written by Phil Schibeci
There are two important things every speaker should know before they take the podium. First, you don’t want to try to speak like a pro unless you are one, because professional speakers present to audiences regularly and have a natural rhythm to their presentations. If you’re not a frequent speaker, trying to copy what the pros do may look forced or fake because you will not be as practiced as they are. Second, over the years I’ve seen some professional speakers give some really bad presentations. So speaking like a pro isn’t always a good thing.
The following list of advice covers several aspects of great public speaking. Utilising some or all of these will make you a more confident, prepared speaker, no matter the size of the crowd.
Harness the power of your nerves
If you are not nervous before a presentation, then you better check your pulse. In 21 years of presenting to audiences ranging in size from 2 to 200, I’ve only ever not been nervous once. You probably will be feeling some form of anxiety or apprehension which, by the way, is the flip side of excitement.
This is energy, so use it. Don’t suppress it or worry about feeling this way. It’s normal and we all experience it; instead of pretending you are not feeling nervous, get used to it. It won’t hurt you, it’s just the little voice in your head telling you that you are about to do something that requires a lot of energy and focus.
For me, the feeling I get prior to speaking to an audience is similar to when I’m queuing up to get on a fast rollercoaster ride at an amusement park. If I let go and enjoy the adrenaline rush as soon as I start speaking, it’s a wild ride. If I worry about it I get very tense and it’s not much fun. So, instead of trying to get rid of this feeling, just allow yourself to be with whatever you are feeling, and learn to use that energy in your presentation.
Show your passion for the topic
Public speaking is not the time to be cool or reserved. Don’t hold anything back and just say it as it is for you. If you can’t be passionate about your topic, how can you expect the audience to have any interest in it?
Be crystal clear about your message and desired outcome
Know why you are giving this presentation and exactly what you want to leave the audience with. It’s crucial you are aware of your intention and what you want the audience to take away from the presentation.
Know how you will start
Work out the first words that you will say and practice saying them. The beginning of any presentation is the most challenging because this is when you will be the most nervous and the audience will be the most sceptical. It’s important for you and them that you make a solid start. Knowing exactly the first sentence that will come out of your mouth will fill you with confidence. I like to start by asking the audience a closed question by a show of hands. For instance: “How many of you are afraid of public speaking?”
This immediately gets the audience involved and generates some interest.
Know how you will finish
Have you ever experienced that uncomfortable silence when a speaker has finished their presentation but the audience is not sure whether to applaud? The reason for this is the speaker did not include a conclusion as part of their presentation. If you don’t end with a punchy, powerful conclusion, your presentation will be left open-ended. Write down your conclusion and practice it as much as you can prior to the presentation. I sometimes use quotes from famous people that relate to my central message to close my speech.
Remember, the only parts of the presentation you have to write down and practice are the very beginning and the very end.
Use the power of the pause
Mark Twain said, “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”
Pausing is something that most people do not use very well when they are making a speech or presentation. Moments of silence when speaking are very powerful especially, as Mark Twain said, if they are used at the right time.
A great time to use a pause is just before or after you make a bold or important statement. This either prepares the audience for what’s coming, or gives them time to absorb and process what you have just said. Pausing also gives the speaker a chance to think about what they are going to say next or to check their notes.
There are many benefits of effective pausing when speaking to groups of people or even one to one, so this is certainly a skill worth developing and using. It’s the gaps between our words that often have the greatest impact, so don’t forget the power of the pause.
Use strong language
Weak language is any word or phrase that does not add value. Common words like “um,” “like,” and “so” are useless fillers, but phrases that do not include these types of fillers can be just as weak and meaningless.
For instance: “Hi everyone and welcome, I’m John. Today we are going to learn about public speaking. You are all going to learn how to present well and improve your public speaking. So let’s get started!”
This is a very weak beginning because it doesn’t create any anticipation or excitement and doesn’t give the audience any reason to listen or participate. Also, it doesn’t tell the audience anything they didn’t already know. If the first thirty seconds of a presentation offers nothing new or stimulating, what do you think the audience assumes about the rest of the presentation?
Tell great stories
Everyone loves a good story. To speak like a pro you need to become a great story teller. Show your emotions: if you feel it, the audience will feel it. Paint pictures with your words. Use descriptive words to add colour, sound and feelings to your stories, and use big gestures with your arms. Move your body.
If it’s appropriate, use sound effects. Simulate sounds with your voice, for example: “Bang!”, “Vroom!”, “Wolf!” This can add some humour to your stories. Use your face to help tell the story. Be expressive with your face by smiling, frowning and so on. A good way to become a great storyteller is to develop some personal stories and practice telling them to family and friends.
All good speakers don’t try to be anything or anyone but themselves; they are comfortable with who they are and don’t try to hide anything from the audience. So, don’t try to be engaging and funny or use big words to sound more sophisticated or educated than you are. If the audience senses you are being inauthentic, they may start to doubt what you are saying.
Involve the audience: Ask them questions
Learn to turn statements into questions. For example, instead of saying, “It’s important to look confident at the start of a presentation.” You could ask, “Is it important to look confident at the start of a presentation?” Asking a closed question like this forces the audience to think, stay alert and be involved instead of just passively sitting and maybe checking out.
Asking questions can be a great way to involve the audience, but it needs to be executed with confidence and timing. With practice and feedback this technique can be quickly mastered.
Great presentations are all about continually changing the pace: light and shade, fast and slow. If you can mix it up by incorporating all or most of the above into your presentations it won’t matter if you speak like a pro or not, because the audience will be engaged, and there’s a chance you’ll even enjoy the experience.
Phil Schibeci is a renowned corporate speaker and workshop facilitator. He teaches staff in businesses and organisations the skills to create positive, productive workplaces to help them achieve the goals of the business. In his book, How to Get Out of the RUT Race, Phil has put together a practical guide that provides readers with the tools to get out of a rut and achieve major life goals. For more information, visit www.philschibeci.com or contact [email protected]