Public speaking – standing alone in front of an audience – makes many people uncomfortable. But being able to persuade, inspire or convince others fuels success in any career. Public speaking guru Gabe Zichermann offers an in-depth guide to giving any type of spoken presentation. Learn how to capitalize on your audience’s emotions, use visual aids to structure your arguments and even how to captivate a Zoom meeting. Zichermann maintains that even in a world full of short attention spans, you can learn to enthrall an audience.
- Preparation is half the work of public speaking.
- Capitalize on audience emotions.
- Get to know your tech for online meetings.
- Make your pitch a story with three acts.
- Use visual aids to improve your presentation.
- Keep calm and continue speaking through disruptions.
Preparation is half the work of public speaking.
Whether you want to become an executive leader and reach the C-suite, or you want to pitch a great idea at your next meeting, you must develop your public speaking skills. Many people wait until the last minute to scrape a speech or pitch together, and hope they can get their message across to the audience. This approach simply doesn’t work. Even the most effortless-seeming presentation is founded on countless hours of preparation. In the business world, your ability to captivate and convince others directly correlates with your success. As social media shortens people’s attention spans, you must understand what will hold your audience’s focus and put those techniques to work.
“Everything from a start-up’s inception through its acquisition or public offering rests on the founding team’s ability to evangelize their message.”
Prepare for your talk using the following four steps:
- Identify your talk type – Create a list that describes the form your presentation will take – such as a keynote speech or a pitch – noting its duration, the topics you will cover, whether you will present in person or online, and when it will take place.
- Develop your content – Understand the content of your speech and curate your perspective on the topic so you sound like an expert. Don’t copy or repeat someone else’s point of view.
- Practice your presentation – Just as a musician rehearses for a performance or an athlete does drills, you must practice your speech over and over to build mastery, confidence and experience. If your speech is only 20 minutes, for example, be ready to spend at least 400 minutes getting it right, and even more time practicing if you make revisions along the way.
- Respond to feedback – Test your speech on trusted colleagues or friends and heed their feedback. Their opinions help you adjust your speech to better connect with your audience, clarify your points of view, and address any tonal or pacing issues.
Almost every talk you give at work is a pitch of some kind. Your words must persuade your audience to accept your ideas. Sell yourself as you sell your concepts. When people believe in you, they trust what you say. Dress well and speak clearly to look and sound like a mature expert. Cultivate an air of calm confidence by practicing mindful meditation before beginning your presentation.
Capitalize on audience emotions.
An effective presentation hinges on your ability to hook your audience’s attention, reel them in and make them care about what you have to say. When you hear or see information you deem crucial to your survival, your brain produces the same response as when something threatens your well-being. This moment of “peak arousal” opens the door to changing behaviors, creating connections and embedding knowledge into your memory.
The best public speakers know exactly how to activate, stimulate and manipulate the emotional mind of their audiences. Through their pacing, the timing of their reveal of engaging pieces of information and by leaving space for reflection, masters of public speaking can convince you of almost anything. To be persuasive, or win people over, spark their emotions by using “A-ha! moments.”
An A-ha! moment is when the information you offer comes together in a meaningful way for your audience. They experience a moment of revelation and their emotional response connects them to your words, ideas and presentation. This information activates the nervous system, and makes people accept your ideas. When planning your speech, prepare sufficient A-ha! moments to stimulate emotions, but not so many that you desensitize your audience.
For example, in a 15-minute speech, prepare two A-ha! moments for your five and 10-minute marks. This leaves time for the setup of each moment and time for your audience to reflect on your – and their – A-ha! Start with a strong opener, using data or statistics to lay out your case and make the audience pay attention. Follow this with a personal story; then reveal your first A-ha! For example, if you give a speech about addiction, you might begin with a strong statistic about addiction, follow with your personal experience with addiction, if any, and then offer the truth about why addiction is so prevalent, which would be your A-ha! moment.
“If you want to effectively drive people’s behavior, you need to understand what makes them tick.”
Understand your audience’s cognitive biases – their predisposed beliefs. Knowing what your audiences like, dislike, believe or disbelieve is essential to connecting with them. You wouldn’t give a speech about industrial meat preparation, for example, to vegans.
Consider the “anchoring bias” – that people usually only heed the first piece of information that appears. For example, they might find a $50 object on sale for $20 and think it’s a good deal, but only because they don’t know that the original price was $25. To exploit this bias, lead with your most important information, because that’s what people will remember.
