How to Give a Speech Like An Expert

public speaking expert professionally speaking

“I want you to discuss our 2Q performance in no more than 4 slides.”

That was the directive given to my husband as he prepared for an upcoming project review meeting. In business, subject-matter-experts (SMEs) are asked to deliver these types of presentations daily. How well they do is a different matter.

When to Take the Expert Approach

Have you been asked to share information about a topic that you live and breathe every day? If your presentation is about know-how and your listeners have similar level of knowledge and interest in the topic, you may find the Expert approach is ideal.

Review the following characteristics of the Expert and consider how your presentation opportunity compares:

Presentation Goal: As the Expert, your goal is to efficiently communicate facts and share your expertise about a given subject.

Point of View: Often your boss or someone else assigns you the task of giving the presentation because of your knowledge and expertise. As the Expert, you are primarily focused on accurately conveying that information, and you aren’t necessarily concerned with what listeners do with the information you share.

Audience and Environment: In an ideal Expert environment you’ll be speaking with others in your field or people of like mind who want efficient delivery of crucial information. Expert presentations are data-driven, including:

  • Internal reporting or project status meetings
  • Poster presentations at a trade show
  • Financial, medical, engineering or scientific presentations

Content and Message: Because your audience wants “just the facts,” your message is based on facts and logic. While the content may also include statistics and figures, scientific research data and/or product characteristics, personal stories and anecdotes are not called for here. The focus is on clarity, efficiency and accuracy.

Build These Skills to Be an Effective Expert

Using Professionally Speaking’s C.O.D.E.® process as a guide, build these critical skills to be an effective Expert:

Clarify your content. As the Expert, you’ve got it all in your head. The trick is to use critical thinking skills to determine how much and precisely what your audience needs to know. If you do a data dump, you run the risk of overwhelming your listeners with too much information. Be sure to focus on one core take-away message that summarizes your entire presentation. Can you describe your core message in one simple sentence?

For more information about how to avoid information overload, see The “Curse” of Overthinking Your Presentation.

Organize your information. Since the Expert approach depends on logic, arrange your points into a logical schematic. You may find it helpful to storyboard your presentation with a core message supported by three main points. Then provide evidence for these key points. Continue to refine by eliminating unnecessary detail and anything that distracts from the core message.

To help omit unnecessary information, ask yourself “so what?” or “what do my listeners absolutely need to know?” as you review your specifics.

Develop your media and presentation aids. If you are addressing a business or scientific audience, they will probably expect you to present with a PowerPoint slide deck. Sometimes the slide deck serves as both a visual aide and a take-away reference document (sometimes called a “slideument”). As such, many slide decks tend to include too much information. Here’s how to avoid overwhelming listeners with a slide deck:

  • Keep the text size no smaller than 30 point type
  • Edit out any words that are not needed
  • Use visuals that help listeners grasp concepts
  • Avoid using the slide show as your script
  • Create callouts (circles, boxes, and highlights) to indicate key information so that you can avoid using a laser pointer

Express yourself. You may find that your audience cares more about your credibility and accuracy than a personal connection. That’s why more sophisticated techniques of audience engagement are not as crucial for the Expert. However, employing the basics of competent delivery will make the message loud and clear. Help your audience to understand with appropriate:

  • Eye contact
  • Gestures
  • Posture and movement
  • Vocal volume, pace and rhythm

For more tips about how to use delivery skills to express yourself, see Going Live: Tips for First Time Corporate Speakers.

Caution for the Expert

Remember: avoid inundating listeners with too much information. If you hear a speaker say, “I know this is a lot of information, but…” or “I know you can’t read this slide, but let me tell you what it says…” then you’ve experienced a less-than-effective Expert.

Be careful when you have a mixed audience where people have different levels of interest and understanding about the subject. In this case, use words everyone understands—often called “plain language.”

Are you an effective Expert?

Before you present, ask yourself the following questions to make sure you’ll communicate what your listeners need:

  • What am I providing that my audience can’t get from reading a report?
  • What does my audience need to know?
  • What is my core message?
  • What are the main points supporting my core message?
  • Have I included too many details?

As you move up into positions of leadership in your field, you’ll naturally find yourself needing to expand beyond the Expert role. Speaking opportunities will require more than a simple presentation of the facts. As a business leader, you’ll need to influence listeners, align their thinking, and motivate them to take action. For these high-stakes opportunities you’ll need to adjust your presentation style and adopt Interpreter and Catalyst skills in order to influence and inspire.

Don’t miss the next installment in our series: Presentation Profiling®- The Interpreter

Collaborating Author

Sharon McMillen Cannon serves as Clinical Associate Professor of Management and Corporate Communication at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-Chapel Hill. She has a passion for teaching public speaking, business writing, intercultural communication, and the effective use of social media (@smccannon on Twitter).

Do you want to move beyond the status quo of public speaking and become a more capable communicator?

In this series, you’ll learn how to choose your approach thoughtfully, depending on your purpose and your audience. Different types of presentation opportunities demand different approaches to be effective. Before your next speaking engagement, stop and consider, should you be the Expert, Interpreter or Catalyst? Which style will add the most value to your presentation?

If you missed the series introduction, see Presentation Profiling® – Expert, Interpreter or Catalyst?