Public speaking no longer is considered entertainment, but public speakers should know how to be entertaining — or brief.
The people who bring us TED Talks offer some valuable advice on how speakers can attract and keep an audience's attention. Here is some of that advice:
Effective speakers weave their message into a story that helps listeners understand context and why they should care.
Timing is everything. TED Talks speakers get 18 minutes to speak, but audiences make up their mind in far less time whether to listen. TED Talks advisers say the sweet spot for a talk is 12 minutes, but don't be fooled, people will tune out in a jiffy unless you are "funny, profound or ingenious." You better say something, and say it in a way that beats the competition of content on a smartphone.
Too many speakers turn into spectators when they use PowerPoint slides. Presentation materials are props and sidekicks, not tele-prompters or speech notes. If you have to read your slides, listeners may wonder whether you know what you're talking about. For all they know, your assistant prepared the slides that you are reading.
In the excitement of speaking, some people talk in one long run-on sentence. A sentence never ends. There are no pauses. There is no cadence to give verbal cues to listeners about important points. Your speech is an oral blur. Stop. Take a breath. Think about your words. Give your speech some inflection.
TED Talks data indicates that you need to look the part you’re are speaking. You are, in effect, a performer. Playing Hamlet in blue jeans may not work for your audience. Dress appropriately for your talk so your audience doesn't see a buffoon not worth listening to.
Here are a few other suggestions from our own experience:
Project confidence. Who wants to listen to someone who comes across as befuddled or bewildered by their topic? Show you have command of what you are talking about.
Control your motions. Nothing will cause viewers to avert their glance faster than someone fidgeting behind a podium, wandering aimlessly around a stage or motioning with their arms like a mime in a box. People remember more of what they see than hear, so your words will be lost unless your body language reinforces what you intend to say.
Create a connection. The best speakers start by forging an alliance with their listeners. That connection is critical to your words landing in the inbox of your audience's brain. If you keep in mind why your audience cares about what you say, you will have a good outline of what actually to say.