I missed correctly crediting this article when I posted. This was written a few years ago by my friend Kim Garreffa and first posted here.
When speaking in front of an audience, these tips will help you communicate more effectively on stage:
- Consciously lift your eyebrows. It will immediately brighten your face.
- Smile. A lot.
- Channel your nervousness into your diaphragm. Relax your neck, and your shoulders, and breathe slowly and deeply using your diaphragm. Put any tension you have there. When you breathe in, your stomach should push out. As you breathe out, your stomach should shrink. (Your shoulders should not move when you breathe)
- Hands should be at your sides and still, unless you are using them to express your piece, or are holding a microphone.
- Hold the microphone at an angle it so you are speaking directly into the top of it. The microphone should be 2 to 5 inches away from your mouth—no farther.
- Raise your voice pitch slightly from your normal speaking voice. It will make you sound more energized and less tired. Project your voice to the back of the room, using your diaphragm, not your vocal chords, to increase the volume. Enunciate your consonants.
- Stand with legs shoulder width apart. Stand straight. Don’t lean or slouch.
- Own the message you are communicating. Don’t just speak words. If the message isn’t important to you, you’re not going to make it important to your listeners?
- Make sure you have water handy. Nervousness often causes a dry mouth—often unexpectedly.
- If you are too nervous to look at the audience, look slightly above them.
- Memorize as much as possible before you get on stage. It will be easier to focus on expression and communication.
- If you make a mistake, ignore it and move on. The audience will forget it as fast as you do (if they noticed it in the first place). Facial expressions or comments only draw attention to the mistake and make it easier to remember.
Success in public speaking can open a world of opportunity for you. It can broaden your horizons through personal development, influence, and advances in your profession.
Public Speaking Influences Your Personal Development
In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-worth ranks highest. Giving speeches helps us realize self-worth through the satisfaction experienced when a good speech is given. We become more confident, especially when the audience responds positively. It also reduces anxiety when asked by an authority to speak in front of people.
There was a student who dropped a course five times because he hated speaking in front of the class. After some self-study on building confidence, he decided to give public speaking a try and was successful. He came to enjoy the experience and even volunteered to give more speeches.
Using public speaking tools such as research, conceptualization, and organization, you have a systematic and effective way of presenting your ideas. With this experience, you will be better able to express yourself. You will also become more open to other people.
Public speaking satisfies your sense of achievement when the audience accepts you warmly. This reflects your level of communication skills and acumen. All these contribute to your self-esteem.
Public Speaking Influences Your Society
It is not only you who can benefit from the art of public speaking, but society as well. Governments and local organizations listen to the voice of their members. With proper communication skills, you can represent the public in voicing your rights and opinions.
An example of this would be community discussion. When a neighborhood holds regular meetings, it discusses issues or courses of action. In the discussion, opinions are expressed. Those with strong speaking skills have an advantage in communicating their opinion.
People from all walks of life need to speak in public, whether formally or otherwise: students reciting in school; folks in a town meeting; citizens voicing national issues. There is no easy way to avoid public speaking.
Public Speaking Influences Your Professional Development
Public speaking can help in your career. We tend to think of success as measured by how long you have been in your job or educational qualifications. However, research shows, one of the best indicator of success in any profession is how often a person is asked to give speeches. Those who give more speeches tend to have higher salaries than those who give less or no speeches.
Take this average engineer. She enrolls in a public speaking seminar that teaches two hours a week for six weeks. After two months, she is promoted to senior engineer. Her boss has been noticing her superb presentations.
The longer you work for an organization and the higher you climb the organizational ladder, the more your boss will ask you to preside over meetings and to give talks to the staff and subordinates or the clients. The higher your position, the more your responsibilities in leading people under you; and the more you must speak effectively.
A manager once said, “From the chairman of the board to the assistant manager of the most obscure department, nearly everyone in business speaks in public or makes a speech at some time or the other.”
It ’s not just big organizations and companies, small organizations and businesses also need staff who are good public speakers. If the high school is not persuasive enough to tell the school board that new gym equipment is needed, the athletes might have to make do with the old equipment. If salespeople cannot explain their products with a convincing sales pitch, fewer people will buy the products. This is true for nurses, doctors, firemen, police personnel and other professions.
Whatever you do, your capacity and capabilities can be improved through effective public speaking skills.
I attended a funeral some time ago for a woman who had lived a good, long life. There were two eulogies given, one by a long-time friend and the other from a family member. It was interesting to hear the similar themes that came out as they spoke of someone who had played an important part in their lives.
I’ve only ever given one eulogy. Deaths of family and friends have been few and far between. If called upon to give a eulogy, here is a simple template I would use.
- Introduce yourself and your connection to the deceased. “For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Ian and Mavis was my aunt.”
- Briefly summarize the life of the deceased:
- When they were born
- Where they were born
- Growing up
- Marriage, family, etc
- Briefly summarize the accomplishments of the deceased:
- Share happy memories. Mix in tasteful humorous memories, but be careful. Only talk about the good times if the final years have been sad. For example, cite a characteristic expression or an activity that everyone will recognize.
- Talk about something(s) you learned from this person:
- Their motivation or passion
- How they changed someone’s life
- Tell why you’ll always remember the person.
- End with a final goodbye.
