3 tips to deliver killer speeches with confidence

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Arm yourself with these techniques before stepping on stage, and watch your nerves disappear.

By Ragan Staff | Posted: January 22, 2015

Speeches can woo audiences and the press, and even boost stock valuation. Look no further than Steve Jobs’ presentations and you’ll see it’s true. But that’s a tall order. Jobs was a natural and most execs don’t have his legendary chops, right?

Wrong. Powerful presenting is an acquired skill, assures Cappy Surette, storyteller and senior manager for executive communications at Walt Disney World Resort. “You can win audiences over in the boardroom or ballroom,” he says, “if you keep your content fresh, relevant, entertaining and on-brand.”

Want to hear more? Join Surette, 15 experts and hundreds of communicators at our 2015 Speechwriters and Executive Communicators Summit in Washington D.C., March 10-11.

Here are three quick tips from Surette for winning every audience over:

  • Find a hero. Be an in-house journalist. Surette says plenty of studies indicate that telling a story with a hero has more impact than delivering raw data and PowerPoint slides. His advice: “Find people in your organization who can be the heroes in your speeches. Usually, they are the people an audience can identify with who faced obstacles successfully. Use their stories to illustrate your points. This will make it resonate.”

How exactly do you find those heroes? “Be an in-house journalist,” says Surette. “Make speechwriting a team sport and get to know people across your organization. Make the rounds and ask for stories. People love to tell them. It’s your job to ask the questions that help them do that, and then translate the answers into a narrative that will connect with audiences.”

  • Rehearse to build confidence, but do it piecemeal. Some speakers believe rehearsals make presentations less authentic. Surette says the opposite is true: “The more your practice, the more authentic you actually become. You will be so familiar with the direction you want to take your speech that you will be better positioned to overcome any nerves associated with speaking and be unfazed by the distractions that will invariably occur during your time on stage.”

In addition, “Rehearsal allows you to deliver with greater passion-and confidence,” he says. How much time should you commit? According to Surette, “Steve Jobs rehearsed for countless hours for a one-hour presentation. But this is daunting to most speakers. So chunk it down into sections. Nail the opening first. Then the middle and bridges, and finally, the close.”

  • Overcome fight-or-flight-warm the room in advance. Mark Twain said, “There are two kinds of speakers—those who get nervous and those who are liars.” Fear of public speaking is normal, assures Surette. “We’re wired to enter fight-or-flight mode when on stage. It comes from our caveman days. Your subconscious is looking at the audience like they’re wolves.”

The solution: “Walk the room and ‘own’ it before the audience arrives,” says Surette. “And when they arrive, shake some hands. You’ll see them smile and realize they don’t want to devour you. When speaking, use them as anchor points and pretend like you’re speaking solely to them.”

Gather more tips you can put to use immediately at our 2015 Speechwriters and Executive Communicators Summit, March 10-11, in Washington, D.C.  

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