Ruth Sherman prepares CEOs, Oscar-winning celebrities and entrepreneurs for public speaking and video opportunities. She recently spoke with Small Business Trends in an exclusive interview regarding the art of giving a great speech, whether live or as a video presentation.
Many tend to avoid public speaking, mainly out of fear. However, this is something the great public speakers seek to benefit from rather than eliminate. The ability to give great speeches can help you thrive in other important areas of business, Sherman believes.
“I look at it as a shortcut to sales, to recognition,” she told Small Business Trends. “No matter how long you’ve been in business, how much you love what you do, how experienced you are, if you cannot command the platform or the video camera these days, you and your business will be left behind.”
“You will continue to be underpaid, unrecognized and you will continue to struggle to labor to attract the highest-paying customers. These skills eliminate all those obstacles more than anything else,” Sherman added.
There are two general schools of thought regarding giving a speech: write out word-for-word what you plan to say or sketch an outline, perhaps using cue cards.
“My preference is don’t read verbatim unless you know how to write for the ear,” Sherman said. Professional writers can write in a conversational tone for the ear. But you don’t want to sound like you are reading a speech.
Today, it is more important than ever to be able to speak in a conversational tone, she added.
Giving an excellent speech requires an investment of time and effort. This is where many — especially busy, high-level executive types — typically fall down.
“It takes work to get through a great speech,” Sherman said. “It takes work to eliminate obstacles. You have to decide: are you going to take the time that is necessary to rehearse your speech?”
How precisely do you rehearse? There is only one way, Sherman said.
“You have to say it out loud,” she explained. “In your head doesn’t count. We’re all very eloquent in our own heads. We imagine ourselves walking up to the platform and being fabulous, being wonderful. We don’t anticipate being a flop.”
Start with a Bang
The award-acceptance speech is prominent in the business world. And while there are plenty of great ways to give such a speech, there is one major way not to give one.
Never start with a thank you list, Sherman warned. Also, drop the “boilerplate,” the obligatory opening remarks you hear before every clichéd, sleep-inducing long-winded speech.
Instead, start with a bang, Sherman said.
She explains One of her clients, an attorney who handles trusts, was preparing to give a speech for a philanthropy award she was going to receive at an upcoming event.
She worked with Sherman to prepare for her speech.
“She said what everyone always says: ‘I don’t have anything to say — it’s all been said before and I’m not funny,’” Sherman explained. Instead, Sherman sat down with the woman to discuss what was going on in the attorney’s life and business, always fertile areas to mine when preparing a speech.
Turns out, the young attorney revealed that a Victoria’s Secret executive also was receiving an award at the same event. And the attorney had a Victoria’s Secret-related anecdote she’d been holding onto for some 20 years.
For their honeymoon the attorney’s new husband had rented out the upper floor of a former sugar plantation on Barbados. The couple checked in at night.
The next morning the two awoke to discover that a bevy of Victoria’s Secret supermodels had rented out the bottom floor.
When Sherman learned this, she and the attorney discussed including the anecdote in the speech, which eventually included the punch line that the attorney had been waiting ever since her honeymoon to “thank” Victoria’s Secret.
“This is a technique. And she was hilarious,” Sherman recalled. “When she went up there, she didn’t say, ‘thank you, I appreciate it,’ she just launched into her story. She was the only one who did that. She started off with a bang and people are still talking about it.”
Embrace Your Stage Fright
“Everyone gets nervous,” Sherman said. “Even Oscar-winning clients of mine.”
This should be viewed as simply a signal that the speech is important to you and that you want to do it well.
The trick, Sherman said, is knowing to use your stage fright by doing all the work to prepare yourself ahead of time. (And, yes, this includes saying the speech out loud.)
“The adrenaline rush should make you more interesting, exciting and engaging to watch,” Sherman added.
It also can help you to handle any of a variety of things that can go wrong during a speech, such as the microphone suddenly cutting off or you dropping your notes on stage.
“Things like that will happen, but you want to be calm. You don’t want stage fright to work against you,” she said.
It’s similar to the fight or flight autonomic response.
“Just like someone physically fit can better flee from danger, someone prepared, who did the work and who has experience saying the speech out loud is much better able to weather the inevitable problems,” Sherman explained.
How To Give a TED Talk
TED has certainly raised the bar for speech making. At the same time, it has also fueled interest in public speaking in general.
“They are really smart and creative and have built excitement around public speaking,” Sherman explained. “Doing a TED talk is a badge of honor.”
The key to delivering one, if you ever get the opportunity, is to make sure you’re using a conversational tone.