Get to know your tech for online meetings.
Thanks to COVID-19, more and more meetings today occur virtually. You can deliver the same impact on the computer screen as you would deliver in person, but your preparation must differ.
Before any Zoom meeting, go through this checklist:
- Know your audience – Tailor your speech to them and prioritize important members by looking into their faces and making eye contact.
- Know the time – Double-check for any time zone discrepancies and make sure everyone knows what time the meeting starts.
- Know the duration – Zoom usually takes extra time for people to log in and join. Plan on small talk at the beginning. Once you begin, stick to a specific amount of time and don’t go over that.
- Know the features – Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms offer interactive features – such as polls and chats, for example – for side dialogues. Determine when it’s appropriate to use these features and pick someone in advance to monitor them.
Become familiar with the technical aspects of whichever online meeting platform you plan to use. Set up a strong internet connection, plug your device directly into the router if you can, practice screen sharing to avoid sharing an embracing desktop background, and optimize the correct video and audio quality. Clean your camera ahead of time and test your microphone for proper sound levels.
“Good communicators have always made a game plan for their talks beforehand.”
As with most technology, something will likely fail at some point. Back up your speech with a PDF or PowerPoint and share it ahead of time so that others have it. When in doubt, back up your backup.
Make your pitch a story with three acts.
Most stories follow a three-part setup. In Act One, you present a challenge. In Act Two, you introduce the hero. And in Act Three, the hero resolves the challenge. This structure persuades audiences because it’s familiar and relatable. When crafting your next pitch or speech, structure it as a story in three acts.
“Humans love stories.”
First impressions matter because you only have about 10 seconds to grab your audience’s attention. People will link their first impression of you with your credibility on the subject at hand, so look the part. If your talk is about tech, for example, break out your black turtleneck to dress like Steve Jobs. If your pitch is about a new workout regime, show off your muscles.
Begin your talk – Act One – by setting the scene – the background or context for your main point. For example, speaker Johann Hari’s TED Talk, “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong” starts with a brief story of him as a child trying to wake up his unconscious, intoxicated parent. This story is short, to the point and explains why the problem of addiction is so important to Hari. It also shows his experience in dealing with addiction. Your setup should provide sufficient background to elicit an emotional response, such as empathy or excitement. Explain your history with the issue and why it matters that you are bringing it up now.
Next, demonstrate why you’re the right person to address the problem or challenge you’ve raised – Act Two. This central part of your speech should consist of three main points: “This is the right market,” “this is the right product,” and “this is the right team.” Utilize your persuasion skills. Organize your points from weakest to strongest to build toward an emotional epiphany that convinces your audience to trust that you can overcome the issue presented.
In Act Three, wrap everything up into a simple, digestible and inspiring “unifying theory.” At the end of Hari’s TED Talk, for example, he mentions how defeating addiction means building connections. His conclusion is not scientific, but still inspires people to take meaningful action. Don’t leave any questions, ideas or concepts you introduced unexplained. This could undermine your credibility. Whatever challenge you bring up, resolve it by your talk’s end.
Use visual aids to improve your presentation.
PowerPoint’s slide structure helps you order, organize and synthesize your ideas. It is an excellent tool for making your presentations stronger and more captivating. Visual learners in the audience will welcome it. Create your PowerPoint yourself. If someone else makes it, you risk a disjointed presentation because the visuals likely won’t match how you present your ideas.
“Stick to the simple stuff and your slides will sing backup.”
Start every PowerPoint by writing out your ideas and placing each on a slide. No need to add visuals yet; this provides an overview of how your presentation will flow. Follow the formula of one idea that takes one minute to explain on one slide. If you have an idea that takes longer than a minute to explain, break that idea down into one-minute segments. For example, a 10-minute presentation should have 12 slides; one for the title, one for the closing and one for each of your 10 points.
Your opening and closing slides need only text with the title of the presentation, your information and brand logo. For the following slides, use simple visuals with short descriptions, such as, for example, an image of a kid on a swing with the words “swing and miss,” to visually reinforce your idea. Follow these simple rules:
- Use charts or graphs only if necessary.
- Keep visual data simple and easy to read.
- Alternate between graphs, charts and other data formats.
