I spend a lot of my time looking for insight into how the world feels about public speaking, how we do it, what we say and why (oh why?) do so many people fear it?
The Web is awash with lots of anecdotal evidence, but very few statistics on the subject.
It’s time to change that and I’m looking to do it with the very first ‘public speaking census’ – a short survey (10 questions) on how we feel about public speaking.
If you could take two minutes to complete the survey at the link below, I promise to share the results for us all to use and learn from!
I hope this will be the first of many annual ‘state of public speaking surveys’ to come, giving us more and more public speaking insight as we go!
This is it, the moment you’ve spent weeks writing, rehearsing and refining your speech for.
The audience falls silent, every pair of eyes in the room turn expectantly to you.
Opening a speech isn’t rocket science, but it is similar to a rocket launch in that if don’t get it right, the rest of your speech won’t get off of the ground.
So what should the perfect opening of a speech include?
- 3 seconds to speech launch:
Take a deep breath and look around the whole of the room
Why do this?
Apart from keeping us alive (a vital part of speech giving), getting more oxygen into our body produces a physiological response. It encourages the brain to produce neurohormones, which negate the stress-causing hormones that we’re all inclined to produce when under pressure.
Looking around the room makes your audience instantly aware that you are talking to all of them. It also helps to promote an image of confidence. If you also happen to make eye contact with a few friendly faces and get some smiles too, you’ll instantly feel a lot better about the speech that you are about to give.
- 1 seconds to speech launch:
Take another look around the room and smile
Why do this?
Firstly, no one wants to see a grumpy speaker. Secondly, and much more importantly, smiling whilst you are talking gives your voice a much greater level of intonation. This increased intonation gives your voice a much friendlier and natural feel, giving you a more positive presenting style.
-0.1 seconds to speech launch:
Open your arms to the audience
Why do this?
If you’re nervous at this point your hands will either be:
Held tightly together in front of you
Clutching frantically at a desk or lectern
Hidden completely behind your back
None of the above are examples of positive body language and none of them present an engaging manner to your audience. To avoid instantly appearing as the grumpy, nervous speaker simply open your hands and your arms (as widely as you feel comfortable, you don’t have to become an albatross on stage) as you begin to deliver your open line.
Voila! Positive body language and a confident gesture before you’ve even opened your mouth!
0 seconds to speech launch:
Deliver that killer first line
Why do this?
“Your first line should pique the curiosity of your audience, engage them and make them want to hear more. It should be said loudly, proudly and for everyone in the room to hear. This is the line on which the audience’s initial judgement about you as a speaker will be made.”
If you are a nervous speaker, the paragraph above has probably not helped you too much. We know the first line of any speech is the most important, but when you’re nervous it’s also the most difficult. How do we overcome this?
Rehearsal is the key. For every one time that you rehearse your full speech, you should look to rehearse your opening line (including associated gestures, smiles and intonation) at least ten times.
The result will be an opening line that you can deliver on autopilot. The delivery of your opening line will not be able to be affected by nerves, because you’ll have delivered it before your brain even has time to compute!
And once you’re through that opening line and into your speech, we’re off! It’s not going to get any more difficult or nerve wracking from here on in!
5 seconds after speech launch:
Pause and let that killer line sink in.
Why do this?
A well timed pause adds emphasis to the point you have just made. You put your opening line at the very top of your speech for a reason-to give your audience time to consider exactly why that might be…
10 seconds after speech launch:
Tell ‘em exactly what it is that you’re going to tell ‘em
Why do this?
Your audience will want to understand how you plan to deliver your speech. Don’t forget that the majority of speeches or presentations are delivered to inform or persuade. An unstructured argument is unlikely to be persuasive and a muddled set of information will leave your audience more confused than when you started talking!
Your signposting doesn’t have to tell your audience exactly what to expect blow-for-blow, but it does need to set an expectation of what is to come. A signpost within a speech can be as simple as:
“Today I am going to talk to you about why dinosaurs should be bred in only in captivity using three examples from recent history.”
Well by now your speech has well and truly launched. You’ve engaged your audience, explained what you’re going to talk about and overcome the most nerve-wracking part of any speech, the start.
