by Jeffrey Benjamin
Most people would rather jump through rings of fire than give a speech. Just the thought of speaking in public can create sweaty palms.
Whether you are a small business owner, a beauty pageant contestant, a sales executive or president of a local civic organization—your success can hinge on your effectiveness as a public speaker.
People who can speak well in public are revered. All great communicators had to face the same terrifying feelings when addressing groups of people. Being comfortable speaking in public comes with practice, and utilizing some simple yet powerful tools. Here are eight tools to consider before addressing an audience:
Do a dry-run. Every great orator practices before presenting. You can practice your presentation in your mind’s eye. You can say it out loud in the car. You can grab business associates and rehearse with them. The point is: practice at least once!
Take a few deep breaths before presenting. This tool can go anywhere. It’s invisible, so it can go right into an exam room, business meeting, anywhere. It can bring results within seconds. Breathing is crucial because in times of stress we tend to hold our breath or we breathe shallow breaths. Taking a few deep breaths is helpful before a speech. So, feed your brain the oxygen it needs!
Replace negative self-talk. The average person communicates or carries on an internal dialogue at the rate of 500 to 600 words per minute. Some studies also indicate that 80 percent is negative or pessimistic. That’s crazy! We must learn to remove and replace negative messages. For example, when you hear yourself saying, “I’ll goof this speech up because I’m so nervous,” instead say, “I’ll be able to do this. I may be a little nervous but I’ll do just fine.” You can also tell yourself, “I’m going to win them over with this presentation,” or “I am a dynamic and powerful speaker.” Remember that whatever you impress upon yourself is what you will express upon others.
Analyze your audience. Work diligently to uncover the beliefs and convictions of your audience. This is valid whether you are giving a speech, making a phone call or writing a letter. Understand the needs, job positions, demographics and personalities of those you are talking to. You can also ask yourself, “What would I want to hear if I were sitting in the audience?” Only then can you structure the appropriate message to get the response that you want.
Use an attention getter. Light a fire under your audience! Gain attention by starting with a quick joke, asking a question, offering a famous quotation, sharing a story or citing a statistic. Use this technique whether you are speaking to an audience for three hours or thirty seconds. An attention getter allows you to focus the minds of the people in your audience. Ultimately, it draws your audience in to listen to what you have to say. What is your initial attention getter?
Organize your ideas. Organized speaking is the offspring of organized thinking. Avoid making your audience decipher your key points or ideas. Every great written or verbal presentation is well organized. This makes it easy for your message to be understandable and increases the listener’s faith in your expertise. Take a few minutes to jot down your main or central ideas before offering them to others.
Close with a call to action. This is where most people blow it. You are speaking for a reason. Make sure you ask them to do something; to take action. Do you want them to simply agree with your point of view? Do you want them to buy something? Do you want them to vote in your favor? The ultimate question is, “What do you want your audience to do as a result of hearing you speak?”
Evaluate your performance. Improving your speaking skills is a unique experience. As a speaker you must uncover what your strengths and areas of improvement are. You can do this by asking people to evaluate you. You can also do your own assessment by reviewing an audio or video recording. A few things to consider when evaluating are vocal variety, energy level, rate of speech, use of gestures and an absence of anxiety. Write on paper a list of things you can improve. Implement your new insights into your next presentation.
Use these powerful tools. You’ll notice that your speaking skills and your confidence will improve by incorporating small changes into your communications.
Best of success to you!