- Consider making the data portion a handout instead of a slide.
Keep these rules in mind, too, when using videos. Too many – or overly complex – graphs, charts and videos can distract your audience and pull their focus away from your words.
Keep calm and continue speaking through disruptions.
It’s up to you to set the tone for your talk and keep the presentation moving. If you come out onstage an obvious nervous wreck, or in a bad mood, the audience will reflect those negative vibes right back to you. Achieve a calm relaxed state before stepping out onto the stage, into the room or in front of your Zoom camera. Commit to getting through your talk no matter what.
“High anxiety and high performance often go hand in hand.”
As with most things, a lot may go wrong during your presentation. Zichermann recalls giving a speech in Mexico City when a mariachi band started playing at full volume in the room. When disruptions occur, the only thing you can control is your response. Don’t panic, give up or stop talking.
Take deep breaths, center yourself and carry on. For example, during a 2009 State of the Union address, a congressman heckled President Barack Obama, calling him a “liar.” Obama simply paused, let the crowd silence the heckler for him, then proceeded to calmly reply, “You’re wrong.” Don’t give disruptions power. Simply keep talking. At the close of your presentation, always thank the audience for their time and attention.
About the Author
Entrepreneur Gabe Zichermann is a public speaking expert.
“The A-Ha! Method: Communicating Powerfully in a Time of Distraction” by Gabe Zichermann is a thought-provoking and practical self-help book that provides valuable insights and actionable techniques for effective communication in today’s fast-paced and attention-deficient world. Zichermann’s book offers a comprehensive framework to help readers enhance their communication skills and captivate their audience in an era of constant distractions.
One of the standout aspects of “The A-Ha! Method” is its focus on understanding the challenges posed by modern communication and technology. Zichermann delves into the various ways in which our attention is constantly divided and provides compelling arguments for why traditional communication strategies often fail to engage and resonate with others. By acknowledging these obstacles, Zichermann sets the stage for introducing his unique methodology.
The core of the book revolves around the titular A-Ha! Method, which is a systematic approach to crafting and delivering powerful messages that leave a lasting impact. Zichermann breaks down this method into three key components: Attention, Hook, and Alignment. Each facet of the method is explored in detail, with practical examples and exercises provided to assist readers in implementing the strategies effectively.
The first component, Attention, emphasizes the importance of capturing and maintaining the audience’s attention in a world full of distractions. Zichermann offers valuable insights into the human attention span, exploring techniques such as storytelling, visual aids, and interactive elements that can be employed to engage listeners and hold their focus.
The second component, Hook, delves into the art of crafting compelling messages that resonate with the audience on an emotional level. Zichermann provides a range of strategies for creating impactful hooks, including leveraging curiosity, personalization, and relatability. By employing these techniques, readers can effectively draw their audience in and establish a strong connection.
The final component, Alignment, focuses on aligning the message with the needs, values, and desires of the audience. Zichermann highlights the significance of understanding the target audience’s mindset and tailoring the content accordingly. By doing so, communicators can establish credibility, increase receptiveness, and facilitate meaningful interactions.
Throughout the book, Zichermann supports his concepts with scientific studies, real-life examples, and anecdotes that add depth and credibility to his arguments. He also incorporates exercises and practical tips at the end of each section, encouraging readers to apply the concepts in their daily lives and communication practices.
One of the book’s strengths is its accessibility. Zichermann’s writing style is engaging and conversational, making complex ideas easy to understand and apply. He strikes a good balance between theory and practice, ensuring that readers not only grasp the underlying principles but also gain practical tools to implement them effectively.
However, it is worth noting that some readers may find the book’s structure and organization repetitive at times. While the repetition serves as reinforcement for the key concepts, it could have been streamlined to maintain a more concise and focused narrative.
In conclusion, “The A-Ha! Method: Communicating Powerfully in a Time of Distraction” is a valuable resource for anyone seeking to improve their communication skills in today’s fast-paced world. Gabe Zichermann provides a comprehensive framework that addresses the challenges of capturing attention, crafting compelling messages, and aligning with the audience’s needs. By incorporating practical exercises and real-world examples, Zichermann empowers readers to become more effective communicators. Whether you’re a professional speaker, a business leader, or simply someone who wants to enhance your interpersonal communication, this book offers valuable insights and strategies to help you succeed in a time of distraction.