or anecdotes) with the left  (theories, concepts or statistics). With stories remember: “Don’t tell me, take me”  With statistics make them sticky; for example, a billion is hard to grasp. Make it real by asking the audience to guess (without using a smart phone) how long it would take to count to a billion? (BTW it takes, counting non-stop, at one number a second, 31 years, 251 days, 7 hours, 46 minutes and 39 seconds).

Add visuals because brains are wired for pictures. In fact, Dr. Medina, who wrote Brain Rules, says visuals greatly enhance retention. So use props and simple, powerful images (not word dense PowerPoints, pleeeease). Dr. Medina also says to hold your audience’s engagement, change your delivery format every 9 minutes. For example use a video clip, move people into pairs to share ideas (pair & share)  or give a case study or break into small teams to generate solutions. You can even play music as a background for your group activities.

Like fireworks, build your speech from little wows to big, simple concepts to complex and make it fun. Even quiet enjoyment is contagious and helps to anchor learning.

5. Review & Ask For Action! Build in a review because you can’t implement what you can’t remember.  Please don’t say “Let’s review”  or ‘In summary…” because people will tune out. Instead use a quick  progressive review that moves through 1. What happened? 2. So what? 3. Now what? You can take people through these review steps by asking them to discuss their insights with a partner or in a trio. You can also ask self-reflection questions such as: “What was your key insight? What does it mean?  What can you implement in the next 24 hours or week?  Leading trainer and author Bob Pike says  90% of material is forgotten with 30 days without a review. A brain needs help getting information from short term to long term memory. One idea is to invite your audience to review the material the day after your session and one week later. (Send a summary by email, facebook or twitter to help).

Here’s a bonus tip: Five before live.

Once you have your talk, practice it out loud, five times and with five people. Ask for feedforward, ideas that would make it better next time. This will ensure you get from good to great.

PS – This was written for my friends at the Sunshine Foundation in celebration of their upcoming May Conference.

To print simply include: (c) Louise Karch, M.Ed –


One Response to “How to Give A Great Talk”

  1. Sheila on April 28th, 2011 1:07 pm

    Thank you for all your help Louise. You are truly magnificent!!!

Good is no longer good enough. The goal is perfection and the path that takes us there leads to excellence.
Louise B. Karch