From here on in it’s a case of keeping that smile beaming, your hands open and your voice strong as you inspire, persuade, inform and entertain your audience with the rest of your speech. The hardest part -those first words-are now done!
I usually get asked two questions when it comes to public speaking books.
What would you recommend reading to help my public speaking?
What are you reading about public speaking right now?
I’ve covered what I would recommend reading in previous blog posts. So this post answers the second question – what am I reading in 2013 (and why)?
Each year usually starts with a collection of public speaking books that I want to read over the coming 12 months. They get assigned to various holidays or weekends away and taken in by poolsides or in cafes across the land!
Here are this year’s three selections (so far).
The Story of English – Joseph Piercy
English is the most spoken language in the world and the weapon of choice for public speakers across the globe. If we as public speakers are to achieve great things then we need to understand the tools that we have at our disposal. Reading this book is part of me gaining even more of that understanding. I’m keen to learn the origins of slang, colloquialisms and the words that help us to get our messages across each day. Watch this space for a full review once I’m finished!
The Art of Rhetoric – Aristotle
Regarded as the important work on the art of persuasion (a key objective for many public speakers), much of what Aristotle wrote in Ancient Greece still holds learnings for us as public speakers today. I’ll read it, discover exactly what they are and report back, so that you don’t have to. Note: I’ll be reading the English version, not the original texts!
Toastmaster Magazine – Various
The official magazine of Toastmasters International, a worldwide public speaking organisation open to anyone to join and develop their public speaking skills. The magazine is published monthly and contains articles on public speaking for all abilities that are easy to read and apply. It’s something that I look forward to arriving on my doormat every four weeks.
What are you reading this year?Any recommendations? Let me know in the comments box below.
I was incredibly proud to be asked to speak at Business Works 2013 on the Morale Margin and boosting the motivation of our teams in a recession.
Business Works is a business exhibition for the Solent region and it was great to see so many ambitious organisations in one location – all with a positive ‘can do’ attitude when it comes to beating the recession.
Slides from today
For everyone that attended my talk, the slides can be downloaded here.
I opted for image-led slides to ensure that my audience focused on my words. This helped me to increase and decrease the pace of the talk as appropriate – adding emphasis to the key points and call to actions. Despite a few sound issues, it worked well!
Feedback from Business Works 2013
I met lots of engaging, interesting businesspeople today and enjoyed talking to everyone! If we didn’t get a chance to chat, it would still be great to meet you – please do introduce yourself in the comments area at the bottom of this post!
There have already been some incredibly positive comments about my talk on Twitter (see below). Thanks for your feedback guys, and for attending – I hope to see you again soon!
@breezepeople: “@rich_watts Great talk earlier today! Insightful, refreshing & interesting #bizworks”
@wordofmouthpr: “enjoyed #bizworks, especially motivational speaker @rich_watts. Great event to boost local business!”
Get in contact
If you ever need any help with a presentation or speech – you can contact me through this website by clicking here.
Here’s something a little different – the most famous speech that was never delivered. Below is the script for an alternative speech to the one given by Nixon during the first Moon landing in 1969. This would have been the speech we all would have heard had the Moon landing gone awry.
The speech itself, is inspirational, chilling and has a focus on the journey of man. It looks to bind its audience together by uniting them as the human race; a race that has today experienced a loss, but a loss for the greater good.
Overall, it’s quite a thought provoking piece – how many other speeches have been prepared throughout history and have gone unheard – a shame!
The following speech was prepared by Nixon’s speechwriter, William Safire, to be used in the event of a disaster that would maroon Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon:
Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.
These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.
These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.
They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.
In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.
In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.
Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.
For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.
The new year has brought a new offering from Rich Public Speaking – a unique one hour training session designed specifically to help students improve their public speaking and presentation skills.
A good presentation and delivering your message well can really boost your grades by making it easier for your audience (and examiner) to understand your key points and award you marks!
With this in mind, for just £50 I will spend an hour with any Southampton student, rehearsing their presentation and giving advice and coaching on how to get their message across clearly and deal with any nerves that they may have.
