After Hurricane Sandy hit in October of 2012, I was able to volunteer on the Jersey Shore, helping people that lost their homes (or had serious damage) clean up the mess that was left behind.

I worked with a team of 10 friends as we helped one home owner remove cabinets, counters, floor boards, and doors. Everything had to be hauled to the curb (as in carried uphill through the sand) as bulldozers came and removed the debris. Every homeowner on the street was doing the same. You couldn’t help but feel sorry for those that lost everything and yet at the same time be happy to help.

The amount of support offered by volunteers was amazing. In fact, our team worked through an organization that provided food and hot beverages while organizing all the work efforts. It was quite an operation!

Team Leaders (yes, that was me) received a work order with the homeowner’s name and the nature of the job. We were given tools, masks, and gloves and sent with our marching orders. Before taking on a project, we attended an orientation to learn more about the process. Our team, along with maybe 80 people, assembled in a room to be briefed.

The coordinator was great about explaining the condition of some of the homes, along with the safety measures, supplies and equipment, food and beverage, breaks, hydration, and time-frames. He also went into detail about the attitude of the homeowners and how to deal with their situations. He kept reminding us that we were in their homes and to show respect, compassion, and understanding. Treat them like the boss, he said. His points couldn’t have been more important.

When we got into the truck to head to the job site, I mentioned what a great job the coordinator had done with his orientation. One of my friends said if the coordinator said “um” one more time, he was going to snap. Some of the other members of my posse said the same thing. It became comic relief at a serious time, but he made a good point.

You don’t need to be Zig Ziglar to speak to a bunch of volunteers about hot chocolate and bathroom breaks, but you do want to avoid anything that’s going to detract from your message — especially when it’s important.

Here are five quick tips on how to deliver a more powerful message in any situation.

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1. Do a practice run. 

Yes, this seems obvious, but practice alone does not make perfect. Practice with feedback and then application of that feedback makes perfect. (Not as catchy I know.) Deliver your demo in front of a small group of people that you like, trust and respect. Get their feedback about your talk, apply the advice that makes the most sense, and do the presentation again with the same group. If you have the time, you can deliver to multiple groups and get different perspectives. The feedback you get may be about verbal pauses (ums, ahs, likes), looking at notes, eye contact, tone of voice, volume, and clarity of message. Zig would be proud!

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2. Start with your best stuff.

Tell a story! Offer an anecdote, a ‘did you know,’ a quote, a statistic, a powerful opening statement, a ‘let me tell you why you’re here!’, or a call to action. Try to present whatever you think would be the greatest thing you have to say first. This way you’ll catch your audience’s attention and get better control over your own anxiety. You’ll be in the groove in no time.

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3. Highlight your main points.

This can be done as you prepare to deliver your talk. What are the 3–5 main points you’ll need to cover to get your message across? You may want to present all of them at once and then explain each. A better method may be to present your first point, tell a story or give an example, and then apply it to your audience. Then move on to the next point, story, application, and so on. This way, your audience won’t get ahead of you and you’ll keep them in suspense as they await your next key point.

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4. Get your audience involved.

The best way to get your audience involved is to ask questions. Good questions. Fun questions. Meaningful questions. Questions that make them think. Questions that get them interested in what you have to say. But be careful! I’ve watched speakers ask questions of their audience and when the audience doesn’t respond quickly enough (or at all), they just go ahead and answer their own question. So the next time the speaker asks a question, what do you think happens? Yup! The audience probably won’t respond because they assume the speaker will just go ahead and answer the question for them. You must train your audience to follow your lead. When you ask a question of your audience (it must be a good question that at least some know the answers to), remain silent until someone responds to your question. Always respond to an answer positively. When you ask another question, do the same thing. Now the audience knows what’s expected and will play along. And this will be the precedent you set the next time you ask a question.

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5. End with a bang!

Deliver a powerful closing story, call to action, key take away message, lesson learned, or positive affirmation. Never end a presentation by asking the audience if they have questions because if they don’t (or if they have bad questions — it happens!), you’ll end awkwardly. Always end on a positive note and if possible with a bang. Never give up control of how you finish your talk no matter how informal. Audiences typically remember opening points, a story that they can relate to, and a powerful closing point.

Apply these tips to your next job interview, sales appointment, seminar, orientation, or holiday dinner speech.

For more from Michael Goldberg, see:

How to be a complete failure at sales

How to turn social situations into business opportunities

5 ways to help remember names