Public Speaking

7 Powerful Public Speaking Tips From One of the Most-Watched TED Talks Speakers

7 Powerful Public Speaking Tips From One of the Most-Watched TED Talks Speakers
Image credit: startwithwhy.com

You’d never know it, but Simon Sinek is naturally shy and doesn’t like speaking to crowds. At parties, he says he hides alone in the corner or doesn’t even show up in the first place. He prefers the latter. Yet, with some 22 million video views under his belt, the optimistic ethnographer also happens to be the third most-watched TED Talks presenter of all time.

Ironic for an introvert, isn’t it? Sinek’s unlikely success as both an inspirational speaker and a bestselling author isn’t just dumb luck. It’s also not being in the right place at the right time or knowing the right people. It’s the result of fears faced and erased, trial and error and tireless practice, on and off stage.

Related: 6 Steps to Overcoming Stage Fright and Giving a Presentation Everybody Listens To

We caught up with Sinek to pick his brain about how he learned to give such confident, captivating and meaningful presentations and how others can, too. 

Here are his top seven secrets for delivering speeches that inspire, inform and entertain. (For more helpful pointers on how to wow an audience, check out his free 30-minute class on Skillshare now. It’s titled How to Present: Share Ideas That Inspire Action.)

1. Don’t talk right away.

Sinek says you should never talk as you walk out on stage. “A lot of people start talking right away, and it’s out of nerves,” Sinek says. “That communicates a little bit of insecurity and fear.”  

Instead, quietly walk out on stage. Then take a deep breath, find your place, wait a few seconds and begin. “I know it sounds long and tedious and it feels excruciatingly awkward when you do it,” Sinek says, “but it shows the audience you’re totally confident and in charge of the situation.”

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2. Show up to give, not to take.

Often people give presentations to sell products or ideas, to get people to follow them on social media, buy their books or even just to like them. Sinek calls these kinds of speakers “takers,” and he says audiences can see through these people right away. And, when they do, they disengage.

“We are highly social animals," says Sinek. "Even at a distance on stage, we can tell if you’re a giver or a taker, and people are more likely to trust a giver -- a speaker that gives them value, that teaches them something new, that inspires them -- than a taker.”

3. Make eye contact with audience members one by one.

Scanning and panning is your worst enemy, says Sinek. “While it looks like you’re looking at everyone, it actually disconnects you from your audience.”

Related: 5 TED Talks That May Change Your View on Life

It’s much easier and effective, he says, if you directly look at specific audience members throughout your speech. If you can, give each person that you intently look at an entire sentence or thought, without breaking your gaze. When you finish a sentence, move on to another person and keep connecting with individual people until you’re done speaking.

“It’s like you’re having a conversation with your audience," says Sinek. "You’re not speaking at them, you’re speaking with them."

This tactic not only creates a deeper connection with individuals but the entire audience can feel it.

4. Speak unusually slowly.

When you get nervous, it’s not just your heart beat that quickens. Your words also tend to speed up. Luckily Sinek says audiences are more patient and forgiving than we know.

“They want you to succeed up there, but the more you rush, the more you turn them off," he says. "If you just go quiet for a moment and take a long, deep breath, they’ll wait for you. It’s kind of amazing.”

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Sinek believes it’s impossible to speak too slowly on stage. “It’s incredible that you can stand on stage and speak so slowly that there are several seconds between each of your words and people… will… hang… on… your… every… word. It really works.”

5. Ignore the naysayers.

Dismiss the people furrowing their brows, crossing their arms or shaking their heads “no.” Instead, focus only on your supporters -- the people who are visibly engaged, enjoying your presentation and nodding “yes.” If you find the audience members who are positively interacting with you, you’ll be much more confident and relaxed than if you try to convince the naysayers.  

6. Turn nervousness into excitement.

Sinek learned this trick from watching the Olympics. A few years ago he noticed that reporters interviewing Olympic athletes before and after competing were all asking the same question. "Were you nervous?” And all of the athletes gave the same answer: "No, I was excited." These competitors were taking the body’s signs of nervousness -- clammy hands, pounding heart and tense nerves -- and reinterpreting them as side effects of excitement and exhilaration.

Related: 4 Motivating TED Talks to Help You Bounce Back From Failure

When you’re up on stage you will likely go through the same thing. That’s when Sinek says you should say to yourself out loud, “I’m not nervous, I’m excited!”

“When you do, it really has a miraculous impact in helping you change your attitude to what you’re about to do," Sinek says.

7. Say thank you when you’re done.

Applause is a gift, and when you receive a gift, it’s only right to express how grateful you are for it. This is why Sinek always closes out his presentations with these two simple yet powerful words: thank you.

"They gave you their time, and they’re giving you their applause." Says Sinek. "That’s a gift, and you have to be grateful."

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