Delivering an effective presentation requires more than just self-confidence. It requires techniques that connect the speaker with the audience on a personal level and transmit a message that leaves them feeling satisfied.
To find out how to give an excellent presentation, we spoke with the 2015 Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking, Mohammed Qahtani. Qahtani is a security engineer in Saudi Arabia who joined a Toastmasters club in 2009 on the recommendation of a friend.
He obsessively took to training to become the best speaker he could, and this year he survived seven rounds of a competition that lasted six months and included 33,000 competitors from around the world.
Qahtani and nine other finalists competed at the Toastmasters annual convention last month in Las Vegas. On August 15, he won for his speech “The Power of Words.”
He shared with us the advice that helped take him to the top.
Tell yourself that you’re better than your audience.
Qahtani grew up with a stutter and still deals with it occasionally, but speaking on a stage empowers him and rids him of the impediment. He said that his confidence grew from advice he received from a speaking coach, which was to tell himself that he’s better than the people in the audience.
“I don’t mean that in an egotistical way!” he said. Rather, he tells himself that he’s “better” in the sense that he’s courageously speaking in front of people who are sitting there to listen to what he has to say. It’s a mental shift that removes the fear of humiliation. “You don’t need to be afraid of them because they’re the ones admiring you,” Qahtani said.
Determine your takeaway message and make it relevant throughout.
When you write a speech, it should focus on a message that is as clear and succinct as possible. The message of Qahtani’s winning speech is simple: We must be conscious of the power our words can have over other people, for better or worse.
Speak to your audience on a personal level.
A friend once told Qahtani, “When you’re on the stage, the most important thing is the audience. Don’t care about how you look, where you are on the stage, how you sound — just care about the audience.”
Ideally, you have practiced your speech well enough that you look polished, but once you’re on the stage you shouldn’t be conscious about anything except speaking to the people in front of you. Speak from your heart, Qahtani said, and play off the energy of the audience.
Play to your strengths.
A fellow Toastmasters member once told Qahtani, “Some people are strong with their words, some people are strong with their voice, some people are strong with their stage presence. Your strength is humor. Use it.”
Qahtani dabbled in stand-up comedy as an undergraduate student at Arizona State University and tends to find humor in situations. If people didn’t find him funny, he wouldn’t use jokes in his speeches. It’s all about being authentic.
Find a balance of emotions.
Qahtani opened his speech with humor to get the audience laughing and relaxed, but he would have fallen into a stand-up act if he didn’t transition into moving personal anecdotes. Similarly, if he kept his entire speech heavy, his audience would have felt depressed or even bored rather than satisfied.
However you determine your speech will flow, Qahtani said, it’s important that you always leave your audience with a feeling of hope. They need to feel empowered by what you just told them.
Practice as much as possible in front of an honest audience.
The main benefit of joining Toastmasters is that it comes with a group of people who not only support you but who will give you frank feedback on what worked and what didn’t in your speech. If you’re not part of an organization like Toastmasters, practice your presentation in front of someone, or several people, who you know won’t sugarcoat their feedback.
Qahtani said there were elements of earlier drafts of “The Power of Words” that he was convinced were essential to his speech but that he eventually cut because they weren’t working with his audiences. It’s important that you never dismiss someone’s opinion about your work-in-progress. “You write a speech for an audience, not yourself,” he said.
Visualize rather than memorize your speech.
If you try memorizing your speech word by word, your performance will suffer, Qahtani said.
He likes to visualize a map of certain points in his speech that he fills in during his performance. It’s about becoming comfortable with the material to a degree where you can casually talk about it.