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Improve Your Presentations – The Late Bill Gove

Posted on: July 29th, 2012

Presentations: Improve Your Presentations – The Late Bill GoveSpeaking

Want to improve your speeches? Talk to an old pro. Unfortunately, you can no longer talk to one of the oldest and best professional speakers – Bill Gove. The Toastmasters’ Golden Gavel Award winner and first president of the National Speakers Association never retired from the platform and died at the age of 90.

Bill may be gone, but I can still relay his timeless advice to you because, thank goodness, I talked to him, listened in the audience, and heard him on videotape and audiotape. I wrote down the suggestions that most connected with me. Let me paraphrase my best Bill Gove wisdom in hopes it will benefit you as it has me.

Make a point; tell a story. – I quote this often. Storytelling is the best speaking, and Bill’s admonition to link a good point with an even better story should be the goal. Bill did not like people to call him a public speaker. He preferred storyteller. To wit…

Good speeches are collections of vignettes and stories. Bill said that when someone would ask him how many different speeches he had, he didn’t know how to respond. He – like many top professionals – collected hours of stories. He would mix and match them to suit the audience. The potential variety was endless.

Always know where you are going. Bill made professional speaking look easy because he rehearsed so much. He said if you practice sufficiently, then no matter what happens during your speech, you can adjust your material to surprises on the spot.

Pressure-proof your speech. This extends the previous point of rehearsing. He pointed out that professional tennis players practice hitting the same stroke 10,000 times so that when they are under pressure during a championship match, they will still be able to hit the stroke because of sheer repetition. It applies to speeches. Bill said Mark Twain remarked that he memorized every presentation. The hard part was making it look as though it was NOT memorized.

The enemy of a speaker is sameness. – same volume, same tempo, same modulation. Human beings don’t talk in a fixed pattern, and speakers shouldn’t either. Vary your delivery. Bill quoted speaker coach Ron Arden who suggests trying to say the phrase “Mary had a little lamb” with many different inflections to learn variety.

You are responsible to the audience, not for the audience. Your mission is to prepare thoroughly. After you give your best speech, the audience reaction is out of your hands. If people don’t respond or are lukewarm, you have to let it go. You’ve done your best.

Love your audience. Bill Gove said he stopped being afraid of the audience when he realized the people before him were his friends. He needed them, and a good presentation was a joint effort with them.

If you truly want to learn, don’t watch what a professional speaker does differently. Instead, Bill said, determine what the speaker is doing that is the same as what all successful speakers do.

Write your own introduction. Insist that your introducer read it just as you wrote it. A good lead-in can set up your first story.

It takes time to develop a good punch line to a story. I have always found it easy to develop stories from my life to put into speeches, but hard to craft a powerful ending –one that concludes with a “bang”. I asked Bill how he created good story closes. He said you have to keep refining. Experiment before audiences with different endings or varied ways of saying them until you get the one that attracts the best response.

Bill Gove was a gentle man, casual, nice to be around. I will always remember his seemingly effortless speeches. Like all champions, he worked hard to do it in such a way that it appeared that anyone could the same. Fat chance.

We all hope that when we are gone, we will leave a legacy of knowledge that benefits others – just like Bill Gove.

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