When you meet a traditional aboriginal person, the first thing that they will try to do is find a shared experience or common ground. Who do we know in common? Where have we both been? What have we both experienced? Tenuous links are fine, as long as they answer the big question: ‘how are we linked?’
Culturally, shared experiences are seen as vital to building rapport, not just within aboriginal culture, but cultures across the world too. Thousands of years of cultural development has led to one common outcome in cultures across the world – shared experiences always equal empathy, understanding and lay the groundwork for positive communication.
What does this mean for us when speaking in public, or delivering presentations?
Demonstrating that we have shared experience, that we are just like them, is key to building rapport with our audience and persuading them to believe our argument.
Next time you are struggling to find a way to build rapport or persuade your audience, simply look for a story to tell that shows exactly what it is that you both have in common – thousands of years of human cultural development can’t be wrong!
If what they want to hear is what you want to tell them, then our second question is how do I convey the message to them in the clearest, most efficient way.
If what they want to hear isn’t what you have to tell them, you are speaking to persuade. Our second question is then what story do I need to tell to make them see it my way?
Persuading and inspiring is all about using stories, with a foundation of statistics, to move an audience from opinion A to opinion B.
First impressions count.
Audiences want to be inspired, entertained and stimulated. If our opening (the first impression) doesn’t show promise that we can do this, our audience will quickly switch off.
If they switch off, we have zero chance of getting our message across.
Here’s 6 ways to make your speech opening a real attention-grabber.
At the end of the list is ‘the secret’ – the one thing that links all of the techniques and that you need to know to open a speech or presentation successfully.
A relevant quotation from a well known source instantly sets the tone for your speech, sets your audience thinking and can be used as support for the arguments within your speech. For example, for a speech on living life to the full, you could open with the quote by Steve Jobs: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”
A rhetorical question gets your audience involved and thinking. Combined with a relevant pause it can make an instant impact. Opening with such a bold technique positions you as a confident and authoritative speaker!
The startling statement
Shock is a great way to grab the attention of your audience. For a sure-fire attention-grabber, find a fact that is relevant, startling and unknown.
Ask your audience to ‘imagine’ and describe a fictional scene. The more bizarre the better. As long as it links to your argument, it’s a great opening. This method gets your audience involved, engaged and instantly makes them a part of your (imaginary) world! Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech is the ultimate example of using a vision or story to inspire your audience.
A short, humourous (and relevant) story is a great way to open a speech and generate a positive mood in the room. Religious leaders often use this technique, using a short and relevant story from their lives to demonstrate a positive point.
Like a startling fact, a startling or intriguing visual can grab the attention and curiosity of your audience. In crowded, busy rooms, some softly spoken speakers can struggle to grab attention, so letting an image or video do it for you is a great solution.
What’s the secret to opening a speech successfully?
All of the techniques above only work when they are combined with one simple factor: relevance.
Whichever technique you use, always ensure that what you are saying is relevant to your audience.
If we, the audience, have to sit and listen to you, we want to understand what is in it for us.
Make it clear. Make the story, the questions, the quote, the visual, the anecdote or the statement relevant to our situation.
People are selfish, if your speech opening is focused on us, we’re much more interested in what you have to say!
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Perhaps it’s the murmurings of a fidgety crowd that we have to overcome, or simply just a large venue with no microphone – there are just some days when we need to crank our vocal volume up.
The problem with turning the volume up, is that it becomes harder to keep the intonation in our voice, and as a result harder to build empathy with our audience. When volume increases, we quickly become seen as ‘just’ a preacher.
Subtle changes in pitch and pace are always more difficult to achieve at the limits of our vocal range as we are already straining just to achieve volume.
To overcome this we need to turn up the dial on the rest of our voice too, to ensure we keep our expressiveness.
When we’re speaking at louder volumes, our voice must become a caricature of itself. Every change of pitch must be greater, every pause longer and every change of pace more extreme.
Without this extra effort to make sure our voice matches our volume, we’re simply just shouting!
The voices inside our head often lie to us. They tell us we are fat when we’re thin, ugly when we’re beautiful or wrong when we are right.
Often our inner voice exaggerates reality, sometimes positively, but often negatively.
So why do so many of us choose to practice our speeches using our inner voices – inside our head?
The very best form of speech rehearsal is speaking aloud. Nice an
d loud, to practice your intonation and your volume and most importantly, to hear yourself saying it right!
Don’t practice that speech using the voice in your head, because more
often than not, that voice is wrong (like that time when it said you were overweight!).
It’s Friday, you’re the last speaker on a long day, the room is hot and stuffy and your audience can almost smell the freedom of the weekend.
There’s no tougher scenario in which to give a memorable presentation.
So how do you make your points stick?
Here’s seven great ways to make your point when public speaking.
