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Giving Your Talk

When it comes to giving speeches, there are a lot of books, newsletters, and blogs to read, besides classes to take. In fact, we already mentioned a few of the beginners' opportunities at the start of the chapter, so we're not going to go deeply into how to prepare for your talk. We're going to assume you know how to do these steps, like outlining your presentation beforehand, rehearsing your presentation, dressing appropriately, and using language effectively.

But we will offer these seven ideas for organizing your talk:

  • Avoid putting a lot of text on your slides—Our preference is you don't put more than 5 words on a single slide, in 144-point size or bigger. Use photos and graphics instead. This way, you can speed up or slow down your talk as needed. You can skip slides, spend only a few seconds on them, or even tell a 5-minute story about that particular slide. And people in the back of the room won't burst a blood vessel trying to read the tiny print on the screen.
  • Show up early—Scope out the room. If you can go a few days early to check it out, do it. You want to get a feel for the room, see where the projector is, how the room is laid out, how much room you have to walk around, and in general to get more comfortable. But if you're speaking at a conference, you may not have that chance. Then you have to assume the conference organizers know what they're doing and be fairly flexible on your requirements and adaptability. Still, it doesn't hurt to plan for the worst, in case the organizers aren't too adept at managing technology. (See the section titled "Important Technology Tips for Presenters.")
  • Make sure the lighting is appropriate—Under no circumstances should you allow the lights to be turned down low so people can see the screen. They are there to see you, not your images. You can give your presentation without PowerPoint/Keynote; your slide deck can't do squat without you. Lights need to stay up at a normal level. Let the people see your smiling face.
  • Treat talks like theatre—You're not relaying information; you're acting! You should consider yourself a performer, and it's okay to act like one. Actors often use the phrase, "playing to the back row." This means their projection and gestures are meant to be bigger so they're heard and seen by the back row. Although you don't have to bellow and make large sweeping gestures, don't have conversations with the front row. Make sure you make eye contact with the people in the back of the room so they feel included in your talk. Also, new speakers often have a tendency to speak faster than they think they do. Make sure you speak at a normal rate of speed.
  • Mention other people, especially other speakers, during your talks—This gives you more credibility, plus you come off as gracious, sharing, and noncompetitive. Speakers who do this tend to be recognized and appreciated for those qualities when it comes to future, more lucrative opportunities. (At which point, you can totally crush those other speakers and grind their souls into the dirt.)
  • It helps to have a soundtrack you sing to yourself as you're being introduced and walk on stage—If you have time beforehand, listen to music that puts you in a good mood and leaves you feeling confident. One public speaking trainer once suggested humming the opening bars of Rocky to ourselves as we walked across the stage to begin our talks.
  • Record your talks, and study them afterward—You will be your own harshest critic, so watch and listen to tapes of yourself speaking. Take notes on what you need to fix, and then fix them. Stand-up comics record themselves and then listen to the tape to see what parts of their set need to be fixed.

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