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7 Magic Phrases to Help You Nail Public Speaking

These sayings will bring your next presentation from meh to memorable.

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To help people remember a notable point, say:

No matter how great of a public speaker you are, there’s no way anyone will remember everything you said. But highlighting what you want your audience to remember works remarkably at getting that idea to stick. “They can’t remember everything. You’re putting a little bookmark on it,” says Carmine Gallo, MS, communication advisor and author of The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On and Others Don’t. “What’s uncanny is that this works so well, you can almost plant an idea in people’s heads.”

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To give proof for your big idea, say:

Now that you’ve established your big idea, support it with three examples. Some studies have shown working memory can only remember three to five items at a time, and the upper end of that might still be too much. “Three is the most powerful number in communication,” Gallo says. “It could be because three is a logical progression—one doesn’t sound like enough, and five is too many.” Just keep the tone conversational—you’re not writing an essay, so phrases like “my three main points are…” can sound clunky, says Matt McGarrity, PhD, principal lecturer of communication at the University of Washington. Here’s what your voice says about your personality and health.

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To make your points stick, say:

Repetition can do wonders in making people remember what you’ve said, especially if you use that rule of threes again. Whether you like the repeated phrase to become at the beginning or the end, just pick a pattern you like, and fill in the blanks with your message. “I typically refer to these as equations for eloquence and humans with the variable,” Dr. McGarrity says. An A-B-B-A style (think: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country) is particularly effective, he says. Psst! These lessons on public speaking from The King’s Speech might help, too.

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To signal a smooth shift in topics, say:

Transitions signal to the audience that you’re shifting to another chunk of information, which will make it easier to follow. Your exact word choice won’t make or break it, as long as the audience knows you’re moving on. For instance, Dr. McGarrity likes to walk during a transition as a visual cue. “Transitions tie people up. They’re more about performance than language,” he says. “The phrasing is less important than the function they perform.” But always avoid these annoying speaking habits.

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To capture attention, say:

OK, you might want to pick a less cliché start, but a story will capture your audience’s attention in a way straight facts never will. People might forget the specific stats and charts you share, but those personal anecdotes will stick with them. “Narratives and stories are easier to remember because that’s what we do most when we relay events on a day-to-day basis,” Dr. McGarrity says. “It’s just an arrangement pattern we’re super familiar with, so it’s easier to remember.” Introduce the importance of an issue with a gripping story, or use a case study to put data in perspective. Some of the most irresistible crowd pleasers are ones involving triumph over tragedy, Gallo says. If you can’t pull one (of transformation through failure or any relevant topic) from your own life, find another anecdote to tell.

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To connect with your audience, say:

Try keeping the pronoun “I” to a minimum. “The presentations that work really well are not when it’s all about you, but it’s about your customers or clients or the people you’re telling,” Gallo says. “The minute you can talk about somebody else … you connect more personally.” Keeping away from first-person will make you seem more approachable, he says. For instance, instead of talking all about your own accomplishments, discuss the successes of your team as a whole, Gallo recommends, or talk about a case study with a third party to shift the focus away from you.

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To let your audience know the end is near, say:

Letting your audience know you’re winding down will help orient listeners, and it’s your chance to lock in the themes you want your audience to remember. “‘In conclusion’ is very powerful,” says Jim Kokocki, DTM, international president of Toastmasters International, a nonprofit that helps people develop public speaking skills. “It signals they’ll be done in a couple of minutes and reiterate key points and get the audience’s attention.” If you’re in the audience, check out these tips from great listeners.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.