“The audience is young, media- and tech-savvy people who, if you don’t entertain them, will turn to their smart phones,” Sherman said. “They are a challenge, but this can be done.”
TED talks are limited to 18 minutes at the most, which is another challenge.
“That is not a lot of time for a really impactful talk,” Sherman admitted. “It takes real art and talent to deliver an 18-minute speech that is effective. It’s easier to give a long speech than a short one.”
In this kind of talk, story is important.
“How do you create a narrative arc in 18 minutes? It’s not easy to do. There’s a lot of editing going on. You have to throw out lines that you might love,” Sherman explains.
Brevity is Key in Video Presentations
Video presentations are another important trend and are usually done by the entrepreneur or small business owner to be embedded on a blog or website
“Instead of writing an article I will shoot a video of me talking about a topic,” Sherman said, referring to her own blogging strategy.
The thing to remember when crafting—and rehearsing out loud—a video speech is people generally speak at a rate of 140 words per minute. Make sure you aren’t talking too rapidly. And these videos should not be more than two minutes — or 280 words — in duration.
Ideally, Web videos should run for one to 1 1/2 minutes.
Keeping videos short and compact is important, especially when one is new to crafting this form of presentation. And the reason is simple:
“Most viewers are going to click off at about one minute and a half unless you really grab them,” Sherman explains.
Properly Stage Your Video
“Video is not only what you say but how you look when you say it,” Sherman said. “You want to look good. And the way you look should be consistent with your brand.”
One key factor to consider when shooting a video presentation is the way you present yourself, Sherman said.
First off, there is the backdrop to consider. You wouldn’t want to take video of yourself standing in front of your unmade bed, for example.
You can stand in front of a clear wall, Sherman said. Hang a painting behind you or place a stack of books on the floor. You can put a vase of flowers on a step stool, behind you.
Sherman learned a big lesson about the importance of staging when she published her first video presentation on her website some five years ago.
She billed herself as the speaker of the Hollywood stars — and got criticism from a meticulous, tough first audience.
“I got feedback from someone in the film industry who said ‘You look like you were reading. And your bookshelves were sagging,’” Sherman said.
Resist Using a Green Screen
“If you’re tech savvy, you can do green screen for your backdrop,” Sherman said, adding that you can purchase various rudimentary editing software to do this.
Green screen is the common term for the process of superimposing yourself onto a virtual background, such as a desert oasis. You can even give your video talk standing against an animated backdrop.
Apps are even available, some free of charge. Amazon.com’s Best Green Screen app, for example, offers more than 1,800 Green Screen effects, the developer claims.
But Sherman said she is not a fan of using green screen, in general.
“They look pretty awful. I just hate the way people look silhouetted, unless it is professionally done,” she explained.
Use a Teleprompter when necessary
Using a teleprompter certainly helps those not gifted with great fluency. These too are available as apps for your smartphone.
Teleprompter Pro Lite is one example of such an app. It is also available free of charge in the iTunes store, though the $7 upgrade seems to be preferred based on reviews, sje said.
These Teleprompters often provide features including the ability to write and store multiple scripts. You usually can control the speed of the text lines, the type font and text size.
Some apps even give the impression you are looking into the camera, Sherman said. And that’s reason enough to use them.
Audio Quality Beats Video Quality Every Time
When you post a video presentation on your website, your audience must be able to hear you. In fact, Sherman says it’s often more important for your audience to hear than to see.
“If you have something to say, people will listen to you unless the sound is bad,” she added.
Watch Your Lighting
This said, your appearance in videos is still important.
Video is unforgiving. This is especially so with HD, high-definition.
In HD video, a viewer can clearly see whether a single hair strand is pointing upward. Even the pores of the skin on your face can be clearly visible.
“Lighting and makeup are really the way that many people look so good,” Sherman said
The best light of all is sunlight. “Position your webcam in front of a window,” she explained.
You can also purchase any of a vast array of lights also, ranging from the inexpensive to the premium-priced.
Florescent lights and LED lights, which are compact and adjustable, both are good choices.
Sherman personally prefers a Ring Light. Decent ones are available for around $200 or less.
Video Offers Major Competitive Advantage
Possibly the most important advantage of using video for presentations is simply this. Very few others are doing it!
“It is such a fantastic opportunity for someone ready to take the lead. To get good at this is a competitive advantage,” Sherman said.
Mastering the art of video presentations, is basically the result of taking small practice steps. Sherman recommends small businesspeople book local speaking engagements and do lots of video presentations. The accumulation of experience will make you a master.
Public Speaking Photo via Shutterstock