12 Tips To Be A Great Public Speaker – From Emceeing A Gala Joan Michelson Joan Michelson Contributor ForbesWomen
On my way back from New York after emceeing the 2019 annual Ernesto Illy International Coffee Awards Gala at Lincoln Center, it occurred to me that there are a number of important tips I could share for anyone who wants to be an engaging public speaker.
It was gratifying to have so many people in the audience compliment my emceeing after the gala, including top members of the company’s team, one of whom thanked me for “capturing the soul and spirit of the event.”
So, what worked? Here are a dozen tips:
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare: The more prepared you are on the topic, the audience and the priorities, the better you’ll perform and the more confident you’ll be. I always over-prepare, whether it’s a guest I’m interviewing on my podcast, or a panel I’m moderating, a keynote speech, or emceeing an event. Ask for and/or find whatever information you feel you need.
2. Know your audience: A big part of that in-depth preparation is knowing your audience. This includes knowing: the purpose and theme of the event; who is sitting in those chairs in listening to you in the audience; the business and purpose of the organization, and any nuances of their portfolio that are particularly important to them; and, knowing the goals of the specific individuals who hired you.
3. Master your material: Preparation will help you become a master of your material, but that doesn’t replace reading it over and over and over and over, so you can be confident and pivot no matter what happens.
4. Center yourself before you go on: You’re about to hit the stage. You’ve prepared as much as you can. Now, center yourself. The more relaxed you are, the better your delivery will be – no matter what happens. Breathe.
5. Keep a printed copy of your script, notes or speech: Even if you memorized it or are using a teleprompter, stuff happens, so be prepared with Plan B. The teleprompter might not work, or the power might go down, or you might lose your place, or the flow might change, but you can adapt. It’s your security blanket too.
6. Dress appropriately and comfortably: Ask the folks who book you for the event’s dress code and find out the stage colors. You want to stand out and not clash, and you want to be appropriate, erring as a bit over-dressed, but not too much. It so happens that the gown I told the company about in our pre-event call for this gala has the company’s own corporate colors, and fit perfectly into their “festive” theme, so they were very happy with it.
7. Move the mic to where you need it to be: If you’re using a Lavalier, for example, instead of a handheld mic, you might want two of them (one on each side), so your sound isn’t lost when you turn your head. Adjust the mic at the podium to be the right height and angle for you and ask for a handheld so you can move around or in case the podium mic doesn’t work.
8. Have a conversation with your audience – don’t read: Mastering the material also frees you to deliver your content as a conversation with the audience, rather than as a monologue in front of them. It was a wonderful feeling when members of the gala audience came up to me afterwards “amazed” that I delivered the evening without notes (I did have notes and a teleprompter, but I didn’t “read” them.)
9. Make eye contact: Several people came up to me after the gala and talked about how they felt like I was talking to them. They commented specifically on how I made eye contact with everyone in the audience, as well as everyone I introduced, and what a big difference that made in creating a sense of community at the gala.
10. Ar-tic-u-late: When I train speakers or clients for media appearances, I often use tongue-twisters to help them articulate every consonant and syllable. It’s hard to get your points across or to connect with the audience if they cannot understand what you’re saying.
11. Be aware of your body language: Notice your posture. Are you standing up straight? Be aware of leaning on the podium. Are you leaning on one foot or is your weight balanced solidly on both feet? Are your feet or arms crossed? What are you doing with your hands? Your body language will affect how you connect with the audience and how you look in photos of your presentation too.
12. Know when to leave the podium: When the company’s big annual award was announced, I recognized that the moment was symbolic and powerful for this global company and their community, as well as for the winners. I knew it was time to step away from the podium and make an extemporaneous toast, which I could only have done well by mastering the material, the company’s mission and values, and tuning into my hosts, the audience and the moment (and having a handheld mic available). It was magical.
Emceeing this gala was a privilege and great fun, with wonderful people whose business is truly infused with a mission to make the world a better and more sustainable place.