Binod Shankar

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How to WOW your audience

Introduction

Public speaking regularly ranks as one of the Top 3 fears in global surveys of what scares people the most.

But you can’t be an effective leader or influencer if you can’t take the stage confidently and competently. 

I’ve been talking to audiences since I was 26-year-old Chartered Accountant teaching CA students on how to pass the tough exams and I learnt a lot along the way.

Here are my ten tips to deliver a kick ass presentation. 

Tip # 1- Expertise

Know your subject matter more than anyone in the room.

Research the hell out of the topic and be prepared for any question. This will enlighten and hence impress the audience. This also means you need time so don’t accept last minute speaking requests. This obsessive prep has one other massive advantage-it will also boost your confidence. 

Before I put together the deck I read many articles, watch select videos, go back to any relevant books I have read in the past (I read about 40 nonfiction books each year) etc. to prepare. I sometimes ask people I know well to critique the presentation. Often, I go through 3-4 versions of the deck before I am happy.

Tip # 2- Passion

To be an expert you need passion. 

Pick a topic you’re curious and passionate about. That way you’ll be highly engaged and hence enjoy the whole process from research to putting together the slide deck to delivering the presentation and answering questions afterwards.

I am fascinated with high performance, whether in a corporate training class or as a leader at work or climbing a 6,000-meter mountain or cycling 500 + km over 4 consecutive days. Hence, I am keen on coaching, mentoring, mental toughness and emotional intelligence.

The audience are not fools. You can’t hide passion (or the lack of it) when you speak. 

Tip # 3- Confidence

As you practice on your presentation skills, slowly increase the size and decrease the familiarity of your audience.

By familiarity I mean first present to friends then to colleagues then to bosses and finally to clients and total strangers. That way your confidence level goes up steadily and by the time you start talking to large crowds of strangers you’re more confident and competent. 

Tip # 4- Humor 

It’s crucial to connect with the audience otherwise it’s just a long and boring lecture and we have all sat through those. Use humor and stories to connect. Humor makes you look confident, competent, human, likable, memorable and relatable.  So, Humor packs quite a punch.

Humor has always been a useful tool for me when talking to an audience. I use cartoons (Dilbert is a favorite), self-deprecatory humor, sarcastic asides, questions to audience members, punchy answers etc. to lighten the talk and generate engagement. Example:

Audience member: Where do you get the time to do all these?

Me: Three words. I am single.

The audience roared with laughter.

Tip # 5- Stories

Stories are unbelievably powerful because they are easy to grasp and also because the mind loves a beginning, middle and an end. Stories also elicit strong emotions and hence are memorable and recallable. 

The best stories are personal and most of us have stories from personal and professional life. If you don’t have a stock of interesting tales (or don’t wish to share them) worry not- just look around you. 

I often use my own story. I scored abysmally in Grade 12, failed to get into engineering, graduated with a second-class degree, failed to get into business school twice before coming back with a vengeance and nailing the CA exams in first attempts. That story always inspires especially my tag line- a great future doesn’t require a great past.

Tip # 6- Look

Dress carefully in line with your brand and your values and not for the audience. That way you’ll have a consistent, almost trademark look. Remember Steve Jobs and his omnipresent turtle necks? 

You can wear casuals or semi formals and talk to a bunch of bankers if your brand values include (for example) informality and authenticity. You must feel and look comfortable and confident wearing what you are wearing as comfort and confidence (or the opposite) will be immediately picked up by the audience. 

On stage I almost never wear a tie and jacket and usually wear semi formals e.g., an open necked blue formal shirt and beige slacks.  Because my brand values are clarity, sanity, reliability and trust.

Tip # 7- Content 

Have as little text as possible on your slides. 

Because if your presentation is text heavy the audience will be reading the slides and only partly listening to all the interesting things you are saying. They will miss out and you will have failed to make an impact. 

These days I prefer to keep it ultra-simple and talk with just one powerful picture or graphic per slide like on Ikigai or me climbing or cycling.

 

Tip # 8- Practice

Know what to say when and where. Know your slides so well you can talk after just a quick glance at the slide. Know what comes next so that you can smoothly transition to the next slide. Know how long it takes to deliver and who will be in the audience and tailor your pitch accordingly.

Also have a grasp of logistics in the day. For example, I always double and triple check with the organizers on the event organization. How many will attend? When exactly will I speak? Who will introduce me and how? Who keeps track of time? How much time do I have? How much time for Q & A? Will I get a clip mike ( I like to walk around when talking)? Who’s recording and taking pics? Etc. etc.

Tip # 9- Language

Speak correctly, loudly and clearly. Speak slowly overall but also vary your speed, volume, pitch and tone in sync with the content. Never speak too fast or in a monotone- it’s a recipe for failure. Pause for effect and in between slides and key concepts. 

I used to speak too fast. My hack was to cut down on the text per slide and that cut the urgency to speak fast to cover all the content.

Tip # 10- Body language 

I never stand behind the lectern- that looks defensive which is unattractive and also makes you partly invisible.

I also walk around. That way you radiate confidence and energy and you can also use body language to full effect.  I use your arms and don’t let them hang stiff. I also use open gestures where I spread my arms. That shows a mix of vulnerability and confidence. 

I make it a point not to stand fixedly in one part of the stage but walk and cover all sides. That way you can engage with everyone and the entire audience feels included and not just people sitting directly in front of you.

Conclusion

The internal buzz and the appreciation that you get after delivering a killer presentation are priceless. I have been there so many times and I hope you get the same feeling soon.

Master the ten tips. Own the stage.