Imagine speaking without notes and keeping your audience spellbound! Most of us dream of being such a successful speaker, but this will only come about if we work at it. Let’s get back to reality because, if you are like me, you may well have to master this skill, as very few people are born natural speakers. Here are seven habits that you should be concentrating on, so that you can get better and better.
1. Forget about interacting with your audience.
Apart from some questions at the end, interaction with the audience should be extremely limited. Lots of speakers ask for the audience to indicate with a show of hands what they think about a certain issue. The risk here is that they will get bored and may even resent having to take part in a circus act. Remember, it is your job to speak and they want to learn or to be entertained by you.
2. You are like an actor on the stage.
Ever watched a brilliant actor on the stage or in a film? He or she will act with great enthusiasm, commitment and will be entirely convincing. Public speaking is not so different. You command the stage and the audience are expecting their money’s worth. Give it all you have got.
“It’s much easier to be convincing if you care about your topic. Figure out what’s important to you about your message and speak from the heart.” – Nicholas Bootman
3. Keep it brief.
“A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.” – Winston Churchill
Think of the last time you heard a really boring and ineffectual speaker. I bet you noticed the following:
- The speech lacked structure – it was not clear what the speaker was trying to achieve.
- You were bored.
- The speaker went over time.
- He or she did not make eye contact.
- The speaker used other people’s ideas and statistics.
Try to avoid these awful mistakes and you will be well on the way to success.
4. How to start your speech.
Forget the introductions and the thank-yous. It is much better to jump straight in and get your audience’s attention by using one or more of the following:
- Ask a question to stimulate interest.
- Tell an anecdote that illustrates the problem/aims/objectives/results.
- Tell a joke if it is relevant. It is great to get the audience laughing. They will be much more receptive to what you have to say.
- Use a quotation by a famous person.
- Tell them what your end goal is. Say, “By the end of my speech, you will have a better understanding of X.” Or, “I hope you will be able to take away five action points to deal with Y.” Or, “I want to outline the pitfalls when dealing with Z.”
5. You know your defects and you have worked to improve them.
Let us imagine that you are hesitant. When you were practicing, you noticed from the recording or from a friend’s feedback, that you use ‘uhm’ or ‘er’ far too much. These can get very annoying if they are too frequent. Practice until you get these down to a bearable minimum.
If you know from school that your teacher told you that you are inclined to mumble and speak indistinctly, then practice breathing and also breaking up sentences into more manageable chunks.
If you are so shy that eye contact is always a challenge, practice looking for a sympathetic face in the audience, maybe somebody you know. You will need to make regular eye contact with all the attendees, not forgetting those at the back.
6. Forget about ‘I’ and ‘me.’
Many speakers talk a lot about themselves, their experiences, their successes and maybe their failures. The only problem is that if you don’t also mention ‘you’ and speak directly to the audience and involve them, you may lose their attention. Instead of a long, boring personal anecdote, ask a question with ‘you’ in it. Works every time!
7. Don’t flood your speech with statistics.
The temptation is to impress people with data and figures. Some speakers go to enormous lengths to provide lots of pie charts, graphs and the dreaded PowerPoint slides. It is no accident that people now joke about ‘death by PowerPoint.’ Less is better in this case. People just cannot take in all that information.
“The audience are likely to remember only three things from your presentation or speech.” – Stephen Keague
Gaining confidence in public speaking takes time. If you find that you cannot change everything overnight, start by choosing the habit that you think is most important in your situation.
“Too many people spend too much time trying to perfect something before they actually do it. Instead of waiting for perfection, run with what you’ve got, and fix it along the way…” – Paul Arden
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