11 questions to help you deliver that perfect speech

Illustration of people scoring a speech
From knowing your audience to the value of feedback, the team at Speaker Express have produced a checklist to help you understand the art of effective public speaking

“We’re all communicating at all times,” says Speaker Express co-founder Elliot Kay. “But if you’re not seen and heard, if you’re not trusted, known and liked, both as a business and a person, then that is going to have a negative effect.”

Every month, Speaker Express hosts a club night at 116 Pall Mall. It is a chance to hear from their members about how they managed to not only overcome their fears but also to discover how public speaking can have a positive effect on you and your career. Plus, it’s a chance to improve your skills when it comes to presenting to a room of total strangers.

Elliot adds, “We’ve had successful entrepreneurs working with us who understood they can only go so far from behind a laptop and they have to go out there. In this day and age, if you’re not visible, then your competitor will be.” 

Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail

Speaker Express co-founder Annik Petrou says that you should ‘imagine your life as a big canvas’. She adds, “Every speaking gig you do is just a fleck of paint in a bigger picture. In time, any mistakes you once fret over will fade into obscurity.

“Taking the time to prepare, understanding your audience and proactively asking event organisers the right questions, help facilitate the creation of powerful content but it doesn’t end there!”  

To help you on your way, the team at Speaker Express have put together a checklist of key questions to ask yourself that will help you perfect a presentation or public speech.

Before the event

1. Based on my understanding of the audience, how do I want them to feel? 

When we talk about ‘understanding of the audience’ that could include how many people will be attending? What is the age range? What are their reasons for being there? Also, think about cultural references. In other words, you don’t want to namecheck a TV show or a musician that will mean nothing whatsoever to the people you’re speaking to.

2. Why should they listen to me?

What can you bring to the presentation or the event that the audience hasn’t heard before? Quite simply, tell them something they don’t know. Make them leave the room feeling as if they genuinely benefited from hearing you speak.

3. What stories will be relevant to their background?

For example, you are talking to a room of people who are thinking of starting their own business. You may have had multiple start ups, some of which didn’t work. But it means you’ve gone through that journey. Whatever the subject is, you want to make that connection and demonstrate that you understand their hopes and fears. 

4. What is one of the problems they have that my talk can offer a solution to?

You could be in front of a room of graduates and you start to talk about a disastrous first job interview. That can immediately get them on your side. There is a mutual empathy between the speaker and the audience. But, also, what did you learn from that experience? How you turned that negative into a positive?  

5. Does everyone in the audience work for the same organisation or will I be speaking in front of a certain department/business unit? 

What are the key characteristics of an organisation’s culture? Make sure you do your homework and know as much as you possibly can about who you are speaking to and that could involve speaking to the event organiser. Also, mingle with audience members (if possible) to get a feel of who they are and what they need to hear.  

6. What would I like them to do differently as a result of my talk?

Think about three key outcomes that you want your audience to gain from a talk or presentation. You might want to spell it out with a slide at the end of the speech, adding that, ‘if you only take away three things from what I’ve had to say...’

After the event 

7. What went really well? 

You’ll pick up on the moments where the audience responded in the way that you hoped, but also the parts that simply didn’t land. If you are invited to give a presentation or talk at an external event, then it is also worth asking for an endorsement from the organiser. Also, where possible, obtain professional photos and video footage that may have been taken on the day to use in your marketing.

8. What can I do even better next time?

Sometimes there will be speaker feedback forms at the event. Ask if you can access the comments and results. Essentially, it’s no different to somebody reviewing your business or product online, except that you are the product. 

9. How many sales did I get out of this talk (if applicable)?

If you are making a special offer, do you have a printed flyer/brochure with the details? If you are offering something complimentary, how will you collect emails, especially from people who don't have business cards? 

10. What stories can I reuse/refine?

There may be some things that will work for one audience but won’t work for another and sometimes you will only find that through giving multiple speeches or presentations around the same topic. 

11. What have other speakers done really well that I can adapt?

If you’re one of several people giving a talk or doing a presentation then it is worth watching the other speakers. See what works for the audience in terms of content, delivery and presentation structure. You want to understand what makes the other speakers good (or bad) at what they do.  

Annik concludes, “Taking the time to reflect in a structured way after every gig and taking consistent action to improve upon your last performance is what will ultimately get you ahead.”

Read other articles from this series

Five ways to improve your presenting skills

How to overcome nerves and build confidence

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