I am currently reading Jane Atkinson’s new book, The Epic Keynote, in preparation for being the faculty keynote speaker at five Transfer Student Orientations this summer at Clemson University.  As I read Jane’s excellent book and practice my short 7-minute presentation in an effort to connect with my audience, I highlighted 12 keys to focus on.  Is 12 too many?  Probably.   But each key below is powerful and has helped me prepare.  I hope they help you as well.

1.  Have a Conversation.  Rather than “give a speech,” my goal is to have a conversation with those in the audience.   To the listener, a speech can sound too formal, scripted, and focused on my agenda, whereas a conversation is less formal, more relaxed, and becomes a dialogue rather than a monologue.

2.  Focus on Them.  The focus of your presentation should be on the audience, not on yourself.   No matter how much you practice and visualize your presentation, you have to be able to adjust, think on your feet, and trust your instincts to engage your audience.  Legendary coach Red Auerbach said, “It’s not what you tell them, it’s what they hear.”

3.  Make them Feel.    Great speakers will tell you that for a presentation to be truly memorable, it must be felt.  We forget what we hear.  We forget what we see.  But we always remember how something makes us feel.

4.  Tell Stories.  Stories are the key to connecting with people.  Why?  Because people relate to stories and always remember them.  According to Talk Like TED author Carmine Gallo, “At Princeton University, [researcher] Uri Hasson… finds that when someone tells a story, certain parts of the brain light up.  Those same regions are stimulated in the brains of those who are listening to the story.  In other words, tell me a story and our brains are in sync.”

5.  Speak with Energy.  To connect and have impact, a speaker must bring energy, passion, and enthusiasm to the platform. Energy motivates, inspires, and connects, and if we buy-in to the speaker, we will buy-in to the message.   Nothing is worse – whether a teacher, leader, or speaker – than a communicator who lacks energy.

6.  Identify your Moment.  Your presentation should have a “signature moment” that people remember most after they leave.  This could be an “aha” or “wow” moment, or just a specific part of the presentation such as a demonstration or story that makes people talk and say, “We have to have this person back!”

7.  Give them an Experience.  Give your audience an experience, not just a talk.  A speaker has the opportunity,  freedom, and creativity to think this way.  An excellent presentation is not just about content and information, but about learning, growth, and inspiration.  Give people an experience that will make a difference in their lives.

8.  Open and Close with Strength.   It is important to open strong, perhaps with a great story that will get your audience to pay attention.  Without a great intro, people will quickly tune out and it will be hard to get them back.  Just as important is to have a strong closing, giving your presentation solid “bookends,” just like a good book or piece of music.

9.  Use Silence.  According to Sylvia Ann Hewlett in her outstanding new book, Executive Presence,  silence is a excellent tool for creating drama with your audience.  Too many speakers ramble and never stop talking, ensuring a disconnect with their audience.  Like in music, using moments of silence strategically when you speak is a powerful technique that will get the audience’s attention.

10.  Use Humor.  Nothing is more effective for connecting with people than humor.  We all love to laugh, so if you can get your audience laughing, you have won half the battle.  Using humor is all about getting a response, and an audience who laughs is sure to stay with you longer than an audience who does not.

11.  Move Around.  When I first started speaking, I was unsure if moving around on stage was acceptable.  Would I alienate the right side of the room if I moved left?  The left side if I moved right?  I knew enough not to use the podium as a crutch, but what were the pros doing?   According to Carmine Gallo, “Walk, move, and work the room.  Conversations are fluid, not stiff.  Extensive practice enables presenters to move more because they are not dependent on their notes, the lectern, or slides.”

12.  Identify your Outcome.  When preparing a presentation, you must identify your outcome.  What is the purpose of your talk?  What results do you want your audience to accomplish?

My outcome is to inspire students to work toward excellence.  In my presentation to Clemson University transfer students titled, “3 Keys to Excellence in School and Life,” I will share 3 keys to achieving excellence that my students and I have learned, and that those in the audience can use and apply as a new student at Clemson and throughout their lives.  The 3 keys are:

  1. Begin with the End in Mind
  2. Give Excellent Effort
  3. Be Consistent

I will end my talk by sharing this photo and mantra from the Miami Heat’s 2011 NBA Championship t-shirt.

In closing, I will state, “Ladies and gentleman, let me be clear.  A college degree must be earned.  It’s not easy, and it’s not supposed to be.  The Clemson faculty and staff are here to help you succeed.  That’s what we’re here for, and that’s just one thing that makes Clemson a special place.  I wish all of you a great fall semester and hope you will remember the 3 keys that we talked about today: Begin with the End in Mind, Give Excellent Effort, and Be Consistent.   If you do those things, you’ll succeed.  Thank you very much.”