Secrets Of A Public Speaking Coach: 'Don't Waste Your Audience's Time'

'Be real and sincere and it’s very hard to go wrong.' 📚

When doing presentations at work, employees usually fall into two camps: those that thrive off the adrenaline and pull off a great performance on the spot; and those that spend days worrying about speaking, and hate every moment. Whatever your experience, everyone could do with a refresher on how to keep people engaged when you’re presenting.

Enter Vince Stevenson, the founder of the College of Public Speaking. As one of the UK’s leading speech coaches, Stevenson has worked with leaders across politics and also runs classes to help people overcome their anxiety of public speaking. We asked him to share five secrets to help nail a presentation.

1. Be Yourself And Connect With Your Audience

Stevenson said that as a speaker, he always talks to people with respect, humility and empathy. “Be real and sincere and it’s very hard to go wrong,” he says. “This is much easier than most people think. There’s nothing wrong with techniques (there are many rhetorical devices to create first-class speeches) but initially, focus on creating a strong rapport with your audience.

“I always tell my classes that I am a ‘recovering speaker’. My first professional speech 35 years ago was a shocker. My knees were shaking and my heart was pounding. Add to that profuse sweating, I was having the full panic attack. This gets students laughing and smiling. Effectively, I am empathising with them. I know what it’s like and I’m there to help, not to judge.”

2. Remember: Time Is People’s Most Precious Asset

One thing Stevenson is pretty clear about when it comes to presentations is: Don’t waste people’s time. Think of what they will get out of your talk. Stevenson says he finds out what his audience’s “pain” is and aims to offer solutions to that problem, fast.

“Focus on their game changers,” he says. “What value can you offer them straight away? What can they adopt, adapt and utilise by 5pm? Why would they give up their time to come and listen to you? There has to be something in it for them. People are driven by self-interest.”

3. Plan, Prepare And Practise

When you’re talking about topics that can be objectively proven, like maths, physics and chemistry, you need to know your material, says Stevenson. When you’re talking about subjective issues like life, relationships, family, politics, economics or literature, talk from your perspective and opinion.

“Qualify what you’re saying by telling the audience that this is your subjective opinion and we can agree to disagree,” he adds. “Whatever, your point of view, speak with enthusiasm, conviction and sincerity.”

4. Substance Far Outweighs Technique

Engaging your audience is, of course, important, but the actual information you deliver far outweighs technique. Be prepared to share your knowledge and experience along with your personality and creativity: “Authenticity builds trust,” adds Stevenson.

“If you don’t care about what you’re doing, or if you’re just going through the motions for the money, savvy audiences will spot this very quickly.”

5. Enjoy Yourself

“You have an audience which is a great privilege,” says Stevenson. “The audience will reflect your energy. Be upbeat, can-do and optimistic.

“I recently saw a speaker talking about cancer which sounds pretty down... However, her speech was uplifting because it gave sufferers and families hope for the future. The prognosis for some illnesses is looking encouraging.”

We spend more and more of our lives at work, but wages are stagnating, the workplace is getting more competitive and it’s impacted by nearly every other change in society: from Brexit to inequality to when we decide to have babies.

How We Work Now takes a comprehensive and deep dive into the working lives of our readers with exposes, experiences and evidence to help people navigate their careers from the very first rung on the ladder.

Ten Ways To Find Common Ground At Work