In real estate, the mantra is: ‘location, location, location’. In public speaking? It’s ‘practice, practice, practice’.
Ask some actors and they’ll tell you that they never get over the stage fright, the butterflies that come before the cameras roll or the curtains part. One thing they will all tell you is that they beat back those fears with rehearsal. Not so that a piece will sound rehearsed as it comes out of their mouths but so that they know it backwards and forwards, inside and out.
Similarly for nervous public speaker, the comfort derived from a good level of preparation is the key to giving a good speech.
Here are six steps to help you get to the public speaking promised land!
Find the sweet spot on your material
Engaging an audience is half the battle: if you feel like they’re with you, that they’re listening, that they’re engaged, you’ll be more successful. So how can you ensure that they are with you? Make sure that there is a connection between what you want to talk about and what they are interested in. This is about knowing your audience and ensuring that your material is relevant to them. If you want to talk about the perils of entrepreneurship to a group of mental health workers, your sweet spot is going to be talking about stress, depression and other mental health issues, with anecdotes and stories that are specific to entrepreneurs.
Find a sweet title for your speech
Just like the first line of a novel, your speech title is what will spark interest… or not. Your audience will be drawn in by a great title and they will at least start out engaged. That interest factor applies to you too! If you’ve given the same speech twelve times, tweak it by changing up the title and a little of the speech. It’s important that what you’re saying feel fresh and interesting to you as well.
What should any speech include, aside from a great title?
Start with a story, if you can. The level of engagement that you will get will be higher and that will put you on a good footing to continue. If not a story, then ask the audience a question. Something that challenges them or makes them laugh. You want to capture their attention. Then what?
- Point out the relevance of your speech to this particular audience, if it’s not already crystal clear. Your premise, or the ultimate point you want to make, should come right up front.
- Give information that clearly demonstrates your expertise or knowledge in the subject matter. Without getting bogged down in too many stats, jargon or esoteric information, you can wow an audience and keep them engaged because you’re able to back up the premise you made earlier.
- Opinions matter if you are a subject matter expert, so don’t be afraid to give them. You want to provide something to your audience that they can’t get by watching a series of YouTube videos!
Edit… and then edit some more
Write your speech out and then edit it. Give the speech in front of your dog, to hear it out loud. Then edit it. Give it to a camera so you can watch yourself and your various arm movements or nervous tics. Then edit it again. You want to have practiced enough to know the speech well but not so much as to sound like an over-rehearsed machine.
Keep your language simple and clear. Multisyllabic words may sound impressive on paper but if half your audience is asking SIRI what something means in the middle of your speech, you’ve lost them.
You want to see how fast you are speaking, what filler words you over use and whether or not you’re laughing inappropriately. It’s all a part of the overall image you’re going to project. When you feel like you’ve got the right image, you’ll feel more confident about giving the speech.
What are three known speech killers?
- People who blather instead of staying on point.
- People who use sarcasm.
- People who talk in platitudes and trite phrases. If you sound like a bumper sticker, you’re going to lose your audience!
Get some presence!
Walking on to a stage or up to a podium is your moment to really capture everyone. Even before you’ve said a word, you can lose them if you’re fidgeting or engaging in other nonverbal behavior that turns your audience off. Like what?
- Not looking at your entire audience, no eye contact.
- Staring at cue cards or at slides.
- Talking quickly or mumbling. By practicing your speech, you can adopt a strong cadence that your audience will enjoy listening to.
What to do if you feel you’re losing your audience?
Be prepared with some humor. Without a doubt, humor is the ideal way to regain their attention and refocus it on you. Quotes, anecdotes, jokes about yourself… whatever you’re comfortable with.
If you want people to hear what you have to say but you’re nervous about saying it, it’s best if it feels as if you are having a conversation with them. If it feels to each audience member as if you’re speaking directly to them, you will have their attention. If you feel that way, you’ll be calmer, more collected and more effective in your speech. Good luck!
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