An initial telephone conversation about your speaking experience, identifying areas for improvement
One hour with me (Rich Watts!) at a venue in Southampton coaching you on your presentation skills
A written report with recommendations and tips on how to improve your next presentation or speech. This will include advice completely specific to you and your strengths and areas for improvement
How to register for a session
It’s easy – just fill in the form below with your details and Rich will personally be in touch to arrange a time and date to suit you.
Who is eligible for this £50 offer?
This offer is available for current students of Southampton Solent University and Solent University (student card required). Students from other universities are welcome to take up this offer, however cost may vary depending on travel time involved.
Payment can be made in cash, by bank transfer or cheque. Payment is required by or during our first face-to-face meeting.
I was asked the other day about my top tips to avoid nerves when public speaking. A lot of the people that I work with on their public speaking are beyond the simple recommendations of ‘take deep breaths’ and ‘imagine everyone naked’ and so more often than not my recommendations for dealing with nerves are more about ‘visualisation’.
HEALTH WARNING: The suggestions below might sound a lot like Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), but I actually have no training in that area. Instead, my recommendations are built on common sense, logic and experience. Can’t beat that, can you?
Generally, when it comes to public speaking, we are all great at visualising the worst possible outcome. It’s very rare that you’ll meet a nervous speaker who tells you they are imagining it all going well!
If negative visualisations can make us nervous, then surely positive visualisations can make us more confident. Next time you’re feeling nervous, lie back, close your eyes, breathe (yes, I know!) and visualise the scenes below. You’ll be amazed at the difference it can make to your mindset, attitude and the results that you get from your public speaking!
1. Visualise a confident speaker. Visualise exactly what they look like, how they sound and how they move. What makes them appear so confident? How do the audience react to them? Are they silent with anticipation, are they applauding, are they smiling?
2. Visualise yourself speaking confidently. Visualise exactly how you will stand, how you will move and how you will deliver every line. Visualise and imagine your voice ringing out loud and confidently. Visualise that audience smiling at you, and the sound of their applause.
Recycling is cool, unless you’re recycling speeches.
I recently had the misfortune to sit through a speech that had clearly been recycled.
The delivery was second to none, the timing perfect and the presenter suitably charming.
But the impact was zero.
Why? Because I, and everyone else in the audience, quickly realised that we had just witnessed a recycled speech – a speech that the presenter had written previously for another event, and quickly reworked to fit this occasion.
The title had been changed to fit the criteria of the conference we were attending. The names and roles in the anecdotes had been changed to match those that the audience could relate to and the final giveaway was that at one point the presenter actually got it wrong and referred to a role and person that was not even in our industry…
Oh, and there was the empty feeling that everyone in the audience felt when the speaker concluded.
A recycled speech won’t engage an audience and we were living proof. The speech felt forced, tenuous and irrelevant and as such, we were left wondering where the last 20 minutes of our lives had gone. I can’t help thinking how disappointed the speaker might have been if he had known how his audience had been left feeling. Would he have done things differently and not recycled his speech?
I hope so.
Why do we recycle speeches? Generally it’s down to time pressures, and as such you will often find that those who speak in public on a regular basis recycle their speeches. In the past few years I have seen several speakers do this, and every time heard an audience member comment on how the message was good, but felt…well…hmm…not quite right.
The lesson? Always produce original content for your audience. You want them to give you the respect of listening to what you have the say, and so it would be hypocritical to not give them the respect of producing original, relevant content.
Yes, there will be lines that you recycle. There will be anecdotes that you reuse. There will be jokes that you rehash. But if it’s the whole speech that you recycle, then don’t expect respect (or engagement) from your audience.
(I also henceforth solemnly pledge never to recycle a speech – will you join me?)
I have the ‘brief’. To write an inspiring and motivational speech for a modern business audience. Seven and a half minutes. Visual aids and props optional. The competition, the UK Business Speaker of the Year contest. The top prize, two thousand pounds.
I had a read of the rules, researched the competition. Viewed what the winner from last year did. Then I went to bed.
A Sunday afternoon and the girlfriend wants to get outside in the sunshine. I grab a pen and two different size notepads (a small one for quick thoughts, a larger one for if the big idea comes and mind maps are needed).
