Spring cleaning for your public speaking

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I recently toured (and coveted) my neighbor’s new built-in closet. She me told that she was using principles from the Konmari Method and 333 Project to de-clutter her belongings as she organized contents in the new storage space. Like my neighbor, perhaps you too have been doing spring cleaning around the house. This would be a good time to de-clutter and simplify your speaking too. Konmari and 333 aren’t directly applicable to presentations, but their underlying principle, “less is more,” certainly is. Here are six ways you can improve your presentations by adopting a less-is-more approach as a public speaker:

Topics you cover

When it comes to topics you discuss in your next presentation or meeting, take heed of another adage: Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Zero in on a specific, well-defined subject. Your listeners are more likely to engage with, understand and remember one thoroughly developed idea than a laundry list of topics. Trying to “cover more material” leads to surface-level comprehension at best and is never advisable.

Length of your presentation

Presenters often speak far longer than their audience members have the capacity to listen. That’s why TED Talks are limited to 18 minutes – and why they are widely watched and often go viral. If you are given 30 minutes to speak, prepare 18 minutes of material, an introduction for the event organizer to give for your speech, time for a few questions, and a short conclusion with a call to action. And if you are offered a longer to speak, keep this general format but include more Q&A and end a few minutes early. If you are given two hours for your speech, you should negotiate a shorter timeframe with event organizers because almost no one can focus that long. If you are asked to conduct a two-hour training program, break it into four 18-minute segments of content that are punctuated by about 10 minutes of a new or interactive element, such as a case study, video, discussion, quiz, or other active-learning exercise.  This segmenting technique can be used for training programs that are shorter or longer – just note that audiences will still burn out after about two hours, even with interactive segments, so incorporate a lunch or longer break before continuing the training.

Slides

Some experts say speakers should have one slide per minute. That is far too many! Spend more time curating a handful of impactful, interesting and visual slides, posters, or handouts that aid understanding and memory. Think graphs, charts, photos, mock-ups, screen shots, diagrams, videos, and even props. Use as little text as possible to label visual information. You can always provide attendees with a handout or report with resources for future reference. This detailed information does not have to be projected on slides.

Junk words

Junk words such as um, ah, like, you know, so, kind of, sort of, and just have become a staple in conversational American English. This is unfortunate because use of these filler words and phrases make you look less polished and professional. And frequent use of these filler words and phrases can be distracting to listeners and can even undermine your credibility. Caroline Kennedy learned this the hard way in late 2008 when she was being interviewed by reporters about the possibility of filling the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton’s appointment as Secretary of State. The more you use strategic pauses and the less you use junk words and phrases, the better.

Movement

Junk words are unconscious verbal ticks that show nervousness. Likewise, excessive movement – repetitive hand movement (aka “talking with the hands”), pacing the stage, swaying side to side, shifting weight from hip to hip, dancing with the feet, rocking up on the toes, bobbing the head, etc. – are unconscious physical ticks that show nervousness. Instead of moving constantly to burn nervous energy, train yourself to be still with your feet planted on the floor and your hands at your sides in a neutral position between interesting and purposeful movements. A few planned movements in the room and gestures will do much more to make your speech dynamic than a constant barrage of distracting and meaningless ones.

Solicitation

Many professionals speak at conference and events as a means of business development. By sharing their expertise, they increase the universe of potential clients or buyers for their products or services. It can be a win-win – audiences get a high-quality speaker for little or no investment and speakers can make money by selling their wares to people in the audience. Counterintuitively, the more speakers “sell from the stage” and overtly push their products and services, the less they actually sell.

Rather than telling audience members about products and services during a presentation, give them a well-tailored and content-rich session that demonstrates the value of the things you sell – this is known as “show don’t tell.” If you show listeners how valuable your material can be to them in one presentation, they will be more likely to purchase your products and services than if you spend the entire talk soliciting their business.

The next time you give a presentation, envision my neighbor’s beautifully de-cluttered closet and take a less-is-more approach when it comes to your content and delivery.