This week, I had the pleasure of watching New York Times Senior Editor Adam Bryant interview LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner in front of a live audience during the first taping of a new series called Corner Office (the focus of the interview was on leadership and I highly, highly recommend reading BusinessInsider’s summary of Mr. Weiner’s insights). As I sat in the audience, I couldn’t help but notice the unbelievable mastery of public speaking skill that Jeff displayed. As someone who frequently gives presentations in front of audiences, I was impressed by the poise, clarity, focus, and pace with which Jeff delivered each and every answer. After the event, I got the opportunity to speak briefly with Mr. Weiner and I asked for his advice on being an effective public speaker. Here are the three key points that he gave me, along with my paraphrase of his explanation of each:
- Know Your Audience- The worst thing you can do as a public speaker is assume that every audience wants to hear whatever you want to talk about. Make a conscious effort to think critically about the people you’re presenting to, their goals, and what they want to get out of your speech, and then work from there.
- Know Your Material- This is not to be confused with memorizing your material. In order to be a confident public speaker you must know your material inside and out to the point where it is second nature. People memorize because they have a fear of losing their audience, but risk forgetting a line or even a word; this causes a vicious cycle: The speaker forgets a word and begins to panic > The audience identifies this panic and begins to tune out by talking or checking their devices > Seeing that they are losing the audience, the speaker’s panic intensifies and it becomes harder to regain their footing, etc, etc. Moral of the story: Know your stuff.
- Know Your Passion- If you are speaking about a topic that you couldn’t care any less about, the audience won’t care either. Conversely, if you live, eat, and breathe every aspect of your speech, then it will come through in your presentation whether you realize it or not. Know your passion, recognize the things that you care deeply about and the things that bore you and take care to speak on the former. Your audience will feed off of your passion and it will make for a more effective overall performance.
While I realize that this is a diversion from my usual weekly writings on social media strategy, I think public speaking is extremely underrated as an attribute, and any time you get a chance to talk one-on-one to the CEO of a publicly traded company, I think that their wisdom is worth sharing.
How comfortable are you with public speaking? What techniques do you use to try to help you improve upon (or survive) a presentation?