Keep it flowing. A eulogy should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It should have one theme. It shouldn’t jump around from topic to topic, but rather stay tightly focused. In other words, while the occasion is sad, a eulogy is still a speech. Treat it like one.
Another essential skill for successful speakers is using the correct form of the language. Being limited to English, I can’t say what equivalent errors might exist in other languages. However, nothing can destroy your credibility as a speaker than the misuse of the language. Toastmasters International highlights the importance of correct language by appointing a Grammarian to listen to everyone’s word usage and report on language used during the course of a meeting.
Rather than try and provide detailed information for all types of language land mines, here are links to resources, which can help you improved your language skills:
- Improve your diction. How you pronounce words will affect the way an audience perceives your credibility as a speaker. Here is a list of the 100 Most Often Mispronounced Words and Phrases in English.
- Improve your grammar. Many people feel grammar is a secondary issue of little importance. The rise of text messaging has destroyed written grammar and syntax. Grammar is important for conveying information in a way that can be understood and not misunderstood. The Online English Grammar gives you access to English language learning and resource services.
- Improve your usage. There are many words in the English language that are so much alike speakers often mistake one for another. Perhaps the most exhaustive resource on usage is Paul Brians’ site, Common Errors in English.
- Avoid technical language. Unless of course, you’re speaking to a technical audience. Just because you understand the jargon and terms you’re using, doesn’t mean your audience will. Adjust your speech appropriately.
- Words to look out for:
- Fad words – bottom line, time frame, viable…
- Extra words – naturally, actually, frankly, so to speak…
- Slang – fresh, dis, Fo’ shizzle, Homey… hip hop examples, but they exist in all social groups.
- Words ending in wise – healthwise, moneywise, timewise…
- Degrading words – slang terms for different nationalities.
Say just what you want to say in words that everyone will understand the same way. Murphy’s Law of Communication, “If people can misunderstand you, they will misunderstand you.”
A number of years ago I was involved in the termination of an employee. He was about eight inches taller than me and had 70 or 80 pounds on me. His supervisor delivered the bad news, we reviewed the termination process and documents and then stood to leave.
Suddenly, he was standing toe to toe looking down on me. His fists were clenched at his side as he yelled. I responded as calmly and quietly as a could. This went on for a few minutes, which felt like an eternity. At any moment, I expected one of those fists lashing at my head. Eventually, he turned, left the room and I collapsed into the nearest chair, my nerves shot.
As you can imagine, losing a job provokes a wide range of reactions from people. Some respond with shock and walk away quietly in a daze, others break down in tears and others still get violent and abusive.
I have learned a few lessons about communicating with people who are angry, hostile or violent.
- Focus your attention on the other person to let them know you are interested in what they have to say.
- Do not glare or stare, which may be perceived as a challenge.
- Remain calm and try to calm the other person. Don’t let the other person’s anger become your anger.
- Remain conscious of how you deliver your words.
- Speak slowly, quietly and confidently.
- Speak simply. Do not rely on official language or complex terminology.
- Avoid communicating a lot of technical or complicated information when emotions are high.
- Listen carefully. Do not interrupt or offer unsolicited advice or criticism.
- Encourage the person to talk. Do not tell the person to relax or calm down.
- Remain open-minded and objective.
- Use silence as a calming tool.
- Acknowledge the person’s feelings. Indicate that you can see he or she is upset.
- Keep your body language calm. Have a relaxed posture with unclenched hands and an attentive expression.
- Position yourself so your exit from the situation is not blocked.
- Position yourself at a right angle to the other person, not directly in front.
- Allow adequate personal space —two to four feet.
- Get on the same physical level as the other person: sit down if they are sitting, rather than standing over them.
Communicating effectively means more than knowing what to say and when to say it. Communication involves the subtle signals your body language sends to those listening. Over half of the information you provide as you connect with others comes from your body language. Some body language provides positive information and some negative information. Positive bodylanguage says, “I am interested in what you are saying.” Negative body language says, “I don’t believe anything you are saying – and I am bored besides!”
Here are some common body actions and the impressions they create:
- Fiddling – Playing with your watch or a pen looks like you’re bored or impatient.
- Clock watching – It looks like you’re anxious to move on to something else.
- Tapping – Tapping your foot or fingers suggests you are impatient or nervous. Drumming your fingers, scratching, twitching, and darting eyes around room all discredit what you are saying and your image as a person good to know.
- Staring – An unblinking stare conveys boredom. Blink normally and nod your head to show agreement, and that you are still alive and not bored to death.
- Body hunched – Closing up your body profile —becoming smaller— looks like you lack confidence. Stand tall and believe what you are saying.
- Arms crossed – If you keep your arms folded during communication, you appear to be defending yourself against the others. Keep your posture open, except your legs. Crossed at the knee or ankle is O.K. (Depends a lot on the culture. For example, in Thailand don’t cross your legs and point your toes at anyone!)
- Hiding your hands – Evasive people with secrets don’t show their hands.
- Touching your face – When you have your hand in front of your mouth, you appear timid. Rubbing nose, eyes, ears, head, or neck shows doubt in what you are saying or hearing.
- No eye contact – If you won’t look the other speaker in the eye, you seem to have low interest or a lack of confidence. (Don’t forget staring, above.)
How you say things in communication is just as important as what you say. Watch your body language and control the unconscious message you might be sending.