Six Public Speaking Tips That Help Your Marketing, Too

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by Stephanie Villella

The thought of speaking in public makes some of the most confident professionals break into a nervous sweat. But once you understand the keys to successful public speaking, you’ll have a toolkit that is applicable in many other instances—especially marketing.

Using some of the same concepts that have the power to make or break your public address, you can dramatically transform the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns.

The best part? You never have to give a speech to do it.

We’ll start with the three methods of persuasion that Aristotle outlined: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. 

1. Ethos

Public speakers are faced with the task of developing credibility with their audience by proving they are a reputable source.

For instance, if you were to give a speech on the negative impacts of high sugar consumption in children, your audience will be likely to take your argument more seriously if you start off introducing yourself as a dietician—thus, establishing ethos.

Similarly, a marketer must be deemed credible to be effective with the target audience. It’s the reason someone might feel more comfortable purchasing a piece of décor from Amazon as opposed to a site with a name like www.buyyourdecorhere.com (domain name still available, surprisingly).

A company that has established ethos is much more likely to gain buy-in from its target audience.

2. Pathos

Great speeches rely heavily on pathos—emotional appeal. Imagine you are having a conversation with a friend about a close family member’s death. Telling that friend your family member has passed may create sympathy; however, showing them a photograph of you and that family member in the hospital and telling the story about your last exchange of words with that family member will likely have a much more significant emotional impact.

Public speaking and marketing work in the same way as that conversation.

The language and imagery used to convey your message has the power to strongly appeal to the emotions of your audience. Animal-adoption commercials rely heavily on such techniques. The audience knows—the second they see a puppy on television—that they have two options: Turn the channel or break out the credit card (and maybe some Kleenex).

3. Logos

Logos, not to be confused with the cool graphics that represent brands, is the appeal to logic. Simply put, people need to believe that the facts presented to them are the truth before buying into them.

As a speaker, you would cite credible sources and give statistics to back up your claims. As a marketer, you would try to prove that your product works better than a competitor’s.

You’ve likely seen a paper towel commercial in which they show a split screen with a spilled drink on each side of a vertical line: On the left, a single paper towel easily picks up the mess; on the right, it leaves a mess behind. The marketers behind those commercials are appealing to the logical consumer who would choose the paper towel that does the better job of picking up the spilled mess.

4. Brevity

“Brevity is the soul of wit,” Shakespeare wrote. (See what I did there? I relied on ethos by quoting someone with a notoriously high level of credibility.) We’ve all been in a situation—a meeting, a conference, or some other occasion—where the speaker rambles on much longer than needed. Such messages are almost always ineffective, because the audience cannot maintain interest.

Marketers rely on brevity just as much as (if not more than) public speakers. Go to a successful company’s website to see what I mean. Or open a well-known magazine: The ads rely largely on imagery and concise messages.

At a time when you can get any information you need in less than 30 seconds with a device that fits in the palm of your hand, consumers simply don’t have the attention span for anything other than something brief.

5. Visual aids

Using visual aids in public speaking can be tricky. Done right, visuals can make a good speech excellent, and they can draw attention from an otherwise uninterested audience. Done wrong, however, and visuals can disengage the audience and distract them from the actual content.

In marketing, there is also a right way and a wrong way to use visuals. The key is to ask whether the visual elements add or detract from the message you want to convey.

Author and marketing expert Seth Godin explains that the trick to successful marketing is to be a “purple cow”—to stand out among all the others who are doing the same thing. Using visual aids that stand out from your competition’s can lead to a successful marketing campaign that gets the audience’s attention.

6. Practice

Practice is important both to speakers and to marketers. Even the most polished public speakers need to practice their presentation before getting in front of an audience. In marketing, practice is equivalent to market research and testing.

Before you jump into a campaign, test it: Whether you pull together focus groups to gather feedback or experiment on your own employees, testing your marketing ideas before implementing them can save you from being the embarrassed speaker who forgot his/her speech halfway through the presentation.

In a 2012 AdWeek article, the publication called out 20 brand fails. My favorite? The “Bic for Her” pens. All the embarrassment and negative publicity the product elicited might have been avoidable with sufficient testing.

In speaking, as in marketing, practice might not make perfect, but it certainly doesn’t make you worse.