Never turn your back to the audience: Tips from our speech coach

Jeff Davis of Speak Clear Communications 

TEDxNavesink recently interviewed Jeff Davis of Speak Clear Communications. Speak Clear, with offices in Manhattan and New Jersey, is a TEDx Navesink sponsor.  Jeff has been working with several of our speakers to refine their talks for the big day on September 20.  As a speech coach, Jeff teaches his clients to become audience-focused, relaxed, purposeful and articulate.

In this interview, Jeff offers insight into the impact speech coaching can have on any type of presentation; he also shares a few great tips should you find yourself in front of an audience of ten - or ten thousand!

TEDx:  What led you to become a speech coach for TEDxNavesink?

JD:  I was approached by a client of mine who is speaking at TED, who then introduced me to Brian Smiga (TEDx organizer).  Brian explained his concept for the conference, and asked if I would be willing to work with the speakers.  I loved the concept, and was excited to work with some of the area’s most innovative thinkers.

TEDx: What is the most common, correctable mistake you observe in public speaking?  

JD:  Turning your back to the audience, and reading off your PowerPoint.  It kills a presentation.  Eye contact and a conversational tone are crucial to building rapport with the audience.  It’s important to remember that PowerPoint is best used as a simple design tool to highlight your main points.

TEDx:  Is a speech coach like having a personal trainer?  And how long does it typically take for your clients to “see a difference” in their technique? 

JD:  That’s a good analogy.  I have some clients who would rather run a triathlon than face an audience!  People who come in with a clear set of goals generally see the most progress.  I’m a big believer in learning by doing.  Usually people who work with me see a big change in their technique after their first hour.  Not many personal trainers can say that!

TEDx: What general advice would you give to someone preparing for a big talk?  

JD:  Start early, and think about the story you are trying to tell.  Too many people start with their slides.  If it’s it a big speech, your story should be unique.  It’s also very important to pay attention to non-verbal communication.

TEDx: Body language: what should we do with our hands when we’re delivering a talk?  

JD: There is no right way to move on stage, but it’s important to stay away from any gesture that is too closed or casual.  Move in a way that is comfortable for you (unless you’re a chronic fidgeter in which case you have to rein it in).

 TEDx: Podium or no podium: what are your thoughts on standing behind, beside or in front of a podium?  

 JD:  I’m not a fan of the podium.  It seems rather arbitrary.  Ditch it if you can, and have the confidence to face the audience without hiding.

TEDx:  Please share three of your top tips guaranteed to improve anyone’s public speaking performance?  

JD:  I would recommend to start early.  Bullet point your speech - don’t write it out.  Lastly, rehearse your speech out loud in front of a colleague or coach.

TEDx:  Who are some TEDx speakers whose style we should closely observe on September 20?   Tell us what to look for.  

JD:  All the speakers have a very unique point of view, that’s what makes this event so compelling.  In general, I think you will see speakers who bring their speeches to life with a personal touch, and interesting stories.  Good storytelling is the lifeblood of any good speech, and there are plenty of rich stories this year at TedXNavesink!

- Dorothy Reilly for TEDxNavesink, September 15, 2013