Article Category: Weekend Reviews

Best Public Speaking Tips and Techniques: Weekly Review [2009-03-14]

Week In ReviewOn Saturdays, we survey the best public speaking articles from throughout the public speaking blogosphere.

This week’s review features topics including:

  • scientific research on the importance of simplicity of your message;
  • Barack Obama’s storytelling style;
  • eye contact tips;
  • vocal variety when reading;
  • tips for conference speakers;
  • pie chart advice from Dilbert; and
  • 4 listener styles.

Six Minutes

Week in Review: Six Minutes

Week in Review: Public Speaking Blogosphere


  • Wray Herbert (in Scientific American) probes the connection between the simplicity of your message and the resulting motivation felt by your audience. Fascinating!

There are many ways to make something mentally palatable—or not. You can use clear, straightforward language or arcane vocabulary words; simple sentences or convoluted sentences with lots of clauses.

  • Mike Dorning (in the Chicago Tribune) investigates Barack Obama’s speaking style and his speechwriter, Jon Favreau.

Storytelling is at the core of Obama’s public speaking, overriding the modern obsession with the sound bite.

Favreau has explained their joint approach to friends simply: “Tell a story. That’s the most important part of every speech, more than any given line. Does it tell a story from beginning to end?”

Delivery Techniques

  • Denise Graveline outlines 5 eye contact tips for speakers.

So let me clear something up: Eye contact with the audience is essential for speakers, whether you’re in a small meeting or addressing a crowd of 1,000. Failing to use eye contact means you’re losing one of the most important tools you have to connect and convince your audience about your message. […] Research shows that looking away from your audience signals avoidance, looking at them signals approach, and that audiences rate it highly. It’s important, however, to use eye contact as you would any other presentation tool: wisely and well.

  • Stephanie Chasteen reveals tricks and tips for keeping your voice interesting when reading. (Thanks to Denise Graveline for linking to Stephanie.) Her script writing trick bears strong resemblance to advice given in chapter 12, Power Reading in Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln (read the Six Minutes review).

You can stretch out a word to emphasize its importance, or you can hit it louder, or you can be more subtle.  For instance, in a story on the shuttle, they were referring to the “delicate heat-shielding tiles.”  It was more important that the tiles were delicate […]  So we wanted to hit “delicate” but you don’t want to hit it like “DELICATE”.  […] So, you hit it, well, delicately.  Say it like it’s a piece of china you don’t want to break.  Lightly on the tongue, with a bit of uplift.

  • Duncan Davidson provides a series of delivery tips for speakers (with insightful explanations) drawn from his observations as a conference photographer.
  1. Please deliver your speech to the crowd, not the screen.
  2. Please pick a spot and stay. Move deliberately to another. Don’t pace aimlessly. And please don’t turn all the way around.
  3. Please take off your name tag.
  4. If you find yourself walking backwards, you are probably pacing very vigorously. Stop. Breathe.
  5. If you don’t make eye contact with your audience, you make it that much harder for them to connect to your message.
  6. The corner of the stage that you like to use to feel closer to the crowd is darker than rest of stage. They can see you less there.
  7. If you are being videotaped, all of what I’ve just said matters 10x more. Think of viewers watching a rapidly pacing speaker.
  8. Rule of thumb for speaker clothing: Dress like you mean it. ~0 to 1 levels above mean “nice” for audience.
  9. When on a panel, don’t look at your shoes. Try to look at who’s talking. Otherwise, you look bored, even if you’re not.

Visual Aids

  • Brent Dykes debates when clip art might be “good enough” compared with photographic images.

Unlike ad agencies, we’re not trying to win any Clio Awards. When the simple goal of a PowerPoint presenter is to effectively convey a key message to their audience, there is a big difference between visuals that are “good enough” (i.e., clip art) and “award-winning” (i.e., custom photography). Clip art can save you time and money in your “big bang” quest, and give you the flexibility to convey your big idea to your audience in the way that you envisioned it.

  • Mike Pulsifer shows how the same data can lead to many slides — some effective and others not so effective.

If you want to make your data really pop and help you drive your message home, consider and focus on your message.  Display the data in a way that reinforces your message, yet maintains the integrity and fidelity of the data.

  • Dilbert shows us how not to use pie charts in presentations…

Speaker Habits

  • Seth Godin claims that there are two elements shared by great presenters.
  1. Respect (from the audience)
  2. Love (to the audience)
  • John Watkis shares 39 lessons about public speaking. There are many gems here. Just a few of my favorites include:

1. You’re never good enough not to practice.

13. Recording yourself on video is the best way to pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses.

27. Knowing your subject is important. Explaining your subject in a way that’s easy to understand and memorable is more important.

31. When you tell a story, debrief it. Not everyone will interpret your story in the same way.

33. Always put statistics in context. Explain what the statistic means and why the audience should care.

  • Joan Curtis describes four styles of listening. Try reading this article from two perspectives: (1) yourself as a listener (2) yourself as a speaker trying to connect with the four types of listeners.
  1. Compassionate Listener
  2. Too Busy to Listen Listener
  3. Trees for Forest Listener
  4. The It’s Me Listener

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Find more helpful public speaking articles in previous weekend reviews which are published regularly on Six Minutes.
Subscribe to Six Minutes for free to receive future weekend reviews.

Comments icon4 Comments

  1. julie70 says:

    I put this blog as “blogs to read” so as soon as there is a new article it comes near the top of them with the new title,

    generally I used to read only personal blogs, and you do not tell much about yourself here, but I felt more and more captivated but what you do and how you do it here, so come back for more.

  2. i think that this weeks blg was useful and could help alot on what we are going to be doing for the final.
    but i think the importance of simplicity of your message is to actually reach the person or people you are telling your speech to and really make them feel the dedication you put into your speech and help them get the point you are trying to tell them.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. It was very helpful and made me think of a few new ideas and ways to impact those I will be delivering messages to. I appreciate the info.
    ~Rev. Raea Sunshine

  4. Jeff Zelaya says:

    Andrew you knocked it out of the ball park with this article. I would love to feature it on my website I think it would make a great addition to our speaking tips section.

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