Taking a nice long pause after you make that killer point is a sure-fire way to let it sink in with your audience. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but a short silence highlights to your audience the importance of the previous point, and gives them time to contemplate and absorb it before you start sending more information their way.
Have you ever noticed how politicians usually make their points three times? Sometimes they repeat things three times just to give them emphasis. It’s not just Obama and Cameron that can use this technique – you can too – using simple repetition (eg. never, never, never press the red button!) to make your point stand out.
Ok, so don’t literally hand jive, but your hands can help you to deliver your point. Imagine you are stating a very important list of three things that your audience must remember. Use your hands to signal ’1′, ’2′ and ’3′ to your audience so that they can clearly see which point we’re on. If their minds are wandering off, the movement of your hands will help bring the focus back to you!
4. Use a startling fact
Nothing grabs our attention like a startling fact. It can put a bland point into blunt context. We all also like a great stat to share with our friends! Want to make a point about the usefulness of good bacteria? Did you know, 10% of human dry weight comes from bacteria!
5. Use an incredible image
In theory, the very best slides are those that help to deliver our message and don’t detract from us as speakers. However, I truly believe that it is ok to be upstaged by your slide if it makes your point and provides a jaw dropping moment of realisation for your audience. Like this image, to make the point that our world has immense powers of destruction. Could you have said it any better?!
6. Question your audience
It’s easy for our audience to switch off when we’re talking. After all, we’re the speaker and they see their role as just the listener. Ask a rhetorical question, not only to remind the audience that they are an active participant in your speech or presentation, but also to get them thinking. For maximum effect combine the question with a pause of a good enough length to let your audience process an answer.
7. Tell a story
Finally, the most effective way to make a point is to tell a story. Stories have been used as a method of passing messages and lessons to audiences since the days when we lived in caves. A well told story allows us to connect with what is important, make sense of our world and grasp realities or ideas that might currently be alien to us – all necessities for making our points stick!
<NOTE – THIS POST JUST FELL OUT OF MY HEAD, IT’S THE SORT OF TOPIC KEEN SPEAKERS MIGHT DEBATE ‘DOWN THE PUB’ – I’D BE INTERESTED TO HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS>
Ernst Gombrich said: “The painter must leave the beholder something to guess.”
There’s a valuable lesson there for us as speakers.
As we become more advanced speakers and influencers, we put a lot of emphasis on telling stories to convey our message; to inspire, persuade, inform and entertain our audience.
Storytelling is a sound public speaking tactic.
The challenge for us as advanced speakers is to not ‘overtell’ the story.
If we prescribe every detail minutely, we leave no room for our audience to imagine the story as their own, and it is only the ownership that comes from imagining a story as your own that will persuade our audience that it has some value for them.
To truly own our story, core thought or message, our audience have to become our accomplice and develop it for themselves. How detailed is the story in your next presentation? Does it leave your audience room to ‘own’ it?
To truly own our story, we must leave the beholder something to guess.
Do you agree? I’d love to hear your thoughts…
Some of us prepare meticulously for every speech and presentation we give. We deliver our speech.
Others just know their key points, and improvise around them. We make the speech as we go.
Just like learning styles, neither style is wrong, and they often stem from our personality type and past experience of speaking in public.
This post is here simply to highlight the difference between the two.
Speech deliverer versus speech maker.
If we don’t understand which we are, we’re probably trying to make certain text-book ways of writing and giving speeches work for us, when our core speaking style isn’t designed for this.
If we know whether we are a speech deliverer or a speech maker, then we know how best to write, how best to rehearse and how best to deliver our presentations.
If you’re looking for 10 honest, different ways to overcome public speaking nerves that I’ve learnt from experience, then check out the list below.
(It includes input from Beyonce and is sponsored by Wrigley’s gum).
1. Know your audience
We’re all comfortable talking to groups of friends, but ask us to talk to a group of strangers and the shakes set in. Before you speak, take time to meet your audience beforehand, have a chat with attendees and seek out their smiling faces when you first stand up on stage.
2. Avoid caffeine
So many of us turn to caffeine or energy drinks before we speak, to give us the ‘edge’ – that extra energy to beat our fears. The bad news is that the majority of these drinks increase your heart rate – quickly fooling the rest of your body into thinking it’s in panic mode. Before you know it, those deadly nerves have then arrived!
3. Look the part
It’s tough to feel confident in front of a crowd if you’re doubting your own appearance. Make sure to wear your best clothes – those killer heels* that you feel a million dollars in, or that expensive suit you have. It’s your public speaking suit of armour – use it!
If you don’t breathe you die. If you don’t breathe enough, your brain starts to slow down.
