11 Mar 5 Steps to Becoming a Better Speaker
I purposely did not say ‘public’ speaker as that often awakens an image of standing in front of thousands of people breaking out in a cold sweat while barely able to stop your knees from knocking together, while stammering incoherently!…oh, the shame of it all….even if most of it is in your mind….Fear of public speaking is mighty real but can be overcome…with lots of practice.
I have put together 5 simple, practical steps to implement on your journey of becoming a better speaker:
- Deliver your speech as a Talk
- Preparation is key
- Learn to read, and connect with your audience
- People prefer passionate presentations
- Use your time wisely
This could mean just to be able to stand up and do your best-man speech, stand up in front of your team, or walk on stage and deliver a keynote in front of a large audience with increased confidence while connecting more effectively.
1. Deliver your speech as a talk
Depending on your learning style and where you are most comfortable, it is not a bad idea to write your speech down word for word….personally, I am more comfortable with some key bullet points. However, if you do write it down, practice it in such a way that you deliver it to your audiences in a way that you talk with them, rather than speak at them…or worse, read to them.
Ensure you have a solid structure in your speech with a solid attention grabbing beginning, an engaging body, and a great finish. If it is a presentation, tell your audience what you’re going to say, say it, then tell them what you just said.
We chat with our colleagues, friends, and family all the time and are naturals in the way we connect with them. Why then do we feel we have to adapt a totally alien style of delivery as if Darth Vader just invaded your body, and still think we will deliver and connect with our audience successfully.
Try as best as you can to keep your speech conversational without using words you would never dream of using in front of your friends…those long ones they would not understand…and if you used them, they would grab for the thermometer and take your temperature.
Remember, talk with your audience and involve them where ever possible.
2. Preparation is Key
I know I just said you do not have to write your speech word for word and regurgitate it that way (You see, I did not use ‘verbatim’) but you need to know what you’re going to talk about and how long it’s going to last.
Going way over your time or being at least 15 minutes short are to be avoided at all costs….and that cost is: Practice, then practice some more.
If possible, practice in front of an audience, any audience, such as family, friends, or even your dog!
You need to know your key points and how long you will talk about each point, then ensure you connect all your dots in a smooth way with appropriate tonality and body language.
If you did not know it yet,
- 55% of your speech is received through body language
- 38% through tonality
- 7% through the words you use
….therefore, even though your words do matter, those other two, at 93% are even more important, but we often spend most of our time on our speech.
Video your talk and watch for areas of improvement in all 3 areas, Body language, tonality, and words and also gauge your pace and pauses where necessary and appropriate.
Watch and listen to your speech and ask yourself if you would want to attend your delivery?…and why?
Remember: “You can only fight the way you train” – Myamoto Musashi
3. Learn to read, and connect with your audience.
To walk on stage with your speech properly rehearsed is a great start. To connect with your audience, you need to do a little more than deliver and disappear. Sometimes your speech, however brilliant you and your dog think it is, does not go down as well with your audience, and I am not talking about the few who won’t be pleased with whatever comes out of your mouth…I always say that even a clown does not make everyone laugh, but when you scan the room, see people on their mobile phones, yawning, or stirring in their seats while looking at their watches…if they still wear those J , then you need to intervene and bring them back in the room.
How best to do that? Ask some thought provoking questions or a simple question to re-connect with what you’re about to say next.
How will you know they are back with you? When they nod their heads, start sitting straighter, look at you again instead of their phones, or start to get their notebooks out again to jot down some thoughts (If it’s that kind of talk or presentation) that’s a wonderful indication….but you must be aware and keep eye contact with them as much as possible.
4. People prefer passionate presentations.
We’ve all heard the saying: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” (If not, you have now!) An audience is no exception.
We all want to leave a great impression, talk with our audience in a way they understand, and for them to have some impactful take-aways.
You can make this a lot easier when you talk with passion, when you love what you talk about, when you show your audience that you care about your topic.
Speaking from the heart is wonderful, and highly recommended as that comes over in a genuine way and not as like a robot vomiting some well-chosen words all over your audience.
However, this is often misunderstood in a way that can lead to an absolute disaster; This is not about just walking onto a stage and talking about anything that comes into your head, even though it might be natural.
My friend and mentor, John Maxwell, talks about this when people watch him deliver an amazing talk without any problems what so ever. He says in our training sessions that it might appear that he speaks from the heart, but when you have delivered more than 12,000 talks, you should be good too!
You will still have to have enough knowledge and information about the subject and, referring back to point 2, practice a lot. Care should be taken that, by delivering a well-practiced speech, it does not lose that genuine passion, nor should you over emotionalize your talk with huge outburst to exaggerate a point. Be yourself!
“But what do I do when I have to deliver a talk at work or at our yearly conference on a subject that just doesn’t interest me?”
Always a great question, especially when we talk about passion and emotions.
The best way to answer that is to practice your talk or presentation diligently and keep in mind to use your body language, tonality, and words as effectively and efficiently as possible.
Never try to induce emotions which you do not feel as that will come over as insincere/fake. As I mentioned above, just be yourself.
5. Use your time wisely.
When you step onto that stage, your aim is not to get off it as soon as humanly possible but to connect with your audience, interact with them, give them time to think about the points you are making, and leave some space for them to laugh when you say something humorous.
Build those pauses into your presentation when you practice so you do not get caught out, cut them short, or realize you are now running out of time so you better step up a gear and provide your audience with a tidal wave of information.
Even with all the practice and preparation, there may be moments when you lose your way or make a mistake….heaven forbid, you are actually human???
When that happens, don’t look flustered, don’t try to race past it, hoping your audience will forget, and certainly don’t tell them. Remember, your audience have no idea exactly what you were going to tell them anyway!
Recently, while judging at a toastmaster contest, there was a young gentleman who did indeed forgot his way. Rather than panicking, he stood still, looked thoughtfully around the room, took a deep breath, then carried on as if it was part of his speech. He nearly pulled it off but it happened again and , this time, he apologised for his ‘unplanned pause’ before finding his way again. Unfortunately, that did not give him the recognition his wonderful speech deserved.
Most people, unlike our popular perfectionist beliefs, do not want to see you fail on stage and many feel for you when unexpected things happen. So it is better to relax, and move on as confidently as you can….
There are many things that you can learn and master to become a better speaker or presenter. Many books have been written and many YouTube videos created to load you with more information than you will ever know what to do with.
Many of us speak a similar language and provide valuable information. We don’t all have to make it up and often learn from and with each other. I personally like to keep it simple and I hope this article is helpful in your Quest to improve your speaking skills and develop a solid keynote.