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For the past few months, I have been lucky enough to travel to different conferences to do something I love: speak. 

One of the things about being a speaker is that you get to watch other speakers either kill it or struggle in front of an audience who knows they are not delivering their best presentation. It can be brutal to watch. 

With that in mind, I thought I would share tips to help you become part of the group that excels in front of your audience.

 

Practice  

And I mean practice a lot! Melissa Finnegan, the AVP of training and development for Lincoln Financial Distributors, was one of the best speakers I have seen in a long time. It was obvious that she had spent time polishing her presentation by practicing and tweaking it beforehand. Every move she made had meaning, every slide had value, and because of her confidence and preparation, Melissa delivered an outstanding presentation that made her look like the expert she is. 

 

Don’t Rely on Slides 

Have slides, but make it look like you don’t need them at all. There is nothing worse than delivering a presentation by reading off of slides. This approach takes away from the authenticity of your presentation and makes your audience question your expertise. Anyone can read from slides, but only a few people are able to speak from their expert point of view.

With all that said, you can still use slides but they shouldn’t be the main focus of your presentation. And going back to the practice component, know your presentation so well that you don’t need to look at your slides while speaking. Be able to do the presentation even if the computer breaks down. Use slides only to complement and support your presentation.

 After all, you are what your audience wants to see and hear, not some PowerPoint presentation. 

 

Be Personable and Engaging

Engage everyone. Björn Borg was another speaker at a recent event I attended. No, not the tennis player! But he used that sentence to warm up the group and engage them. He used humor, pauses, and poked fun at himself at the beginning of the presentation to engage and help the audience connect with him. Björn conducted himself well on stage, made eye contact, and smiled at everyone who made eye contact with him. 

Other types of icebreakers work too. For example, if you use a chart, make it a fun one or use it in an unexpected way to make a point. So many people think that showing charts and graphs supports their thought leadership, but sometimes they don’t. Charts and graphs can sometimes come across as boring or predictable, so why not try something different that comes across as playful and engaging?

 

Make Your Audience Want to Know More About You

Deirdre Van Nest is one of the best speaking coaches out there. I watched her present at a conference and I realized there was so much I could be doing better. Among other things, she teaches that you need to make your audience care about you as a person before they listen to what you want them to learn.  

Inspire your audience with stories and accomplishments, fun anecdotes, or impress them with your know-how. But this works both ways. In order to get your audience interested in you, you need to know your audience and understand their pain points and how they are similar to you. These elements will help you deliver a more powerful presentation that genuinely helps your audience and shows that you understand them.

As a bonus recommendation, if you think you could be a better speaker, hire a speaking coach. This may seem frivolous but the cost does not matter. If you speak for a living, you have to be the best speaker you can be. In the long term, it can make you more money, build better and deeper relationships, and allow you to get that one thing all speakers love: applause.