One of our big clients recently featured me in an interview on their employee intranet. The questions they asked were fun to answer — so I thought I'd share with you these 5 tips I shared with them. 

1. If you aren’t a little afraid, you aren't saying anything interesting.

Every speaker I’ve worked with whose talk has spread like wildfire has had one thing in common: they were afraid to say what they were about to say. Part of my job is to coach people through that fear and ensure that the message is sound and will be received well. We live in a world where people are bombarded with information and messaging on a daily basis. If you want them to listen to you, you have to be interesting. And you get to be interesting by being real, human, and vulnerable. The secret sauce of great talks is taking a big idea and wrapping your personal stories around it. 

2. Be careful about soliciting feedback.

One mistake I see speakers make time and time again is that they try to incorporate everybody’s feedback into their talk. If you do that, you end up building a talk that pleases everyone but impresses no one. Instead, get really clear on who your audience is. Maybe pick one person whose mind you want to change by giving this talk. And keep them in focus while you build the talk. 

When you do ask for feedback, be intentional about who you ask and smart about how you interpret their feedback. If you’re having trouble deciding whose feedback you should trust, poll your friends about their Myers Briggs personality type and look for an ENFJ. They are notorious for understanding people, what fascinates and interests them, and how to get them to do something. Some famous ENFJs: Martin Luther King, Jr.; Sheryl Sandberg; Maya Angelou; Neil deGrasse Tyson; and Oprah. I also happen to be an ENFJ, so if you want some honest feedback, ask me. :)

3. Appeal to their senses.

Because PowerPoint has dominated business culture since the late-80s, we place way too much importance on slides and visuals and forget that people have 4 other senses that we need to awaken. The more senses you engage, the more people will remember what you say. Smell, taste, touch, sound… explore creative ways to weave these things into your talk. If you can’t literally engage their senses, then use words to describe your own sensory experiences. Is there an important story you are sharing in your talk? If not, there should be. And it should include real details about how things looked, felt, tasted, smelled, or sounded.

4. Start strong.

The first minute of your presentation is crucial. In this minute people are deciding whether they like you, whether they care about what you are saying, and whether they want to click away from your video and go look at something else that’s more interesting. Make sure the first few sentences of your talk are not boring. And get straight to your why.  If you tell me WHY you do something (instead of starting with what or how), you make me care about what you care about. And that’s powerful because then I’ll keep listening.

5. You don’t have to be perfect.

One of the things I love about TED is that it’s given a platform to people who are not professional speakers. You don’t have to be Tony Robbins to be heard. It used to be that the people who had great ideas stood behind the curtain while somebody else got up on stage to talk about it. But we now live in a world where people want to hear about the idea from the idea-makers themselves. Your audience doesn’t expect you to be perfect and polished. In fact, we’ve come to mistrust messages that are too polished. Be real. Be gritty. Make mistakes. And trust that people are rooting for you. If Jennifer Lawrence can fall on the stairs at the Oscars and get a standing ovation, there’s no mistake you can’t recover from unless it involves not being true to yourself.

I also love the tips that Gina Barrett shared with the TED community. I highly recommend reading Gina’s tips if you’re serious about presenting — she’s been a speaker coach for TED for many years.