According to The Book of Lists, the fear of public speaking ranks number one in the minds of the majority of people. Far above the fear of death and disease comes the fear of standing in front of a crowd. I was a member of Toastmasters for a number of years. I enjoyed the applause and after effects of successful speeches, but I hated the nerves and stress that went with the delivery.
It goes without saying, great content can be ruined by poor delivery. (Okay, I said it.) It is equally true that no amount of great technique will rescue bad content. You need to develop both skill-sets to deliver strong presentations.
Here are some simple tips that can improve your delivery:
- Develop a deeper voice – Listen to a news anchor and practice speaking in the same way. A deeper voice carries more authority. Find some exercises to lower the pitch of your voice. A quick solution: take three of four deep breathes before standing to speak. It will relax your vocal cords and your voice will be deeper.
- Slow down – We tend to speak quickly when we are nervous. If you speak too quickly, people will see you as nervous and perhaps even unsure of the topic. Find a comfortable pace and practice. Be careful that you’re not too slow.
- Give your voice some life – Ben Stein gave us the definitive monotone presentation style in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. You want to avoid that example. Speak louder and softer; speak higher and lower; speed up and slow down. None of these need to be carried to extremes, but variety helps you hold the listener’s attention.
- Speak clearly, don’t mumble. When speaking in public, you need to exaggerate the way you enunciate words. What sounds clear to your ears, is muddy 30 feet into the room.
- Use appropriate volume – Match your volume to the setting. You will need less volume when speaking to a small group in a boardroom and more volume when speaking to a large group in an auditorium.
- Pronounce your words correctly – If you aren’t sure how to say a word, don’t use it. Be especially careful with proper nouns. You’ll turn off the audience quickly if you mispronounce the name of their town in your introduction.
- Use the correct words – There’s nothing that destroys your credibility as a speaker like a misused vocabulary. If you’re unsure of the meaning of a word, look it up. If you can’t look it up, leave it out.
- Look at people – I’ve seen speakers stare at their notes, at the back wall, at the floor, anywhere but at those sitting in the room. Make eye contact with your listeners. Don’t stare at one person, but let your eyes work the room. Make eye contact for one point, then move on to another person for the next point. You’ll look like you’re trying to connect with the audience.
- Gesture – with your arms, your face and perhaps your whole body. Unlock your iron grip on the lectern and move your hands and arms to emphasize what you’re saying. Let your face get into the speech: smile, frown, open your eyes wide. You’ll do a better job of communicating your passion for the topic.
- Step away from the lectern – or, if you’re well prepared and don’t need notes, get rid of it altogether. The lectern can be a large barrier between you and your audience. If you need it for your notes, step from side to side periodically. (Not so much that the listeners get sea sick.) The best presentation you can give is the one you know so well, you don’t need any props to hold you up. It’s just you and the audience.
In one sense these are all instant fixes. You could start using these techniques in a speech you have to give ten minutes from now. However, they’re not quick fixes. Any presenter gets better through practice. Make these tips part of your preparation process and people are going to want to listen to you speak.
It is axiomatic that you can’t listen while you are talking. Unfortunately, most of us spend more time talking that we do listening. Why do we talk so much?
- To communicate with purpose
- Because everyone else is talking
- We have an urge to talk
- We want attention
- Sometimes, we just don’t know.
Are one of those who needs to dominate a conversation? Do you jump in and interrupt or block other’s attempts to talk? If these are habits you need to break, you have to W.A.I.T.
Ask yourself, “Why Am I Talking?”
If there’s no good answer. Stop!
To be a better listener, eliminate these bad habits:
- Interrupting the speaker.
- Not looking at the speaker.
- Rushing the speaker and making him feel that he’s wasting the listener’s time.
- Showing interest in something other than the conversation.
- Getting ahead of the speaker and finishing her thoughts.
- Not responding to the speaker’s requests.
- Saying, “Yes, but . . .,” as if the listener has made up his mind.
- Topping the speaker’s story with “That reminds me. . .” or “That’s nothing, let me tell you about. . .”
- Forgetting what was talked about previously.
- Asking too many questions about details.
Be Attentive: Eliminate distractions and focus on the speaker. This includes distractions of ego, your agenda and judgements.
Listen beyond the words. Tone of voice, pace and pitch, body language are all clues to the speaker’s state. Pay attention to the none verbal cues.
Put your ego aside. Let go of your need to control a conversation. Ask discovery questions to fully understand the speaker; let them take you where they wants to go. Be engaged, but not in control. Let the speaker finish then wait before responding.
Be open to new ideas. During the course of a conversation where new ideas are being discussed, it is easy to listen to argue. Don’t be threatened. Listen to learn.
- Thank You for Listening (sowhatwouldyousay.wordpress.com)
- Hello… Can I Listen To You? (alecsmithit.com)
- Active Listening (a-moment-to-live-for.com)
It’s easy to compound our innate fear of public speaking by delivering a really bad presentation. There’s nothing worse than fighting the nervous butterflies in your stomach and seeing the glazed-eyes look of your audience as you slowly bore them to tears.
Neil Patel has posted 10 Tips for a Killer Presentation. My three favourites:
- Don’t abuse your visuals – Usually your visuals are posters, charts, or even a PowerPoint presentation. Whatever your visuals may be, keep them simple and don’t put too many words on them. The audience isn’t there to read your slides, they are there to listen to you present.
- Make them laugh – Although you want to educate your audience, you need to make them laugh as well. I learned this from Guy Kawasaki and if you ever hear any of his speeches you’ll understand why. In essence, it keeps the audience alert and they’ll learn more from you than someone who just educates.
- Talk to your audience, not at them – People hate it when they get talked at, so don’t do it. You need to interact with your audience and create a conversation. An easy way to do this is to ask them questions as well as letting them ask you questions.
I have one more tip that I’ve had to learn the hard way: Tell stories – People don’t want to sit through a dry recitation of facts, statistics, policy, etc. They want to hear how what you have to say plays out in real life. Learn to tell stories.
Toastmasters International has put together a list of ten tips that will help improve your public speaking skills.
- Know your material. Pick a topic you are interested in. Know more about it than you include in your speech.
- Use personal stories and conversational language – that way you won’t easily forget what to say.
- Practice. Practice. Practice! Rehearse out loud with all equipment you plan on using. Revise as necessary.
- Know the room. Arrive early, walk around the speaking area and practice using the microphone and any visual aids.
- Know the audience. Greet some of the audience members as they arrive. It’s easier to speak to a group of friends than to strangers.
- Relax. Ease tension by doing exercises. Transform nervous energy into enthusiasm.
- Visualize yourself giving your speech. Imagine yourself speaking, your voice loud, clear and confident. Visualize the audience clapping – it will boost your confidence.
- Realize that people want you to succeed. Audiences want you to be interesting, stimulating, informative and entertaining. They don’t want you to fail.
- Don’t apologize for any nervousness or problem – the audience probably never noticed it.
- Concentrate on the message – not the medium. Focus your attention away from your own anxieties and concentrate on your message and your audience.