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Phil Cooke Podcast

Apr 30, 2019

As a leader, speaking skills are critical to your career. Whether you need to inspire your team, preach to your congregation or captivate an audience as a keynote speaker for a major conference, Phil Cooke offers ten tips to improve your ability to speak to groups.


Conquer this list and you’re on your way:


1) Stop using “fill in” words like “um,” “ah,” “like,” or “aaah.”  In my opinion, few things make a speaker look more amateur than using fill-in words. Don’t be afraid to simply pause and think. Better yet, know your talk so well that you won’t stumble.


2) Don’t get obsessed with your notes. Referring to your notes too often is the best way to tell your audience you’re not prepared. Practice, learn your talk, get comfortable with it, and stop constantly looking down and checking your notes.


3) Don’t let unexpected things throw you off balance.  I’ve spoken to live audiences hundreds of times, and problems happen more often than you think. The sound goes out, lighting glitches happen, microphones cut out, there’s a crazy person in the audience, or more often there’s a technical problem using PowerPoint or Keynote. Always expect the unexpected and don’t let it ruffle you or throw you off. Make a joke about it and move on.


4) Be very careful about using PowerPoint.  Read the book “Give Your Speech, Change the World: How To Move Your Audience to Action.” It begins with a simple premise: become a good speaker first, and then add PowerPoint if necessary.


5) Make eye contact with the audience.  More speakers than you think avoid eye contact with the people in the seats. They look at their notes, stare at the floor, or lock in on the wall behind the audience. Look at the audience just as if you were talking to a friend. Without that relationship, you won’t make an impact.


6) Make sure your “speaking voice” is the same as your normal talking voice.  This comes with practice, and sometimes you do have to project your voice. As much as possible, however, make sure it’s YOUR voice, not some made up voice that you think sounds dramatic or important.


7) Don’t get stuck behind the podium.  Too many speakers look like they’re bolted to the floor. Great speakers move, use expressions and speak “physically” as well as vocally.


8) Make sure you connect with the audience. Although there will always be audience members who fall asleep, look disinterested or bored, be on the lookout for large numbers mentally checking out. This is really about knowing your audience and understanding their expectations. 


I always do my best to find out ahead of the event who’s in the audience, what their interests are, and why they came. Certainly you want to give them more than they expect, but start with meeting their expectations.


9) Don’t lose your place in your presentation or in your notes.  Know your presentation. But if you’re developing something new and need your notes, think about printing them in a large font that’s easy to read. Getting lost is a strong signal that you’re not prepared, and you’ll quickly lose credibility.


10) If the audience looks bored or people start leaving early, you’re in trouble. Of course, this is your worst nightmare, and if it happens in big numbers there’s no real fix because it’s simply too late. Either you’ve missed their expectations or not been interesting or professional enough for them to stick with you to the end. My advice is more practice. 


Bonus: Understand there will always be outliers within the audience that you won’t figure out. However, it’s the larger group that should be your focus. 


Do your jokes get a laugh? Is the audience attentive during your serious moments? Are they taking notes? If you can win the greater group, and do it with consistency, then you know you’re on the right track. – Phil Cooke


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