Oxygen helps brain function and when we’re speaking, we need all the brain function we can get to give our best performance. Don’t be afraid to take big pauses for breathing – it’ll help the nerves, and your performance too.
5. Open with confidence
Know your first line inside out, so that you can deliver on autopilot. It’s the most important line to learn, as if you can deliver it without thinking when you’re nervous, you’ll be into your speech proper before you know it, and succeeding!
When our body goes into panic, it stops all unnecessary functions – including producing saliva. A dry mouth tells us that we’re nervous and then our other functions begin to respond and go into nervous mode too. To avoid the dry mouth (and the ensuing panic) chew gum, which makes you produce lots of saliva!
7. Don’t expect perfection
Winston Churchill didn’t come out of the womb as a great public speaker, and neither did Obama. It takes time and practice to become a good speaker. If you beat yourself up because you weren’t perfect, you’ll feel worse next time. It’s good to have something to improve upon – otherwise life would be pretty dull!
8. Use evidence
Many of us are nervous because we think our audience are going to ‘find us out’, undermine our points, or worst of all, heckle (but seriously, how many business presentations each year get heckled? More people are probably killed by Sparrows).
If you back up every point you make with evidence, (stories, statistics and research) then your audience will question the quality of your resources, not you, which is a much more comfortable discussion!
9. Know your stuff!
There’s no substitute for rehearsal, sorry.
Practice does indeed make perfect, and if you know your speech, you’ll feel much more in control and therefore less nervous.
Don’t be afraid to take notes with you on stage. You’ll feel more confident and your audience would much rather see a good speech with notes than only half of a great speech that was forgotten because you had no notes!
Beyonce has an alter ego (Sasha Fierce) that she ‘becomes’ on stage, someone sexy, someone confident, someone fearless. There’s nothing to say you can’t too!
Imagine what that alter ego is like when on stage, what they do, what they say, how they react.
Then, become that person and practice switching their behaviour on and off – unleash the actor within you!
*This advice is not suitable for men, generally, unless you’re Tom Cruise.
The quickest and easiest test to find out if you’re on track is to run the ‘core thought check’.
Take the core thought of your speech (the single message, idea or concept you want your audience to remember) and chec k it against what you’ve written, answering these three questions.
Is your core thought in there?
Is it clearly visible (or audible!) for your audience?
Does everything in your speech or presentation add to this message? If it doesn’t cull it!
Sometimes the simplest theories are the best!
The wonderful thing about human beings is that we’re all different. Some of us make decisions with our minds, logically weighing up risk and reward, whilst some of us base all of our decisions on our heart and gut feel.
If we’re persuading a large group, we need to present an argument that will pass the decision-making tests of both our logical minds and our gut feel hearts
Millions of books have been written on the science of persuasion, but at its simplest, the easiest ways to win hearts and minds with our speech is to include the following:
Minds love: Figures, true stories, demonstrations and fact
Hearts love: Stories, images, emotion and energy
If our argument includes these elements for both the hearts and the minds of our audience, we’ve captured their soul…!
Read this line aloud, without smiling.
“Today is a day you will never forget…”
Sounds a bit like a threat from a gangster movie, right?
Now try reading it with a smile on your face.
“Today is a day you will never forget…”
Now, it sounds like a celebration, something to be excited about.
Smiling when we speak can dramatically increase or decrease the intonation in our voice.
This is great when we’re delivering a speech or presentation as this simple change can instantly give us a voice that conveys a positive or negative emotion. It changes the whole mood of our talk.
How are you going to use your smile in your next presentation?
If we’re offered a microphone to speak with it’s wise to use it.
Generally if a microphone is present on stage, it has been setup by a trained professional. Someone with years of experience in helping voices like ours to reach the back of the room. However confident we might feel about our mighty voice, we mustn’t let overconfidence push us to decline the microphone. Confidence doesn’t make us good at someone else’s job, sorry.
The history of the world is littered with the remains of speakers that refused to use the microphone. We just don’t know about them, because nobody heard them.
These speakers thought that their voice was strong enough to reach the back of the room, or that the room was small enough to enclose their voice. They were wrong, and whatever they had to say, no one heard.
Who knows what life changing messages have gone unheard, just because someone thought they knew better than a trained sound professional…!
A microphone is a gift to help us convey your message, we must use it.
According to Greg M. Epstein, ‘do unto others’ … is a concept that essentially no religion misses entirely.
Greg is a Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University and his point not only applies to religion, but public speaking too.
Imagine you’re in the audience and there are three speakers on stage. When one stands up to speak, the other two are constantly glancing around or whispering to each other, not listening to what he has to say.
If the other speakers can’t be bothered to listen to the current speaker, why should we? In fact, why should we listen to what they have to say either?
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, show interest, attentiveness and positivity towards the presentations of others is the golden rule, in life and as a speaker.