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3 superpowers of public speaking

5 min read


It’s no secret that being confident in your message will make you a more engaging speaker and increase the impact of your presentation. But occasionally we all need some tools to increase our presentation prowess. What if you had a few tools at your disposal that would help you take your presentation to the next level? Tools so powerful you’ll feel like Superman at the podium, rather than Clark Kent?

Today, we share with you the three “superpowers” of public speaking — tools which are guaranteed to improve your message, boost your confidence, and help you successfully connect with your audience.

Superpower No. 1: Focus on the “why” instead of the “what”

Almost without fail, the purpose of every presentation is to bring about some kind of change: inform listeners of new information, shape their opinion, or motivate them to take some action. Typically, speakers focus their message on WHAT they are trying to accomplish. It’s simply the way people tend to communicate, both interpersonally and in business.

Here’s a tip that most speakers don’t know: a presentation is more likely to resonate with your audience if you concentrate on the WHY rather than the WHAT. WHY are you trying to give listeners new information/shape their opinion/motivate them to act? And WHY should they care? People will respond to your core message when they can understand the thoughts, reasons and beliefs behind it.

Simon Sinek explained this idea in his TED talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Sinek says that people make choices and decisions based on what they feel and what they believe about the world. If you can connect with people on an emotional level they will more likely believe and trust what you say. Only then will you inspire action.

Some of the most powerful and charismatic orators in recent history have swayed public opinion and inspired the masses to act by focusing on the WHY. Think of Sheryl Sandberg and her TED talk, “Why We Have too Few Women Leaders,” Deepak Chopra’s “Reinventing the Body,” as well as Kennedy’s moon speech or Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. These messages resonate today because the speakers shared their vision with passion and connected with us emotionally.

Superpower No. 2: Gain buy-in

Having the support of your audience can make the difference between a presentation that succeeds in its purpose and one that falls flat. This is especially true when you’re introducing a new idea or plan that impacts different groups of listeners.

So how do you get that support? By connecting in advance with stakeholders (others that have an interest, concern or are impacted by the topic being discussed) to gain their buy-in for your message.

Speakers sometimes feel that their presentation needs to be a surprise, and they shouldn’t reveal the content in advance. This couldn’t be further from the truth! To make sure your message is on target and reflects the thinking of your audience, meet with stakeholders while you’re in the process of developing your presentation. Share your thoughts and ideas, give a preview and ask for their input and opinions. Let them know they can directly influence what is shared and how it is delivered. Establishing this connection before the big event benefits both you and your listeners. As a speaker, you have the opportunity to get a barometer reading on how your message will be received, learn what does and does not resonate with your audience, and discern whether or not your approach makes sense from their point of view. Stakeholders might share information that may not have occurred to you, providing you the opportunity to adjust your message accordingly. When the audience members feel included and understood they are more likely to support you and listen with an open mind to any new ideas you may present to them.

Superpower No. 3: Find the seam of familiarity

When your presentation is intended to move an audience from point A to point B, you need to know where point A is before you can figure out how to move anywhere. That means finding the “seam of familiarity” with your audience. Some call it common ground. Whatever terminology you use, it means finding out what they know and what they believe. Once you discover that, you can figure out where your thinking overlaps and how you can effectively connect with your listeners.

Like gaining buy-in, finding the seam of familiarity requires some research. Talk to stakeholders in advance to learn where those overlaps lie; ask questions about their knowledge, opinions and beliefs related to your topic. You’ll also become more familiar with the language they use and how your topic impacts them.

Armed with this knowledge, you can hone your core message, modify your language, and use meaningful examples so that listeners immediately get it. When you start from that point of mutual agreement and understanding, your audience will be more willing to move forward with you to a new idea or new way of thinking.

Now that you’re in the know about these “superpowers” of public speaking, you’re probably feeling more powerful already! Try them out for your next presentation and let us know how they work for you.

Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at ProfessionallySpeaking.net and ProfessionallySpeakingBlog.com.

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