But developing as a speaker is not just about opportunity for repetition. I see a change in speakers when they stop thinking so much about what they're going to say during their talk and start concentrating on how they're going to say it.
By that I mean, when a great speaker is on the stage their content is almost on autopilot. They're not worried about the points they need to cover on the next slide. Rather they're more aware of their delivery. They're operating at a meta-level.
So, what sort of things are these great speakers thinking about?
The audienceA new speaker is learning to feel comfortable making eye contact with the audience. A great speaker is learning to anticipate mood, read body language, understand the response of the audience, and adapt their presentation to react to that environment.
Look at the schedule for the event. How long ago did people have food? How many concurrent sessions have the participants sat through? Whereabouts in the day are you? Whereabouts in the conference? Think about these factors as you watch the audience arrive in the room. Is there energy or will you have to create it?
How do people sit down? Do you see many people with their arms folded or their legs crossed? How many people have an open posture and are tilted forwards in their seats? Are people receptive to your ideas or will you have to establish your credibility and use persuasive language?
Are there people who are still reading a slide when you switch to the next one? Are people zoning out between slide transitions? Look for signs of frustration, like people sighing or pulling out their phones. These may be indicators that you need to change your pace.
The audience won't change the key messages of a presentation, but a great presenter will allow them to massively influence its delivery.
The commentaryA new speaker will often include remarks in their own presentations that are about their delivery rather than about their content. It's analogous to playing the director's commentary across a movie, however in a conference presentation these remarks are often apologetic or self-deprecating.
Do you start your talk by undermining your own credibility or wondering aloud whether you're really an authority on your topic? Do you question the choices of the organisers who granted you a spot on the stage, or the choices of the audience for selecting your session to attend over other alternatives? Do you tell people how inexperienced you are at speaking or how nervous you feel about this presentation? Do you apologise for fumbling content or narrate your disappointment in failed technology?
I believe that eliminating this sort of commentary from your presentation creates a perception that you're a very confident speaker, regardless of how confident you actually feel.
I have a heuristic to mute this doubt track within my own presentations. When thinking about whether or not to vocalise something I like to first consider who I'm saying it for. Often the commentary is stuff I say to make myself more comfortable, or to settle myself in to the beginning of my presentation. It's not for the audience. And if it's not for the audience, I shouldn't say it.
The languageRelated to audience, the same presentation may differ wildly in delivery through choice of language. Can you interact informally, use colloquialisms, and make jokes? Or should you take a more professional tone?
Choice of words is influenced by environment. Are you speaking at a MeetUp event or a formal conference? It's also influenced by culture. Your references and examples may change between a talk in New Zealand versus a talk in India.
You might also consider whether jargon appropriate for your audience. What terms will they be familiar with and which should you explain beyond an acronym?
Adjusting to these factors can make a big difference in how accessible and relatable your presentation is. A great speaker can deliver the same slides twice, in two different contexts, with what may feel like an entirely different speech. The key messages don't change, yet the words are altered for the greatest impact.
If you're feeling ready to tackle the next challenge in public speaking, start practicing these meta skills. Think about your audience, your commentary and your language in your next presentation.
What would you add?