Tips For Public Speaking from the book "Made To Stick"

These tips for public speaking came after I read the very good book "Made To Stick" by Chip and Dan Heath.

The book isn't about public speaking, it's about how to make your ideas 'stick' in people's minds. However it's a good book for any speaker to read.

As I was reading it, I thought of how useful it could be as a speech checklist of oral presentation tips. What follows is my interpretation of the most relevant parts of the book as applied to speaking.

"Made To Stick" lays out a 6 step checklist to make your messages "understandable, memorable and effective in changing thought or behaviour". In other words, what you try to do every time you speak!

My suggestion is to use this checklist of tips for public speaking on your next few speeches or presentations and see how you go. We'd love to hear how you get on so there's a form at the bottom of this page where you can tell us what happened. We'll even build a page around your story on this site!

6 Step Checklist Of Tips For Public Speaking

  1. Simple. This is critical when you speak. Find the core message for your talk.

    Bill Clinton could have chosen several issues to base his election campaign upon, but we all remember the slogan "It's the economy stupid." No ambiguity there.

    Ask yourself "What's my core message?", and then ask yourself"How can I express it in a single compact statement?"

    This goes along with Marcus Buckingham's findings as explained in his book "The One Thing You Need To Know". His research showed the single most important thing for any leader is Clarity.

    Your audience is always wanting to be led somewhere. Your job is to know exactly where that is.

  2. Unexpected. One of my favorite tips for public speaking. Use surprise to get attention, and use interest to keep it.

    The best example I ever saw of a speaker using surprise to get attention at the start of a talk was on a "Train The Trainer" course I did in the Navy many years ago. The guy was a carpenter and he'd already given a talk about how to cut your piece of wood (how to use a saw), and then a talk about how to shape your piece of wood (how to use a plane). His third speech started by telling us he'd show how to put a hole in your piece of wood, so naturally we were expecting him to talk about drills. Instead he pulled out a 38 pistol. His great love after carpentry was pistol shooting and he delivered a talk on that subject. I can assure you he had our undivided attention!

    Your audience does want you to speak well, but they probably don't expect you to do anything much different to the dozens of speakers they've heard before.

    Bust people out of their complacent little worlds by proving them wrong on an issue. Don't be afraid to do this - just do it with the right intention and don't be a smart-ass. "What's the only man-made structure visible from the moon?" There isn't one. The Great Wall Of China is really long, but it isn't nearly wide enough.

    "Don't bury the lead" is an old journalism principle you can use. It means don't hide your most important attention-grabbing idea in amongst all the others in your speech.

    Look for counter-intuitive aspects of your idea that help to create a new insight.

    Keep their attention by creating a mystery story or by creating a gap in their knowledge. That way instead of just explaining some information or an idea, you hook them by getting them involved in a suspense thriller "What's gonna happen? Was I right?" They'll stay to the end, instead of sleeping through the middle.

  3. Concrete. One of the classic tips for public speaking. Tell fables, parables if you want ideas to stick. "The tortoise and the hare" says an awful lot in a few words because we remember the story and what it means.

    A great example from the book is about a guy who carried a packet with 8 teaspoons of sugar and one teaspoon of salt when he spoke to leaders in Africa. He'd sit in front of them and mix it in water. It's what kids with diarrhea need to re-hydrate. For less than the price of a cup of tea these leaders can save a kid's life. Lots of kids. Brilliant and far more effective than discussing all the issues, causes, problems etc.

    Abstract concepts aren't normally very sticky. Illustrate your ideas in a way they'll never forget.

  4. Credible. Help people believe you by several methods. Use an external authority to endorse you.

    Use an anti-authority, ie an ex-drug addict who's come clean can be more believable than an anti-drug professor.

    Use convincing details instead of vague statements.

    Relate statistics to something they can understand. eg More divers are killed by scallops than by sharks (the divers get greedy and stay down too long filling their bags with the delicacy).

    Find an example where you've done something that gives you instant credibility. eg We cater the Whitehouse dinners, so your wedding should be ok.

  5. Emotional. Make people care about your message by helping them surface their emotions as they listen to you.

    This comes down to knowing your audience and what gets them fired up. I'm convinced we won't stop kids binge-drinking by talking about the health hazards. They don't care. When getting drunk starts looking uncool in their eyes, then things will change. Talking to them about how old men (ie over 35) in big alcohol companies makes huge profits by getting young girls drunk on ultra-cheap alco-pops won't hurt either!

  6. Stories. This is one of the oldest and best tips for public speaking.

    Tell stories to show people how to act. Remember the importance of clarity to a leader? If there's any doubt they'll do nothing.

    Tell stories to inspire people to act. These give them the energy to do what you want them to do.

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