Want to be a better public speaker? 5 takeaways from the Presidential Debate

Don’t worry, this post won’t be talking about Democrats versus Republican or the best tax strategy – I’ll be focusing on the key things you can take away to become a better public speaker.

1. Public Speaking is tough. Be prepared.
If you’re anything like me, the worst speeches you give are the ones where you are the least prepared. For the Presidential Debate, they had to memorize tons of facts, percentages and policies. That’s tough. There’s no way to prepare too much for any speech you give. Have you thought about questions your audience might have? Or what happens if the projector is broke? Or the video can’t play?

Think you know exactly what you’re going to say? Give the presentation to your wife, or dog, or house plant. Give it to someone. Walk around. Practice with the clicker. Know what slides come next. Be prepared. Edit.

And that brings me to the next point…

2. Make sure you can explain everything in the simplest way possible.
Even the most educated viewers had troubles following the tax conversation in the debate. You need to be able to explain your ideas in the most simple form possible. When you think you’ve got it down to the most simple way of saying it, try getting deleting words and making it shorter.

Neither candidate was able to fully explain their tax plan. That’s a problem, not only for the candidates, but for America. It’s too complicated.

3. Use sound bites that are easy to digest.
There weren’t any amazing sound bites from the most recent debate, but let’s look at this quote:
“The answer is not to have the federal government take over healthcare and start mandating to the providers across America and telling a patient and a doctor what kind of treatment they can have. That’s the wrong way to go. The private market and individual responsibility always work best.”

What if Romney had responded with this, instead:
“We don’t need the federal government in our hospitals. The government isn’t good at managing complicated industries. Look at the US Postal Service. We don’t need the government to ‘go postal’ in healthcare.”

Obviously, Romney may not want to talk badly about another government service for political reasons, but that’s not the point I’m try to make. If Romney said that, I would bet that you would see that sound bite everywhere. The last two sentences of the quote is easily rememberable and explain a complex problem in a simple way. It’s also very charged – it shows an opinion. All of this equals a win-win for someone giving a speech.

Use analogies and comparisons. Try using awesome alliteration. Give a shot at a rhyme, you have the time.

4. Make people laugh.
People love to laugh. You aren’t doing stand-up, but you are asking people to watch you – either at a conference, a new business pitch or a work meeting. As Maya Angelou said, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

People like to feel good and laughing feels good. Both Romney and Obama had points in the beginning where they made the audience laugh. I think that both could have introduced a couple of more points of humor, especially some slightly self-deprecating humor.

The more serious the situation, the easier it is to make people laugh. Jokes that wouldn’t stand a chance in the locker room elicit huge laughs elsewhere. Churches, board rooms and presidential debates are easy targets for humor.

5. Be brief.
No one ever leaves a speech saying, “I wish THAT was longer!” Get your point across, but leave them wanting more. Don’t leave them wanting more information, but more of YOU.

That’s what we’re all selling – ourselves. In the end, if the audience doesn’t like what their seeing and hearing, they won’t buy.

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