Speech Class is Now in Session! Professional Speaker Best Practices to Take Your Class to New Heights

By Bridgett McGowen

In late 2011 or early 2012, I convinced my manager to approve my attendance at a training and development conference in Denver to further hone my skills as a faculty development consultant. It was a conference for corporate trainer types, learning and development professionals… those kinds of experts. One session that stood out from the others was focused on meeting facilitation and how to make the most out of executives’ and C-suite employees’ time when you conduct a meeting with or make a presentation before them.

At the core of the presentation was a nine-step process to follow, and in one of those steps, the presenter made a point that resonated with me. He asserted that if you want your audience to listen, lean in, and give you rapt attention, then in the first few minutes of a meeting, you must do four things: excite, engage, involve, and inform your audience. Instantly, I recalled my days of being in the classroom at Prairie View A&M University and Lone Star College, and I thought, “He’s right! This goes for anyone, especially students.” Over the years and along the way, after teaching countless class sessions and designing hundreds of presentations and delivering them to thousands of professionals and students around the country and the globe, I had figured this out, but I sure wish I’d heard this session back in 2002 when I first stepped into the classroom as an educator!

As educators, we cannot assume we have captive audiences simply because we have sets of eyes in front of us. One of the biggest challenges educators face is getting students’ minds off of everything going on outside the classroom (and on their digital devices) and 100% on the lesson. As such, and with a lot of tweaking, reading, researching, and considering postsecondary teaching methodology best practices coupled with the habits of the very best professional speakers, that conference session led me to explore this topic further. In short, class sessions are not that much different from board meetings, and they should be approached with as much purpose and intention as possible. They should be designed in a way that lets students know this is going to be time well spent… that this is going to be a good one!

First, you paint a picture of the audience’s (students’) current position and where they want/need to be, and then you tell them what they will know or be able to do by the time you finish. That second part is what seals the deal. It’s what will have your students on the edges of their seats. I call this toggling between the awful and the awesome.

Here’s how that works. Let’s say I’m about to teach students about presentation skills. My opener that excites and engages them looks like this:

You’ve seen a number of presentations over the years. Some were awesome, while others were a complete mess. And you wonder: How do you get on the stage and rock it out? How can you go from feeling overwhelmingly anxious to amazingly awesome? By the time we finish with this session, you will know not only why you dread making presentations, but you will know the number one secret every expert presenter uses to be a powerhouse behind the mic, and you will know how to take that secret to completely eliminate the jitters and go from making presentations that are okay to presentations that are o-m-goodness.

When you hear that, you’re excited, and you’re thinking, “I want that! Give it to me! Let’s do this!”

Then, you keep that momentum going by making it a conversation that involves and informs all students. Behind the scenes, confirm what you will cover in class and the three things students will know or be able to do by the time you finish with your class session; create that exciting opener, promising them what they will know or be able to do; and then deliver. But do not put the onus on yourself to do all the talking. That is how you involve and inform the class: lecture for about 10 to 12 minutes at a time, and then have the students process that information. They can process it when you provide them with a formative assessment based on that segment of the lecture. Then you reset your energy level to get excited about the next segment.

Finally, take the spotlight off yourself and put it on the students; make them your priority. Think to yourself: “I am going to make this the most enjoyable, valuable, relevant experience this crowd has ever seen. I’m going to get them talking. I’m going to get them writing. I’m going to get them laughing. I’m going to have them walking away thinking ‘Wow. That was so good. I can’t wait for the next class meeting.'”

For new faculty members, remember that students are not hoping you crash and burn. They do not want to see you fall on your face. Conversely, they are secretly cheering you on, hoping you will give them something helpful, useful, and important.

For the seasoned educator, remember you have mastered the basics. You can teach class in your sleep. You’re a genius! So that means it’s now time to have fun. Let down your hair. Pop your collar. Laugh at yourself. Be a rock star for your students. Simply put, be the educator you wish you’d had when you were a student.

You’ve got this. Be seen. Be heard. Be great!


Bridgett McGowen is the owner of BMcTALKS, LLC, and she is an awarded international professional speaker. Learn more about Bridgett at www.bridgettmcgowen.com and visit www.bmctalks.com to learn about BMcTALKS and the BMcTALKS Academy.

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