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5 Questions Every Public Speaker Needs To Ask Themselves

It’s not often that you get an hour of someone’s undivided attention.

If you speak to 50 people for an hour at a conference you are effectively speaking for 50 human hours. If you don’t make the most of this opportunity it can be wasteful for your company, disrespectful to your audience and damaging for your career.

So when the opportunity arises, it’s crucial that you’re making the best of it. You can ensure you do this by asking yourself a few simple questions.

These aren’t questions about preparedness or presentation materials. They’re prompted to ensure that you’re speaking with intention.

Your intention needs to match your audience’s needs. When you’ve created your content and slides, you should reflect back to see if you’re accomplishing that goal.

These questions will help you prepare in the most effective way:

1. Why Are You Doing This?

First and foremost, when you’re preparing for an event, you need to be asking yourself why you’re really there.

Think about the content you’re presenting and be sure you’ve gathered all of your information based on questions your audience may have. Know what keeps them up at night, and then ask how your presentation can inspire action that soothes that anxiety.

In short: What is the greatest gift you could possibly give people during that session?

Gather all of the information and then decide what it is you’re asking people to do with the information after the talk. Is there a key headline that brings everything together that you can use? How does that message hinge your entire talk?

Once you know that, you can strip out everything that doesn’t serve the headline and doesn’t serve the action that you want people to take so that everything you say is focused on one clear intention.

2. Who Is Your Audience?

Once you know why you’re talking to people, consider their needs.

What do they care about? What do they want from the grand scheme of things? These questions will help you build a bigger picture of what they’re trying to achieve in their life and how you can help them.

This doesn’t just apply to hopes, dreams, and desires — you also have to know the culture.

You’ll be able to match your tone, message, and outfit to what feels appropriate to them so you can show you understand them and lead them while speaking.

3. What Went Well?

After presenting, you need to focus on reflection and taking ownership of what happened. Don’t blame the audience if it went badly. Consider what you did to create the result because that’s the only thing you can change.

After every single speaking event, I ask myself what went really well. I start focusing on the positives because I want to remember what resonated so that I can continue to gain even better reactions from people.

I try to be as specific as possible with myself. I don’t just say, “that was good,” but I try to focus on particular moments of positive emotional reactions and then think about how I created that. Then I use that same process to see if it gains a good response from others. It won’t always work, but either way, it will help you learn by focusing on something that you can control.

4. What Went Wrong?

The second part of reflection is to get really specific about what didn’t work.

It’s important to be objective about it. People tend to feel vulnerable when a presentation doesn’t go well and they want to blame the venue, the technology, occasionally even the audience.

Don’t do this.

I once saw a comedian get booed off stage because he was saying offensive things. And he said to the audience as he left the stage, “My jokes are funny, it’s your problem you’re just a bad audience. They loved it last week when I did the same stuff in Poland.”

He chose not to learn from the reaction he was getting. Instead, he blamed other people.

Always take ownership. Look at what you’re doing, saying, anything in your behavior that is getting a negative reaction. And then, before the next event that you do, think of things you can do differently.

5. Would a child understand?

Finally, give yourself the nine-year-old test. Would a nine-year-old understand everything that you’re suggesting? If they don’t, then you might be over-complicating things. And so I always suggest that people use the simplest possible terms to describe their ideas. After all, you don’t need big words to explain big ideas.

Shorter words are effective for engaging people simply because we don’t have to intellectualize them. So, if you use a shorter word it tends to be the word that gets more of an emotional, immediate instinctive reaction from our mind. And therefore it’s much more powerful to use.

With longer words, there’s a delay where we have to process it. We have to try and figure out what it really means in the grand scheme of things.

You don’t want a distance between the emotionality of your message and your audience — you want them as close to you, your purpose, and your speech, as possible.
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