Giving talks can be a lucrative and time effective way of spreading a message and promoting your business - if you do it right. But these days, it’s no longer about speaking as much as possible, nor is it even about needing to become a great public speaker. Public speaking expert Alex Merry gives his top tips for success.
Today, the most effective speaking strategy is not to jump on the circuit, but to write a short yet world-class talk, deliver it once, film it and then let the internet do the hard work for you, by implementing a strategy that puts your talk in front of the people who need to see it (investors, clients, employees, politicians etc.).
This method has resulted in £10m+ investment opportunities, lucrative book deals and thousands of new clients by entrepreneurs that have adopted this strategy.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? The reality is, to achieve great results you need to invest the time that would have been spent speaking at random events, into crafting a talk that will both withstand the minefield of distractions that is the internet, and remain as relevant in five years’ time as it is today.
1. Tell parables, not stories
Storytelling is something that runs deep in our veins as humans, but the secret to effective storytelling lies in your choice of story. Audiences are numb to hearing about how the speaker overcame hurdles, or their life story. Far more effective than that are parables, essentially stories that illustrate the point you are trying to make. Few do this better than Ken Robinson in his TED talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity. His whole talk is made up of three well chosen stories, so it’s not surprising that this particular speech is the most watched online talk in the world.
2. Curate research
We humans are sceptical creatures, particularly if we are in a scenario where someone is trying to influence us (i.e. deliver a speech with impact). That is why providing the audience with the most relevant external research (i.e. not conducted by you) to back up your claims is so important. It also means that whatever happens, you will leave your audience more clever than they were before your speech and if you set out to educate, then you will inspire. Simon Sinek does this particularly well in his TED talk How Leaders Inspire Action. He talks about the biology of the human brain and the law of diffusion of innovation to drive home his core message.
While the research you bring to the table is important, your audience hasn’t come to hear about things they could simply Google. It is your thoughts and opinions that they will buy into, so speak your truth, back it up with reason and tie it up with one simple idea for your audience to take away. Scientist Susan Caine does this incredibly well in her talk, The Power of Introverts.
4. Ask challenging questions
The most effective way to involve the audience in your talk is to ask them a question that they don’t know the answer to. Make them the detectives by giving them a problem to solve and you will have the audience hanging off your every word. As a general rule, if you’re able to articulate a problem better than the people experiencing it can, they will subconsciously associate you with the solution. So ask a question early on in your talk and you are giving them a reason to put down their phone and listen to what you have got to say. Sheryl Sandberg’s talk on Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders, is a perfect example of how a rhetorical question can be used for such effect.
Alex Merry is a public speaking expert who specialises in helping entrepreneurs create change and an impact through speech. Find about his online course here.
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