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Creating your own recipe for speaking success

Creating your own recipe for speaking success means you are creating your own “secret sauce. Individuality is the key component of your presentation that makes it enjoyable, colourful, memorable, and distinctly yours.

There are many ways to do this, and with practice, you’ll find the ones that work best for you. These seven ingredients are a starter recipe for your speaking success.

Start with a captivating opening

Right out of the starting gate, you can capture the audience’s attention and build emotional rapport by opening your presentation with:

  • an attention-getting image that makes your point
  • an unpredictable or shocking question, statement, or challenge
  • a thought-provoking generalization

Whichever one you choose, make sure it relates to your theme or topic.

Add a dash of humour

People love to be drawn into a story or anecdote that makes them laugh. Making the audience laugh creates rapport and trust and is a great way to hold their attention. Humour breaks tension, creates a relaxed atmosphere, and makes your audience want to listen to you. Humour is a recipe for speaking success.

Humour makes light of uncomfortable or accidental situations and puts your audience at ease.

Types of humour

I was at a conference where the keynote speaker humorously acknowledged his stutter by telling the audience while he was stuttering; “those of you who know me know that I will be telling you the important points at least once, but more realistically a few times.” We all laughed with him and warmly accepted him because of his self-deprecating humour.

You don’t need to tell a joke to use humour. We laugh when we’re surprised. Setting an expectation and then breaking it keeps the audience on their toes. Here’s a great example from Dan Pink’s TED talk:

“I didn’t do very well. I, in fact, graduated in the part of my law school class that made the top 90 percent…possible.”

“I didn’t do very well. I, in fact, graduated in the part of my law school class that made the top 90 percent…possible.” 

Over exaggeration is another technique that adds humour. Sir Ken Robinson demonstrates this technique skillfully in his Ted Talk using an over-exaggerated description of his wife’s multi-tasking ability:

“ If she’s cooking, you know, she’s dealing with people on the phone, she’s talking to the kids, she’s painting the ceiling, she’s doing open-heart surgery over here.”

Anyone who’s travelled to countries that speak an unfamiliar language knows how misunderstandings make for hilarious tales. When I was in Mexico, I was trying to communicate to the cab driver that I wanted to stop because I was hungry. I said in my best Spanish accent “Pare, tengo hombre.” I couldn’t understand why he laughed and kept driving. As it turned out I should have said “Pare, tengo hambre.” Instead of saying “stop, I’m hungry”, I said “stop I have a man.” No wonder he didn’t stop.

Understatement is another highly effective tactic. “ I’ve always been an underachiever, I only got one Nobel Peace Prize.”

Puns are jokes that make a play on words that have more than one meaning. “I was struggling to figure out how lightening works, and then it struck me” (source: Your Dictionary, Examples of Puns).

Parody– a funny imitation of another work, examples include “Spaceballs (which is a parody of Star Wars), “Shaun of the Dead (which is a parody of “Dawn of the Dead”).

Twisted definition – “What’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle? A fiddle is fun to listen to.” (source: Musical Instruction Joke – MIT)

Sprinkle with a story or use a personal example

Stories and personal examples are how we uniquely observe and make sense of the world. Most people would rather listen to a story any day over facts and statistics. Personal experiences that weave into the theme of your presentation help your audience apply your concepts to their world and make for an interesting journey. Brene Brown’s Ted Talk “The Power of Vulnerability” demonstrates how she created speaking success with her personal story of vulnerability.

Salt with audience questions, or an invitation to share their story

Questions alert and engage the audience. Especially questions asked at crucial moments, involve them in your presentation, and keep them alert. Asking for stories or comments can serve the same purpose, providing you have time for them in your presentation, and know-how to move people along if they go off on a rampage. Either way, questions, and stories are an essential ingredient in your recipe to speaking success.

Fold in visuals

It’s such a cliché but  –  a picture truly speaks 1000 words. There’s a reason YouTube , Pinterest and Instagram are so hugely popular. A whopping 65% of the population are visual learners. Don’t  you find it easier and more interesting to watch a video rather than hearing or reading a long set of instructions? Most people do.  Images fast track your understanding, shave time off lengthy explanations, increase memory and  keep your audience awake and alive. The bonus is they take some of the pressure off you while making your presentation more appealing  and easier to understand.

Since COVID – most gatherings take place online, therefore computer-based images and videos are currently the norm.  Props,  an object that supports your message, can also be used as visual aids. Two excellent examples of props are;

  • The small plastic container of mosquitos used in Bill Gates Ted Talk about Malaria
  • Or the human brain Jill Bolte Taylor used in her  famous Ted Talk about brain disorders

Props don’t need to be elaborate.  If you are giving a talk about juggling, you could bring in something as simple as juggling balls.

Use visuals selectively and only when they compliment your message. Props are a little trickier. Only use a prop at the moment it has the most impact and practice your presentation with your prop so that it looks smooth and natural. When you’re done with it, put it away or cover it up so that it is not distracting.

Online visual presentation tools

Since we all use  some form of PowerPoint, Prezi or Google Slides for presentations here  are some guidelines for you to follow to create visually appealing presentations:

The PowerPoint Slides

  • Use 24 – 34 sized fonts so that everyone can see/read it
  • Use lots of white space to make your main sections stand out
  • One slide = one main point
  • No more than 6 lines of text
  • No more than 6 words per line
  • Choose a visible colour theme and keep it consistent and uncluttered
  • Choose a theme that supports your message/branding
  • Choose a font that supports your message/branding
  • Choose a variety of images, charts, comics, diagrams
  • Check spelling and grammar

Your presentation skills during your PowerPoint Presentation

  • Have your notes in front of you so that you are not reading the presentation with your back to the audience, or reading off the computer screen
  • Do not read the slides verbatim – say them in your own words
  • Maintain eye contact with the audience  during your presentation
  • Do not ever turn your back to the audience and read from the slides – always maintain eye contact
  • If presenting in public, watch that you are not standing in front of the projector blocking the presentation
  • While presenting on Zoom –  decide if you will present standing up or sitting down and center yourself in front of the camera so that you are looking at your “audience” and they can easily see you
  • Check your background and if necessary, put up a screen to block any clutter
  • Close doors to eliminate distracting sounds
  • Check your microphone/headset ahead of the presentation to make sure they are functioning
  • Practice, practice, practice

Visuals make presentations easy to understand, easier to digest, and can get your point across very simply. They should almost always be included in your recipe to speaking success.

Mix in music

Music creates an immediate and profound emotional connection. People fall in love, gain inspiration, are comforted, and energized by music. In Benjamin Zander’s Ted Talk “The Transformative Power of Classical Music” he plays Chopin’s Prelude No. 4 to a mesmerized and emotional audience. His talk has close to 15,000,000 views. Tony Robbins uses music at the beginning of his presentations to energize his audience.

Never underestimate music’s ability to influence its listeners.  

Serve with a strong finish

Your conclusion is your brief time to drive your point home. You can use this time to summarize your presentation’s main points, convince the audience of your argument/perspective, or give them a call to action in the form of a challenge or a question.

A conclusion is the icing on the cake and the period at the end of a sentence. Mix your seven ingredients from the recipe of your speaking success with care, and end with a strong finish, and you’ll leave a lasting impression.

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