Led on the local common I jot down the obvious issues faced by the businesspeople of today. The word ‘recession’ keeps coming up. Everyone will be doing the recession. I need a different angle.
I start mind mapping key elements of being a business in a recession.
Everything from buying less staples to a collapsing Eurozone. Not very inspiring.
I think back to my Toastmasters experience. Every book I have read on inspiring others. The message needs to be personal. The workforce is ‘personal’ (personnel, in fact). It’s all very well being a leader in a recession. But we’re not all leaders. Some of us have to do the legwork. How does it feel for the man on the factory floor?
I hit upon morale and motivation. But that’s not sexy. I employ a method I have recently read about for writing jokes; mindmap two very alternative themes and then look for common links. I go for ‘recession’ versus ‘morale’ and the word margin comes up.
The ‘morale margin’ sounds good. But it needs some meat. Such a fluffy idea won’t win a business competition. It needs supporting evidence. It’s likely that the competition will have numerous examples, inspirational quotes, anecdotes and supporting evidence. Most of them will be professional speakers who collect such information for a living. I work 9-5 (8-6) and have read fewer business texts in the past year than I would like.
It starts to rain. We are in the UK after all. In total 20 minutes has passed. It appears that the British summer has just been and gone, and now so have we, as we head back to the car.
Work. The morale margin is in the back of my mind. I try and compare it to profit margins and cost margins whilst driving to the office. I almost run down a family of three. Best save the pondering for home time.
Write a short ‘manifesto’ for the morale margin on the back of a bank statement whilst dinner is cooking, aided by a can of beer. It stacks up. It even has a business case behind it. I fall asleep with a smile on my face and slightly less tense that knowing that I am making progress.
I haven’t found time to even think about the morale margin in days. The tension, and the fear, of not having enough time to write and learn a speech of good quality returns. Coincidentally my motivation returns in equally strong measure. I make a promise to myself that tomorrow I’ll ‘write’ the speech.
Life got in the way. I sit down for a power hour and write the speech. Well I write my first draft. It’s simply:
• ‘where we are currently’
• ‘why it’s ok’
• ‘how in fact we could be better off looking at the moral margin’
and then finally
• ‘ why the morale margin is what we all need to be focusing on’
It has no conclusion. It doesn’t even have a decent, engaging introduction. But it’s got meat, legs and it stands-up. It’s also devoid of too many clichés. There’s a good number of points made using the rule of three.
There’s even some natural humour in there, although this may just seem funny to my tired mind. I’ll double-check tomorrow.
No, really, it is funny. Enough to raise a polite titter at the very least, which is good. It needs an introduction, which I write in under ten minutes. I’ve had this idea about settling my own nerves on the night by asking the audience questions in my introduction and getting them to raise their hands in answer. It will engage them and give me time to breathe and take them all in. If they raise their hands they’re engaged – it’s a confidence boost. I stick to the rule of three again and ask them three questions. This will take a lot of time up…
Sh*t, I’ve forgotten that I only have seven and a half minutes. I run through the speech manuscript in my head and time myself. Eight minutes with no conclusion.
Better to have too much than too little I guess. I resolve to write the conclusion and worry about editing it down tomorrow.
The conclusion is ok, but I worry that I’ll need a high energy performance to make it memorable. I finish with the words ‘ the morale margin’ but will it mean much if it’s just my voice?
Life once again gets in the way of writing, as one needs to eat, exercise and earn a living. It’s a few days until I return to writing and editing the speech. Cutting bits out is easy. There’s a lot of fluff in there. I time myself again and I’m down to six minutes. I need to add something back in, yet everything that I have cut out adds no value to the speech.
After a cup of coffee and some procrastinating I resolve to put in a story about a nameless person, something that the audience can relate to, something that emphasises the point of the morale margin and something that is believable. A story can inspire and enforce a point. The story I concoct (!) seems to do just this. And it fits perfectly with my seven and a half minute requirements. At last things are going my way with the writing. Result.
I’ve spent the last three evenings practicing my speech out loud. I start with the script (in its fullest form) in front of me and gradually work until I can remember the structure and key points that I need to hit within my seven and a half minutes. By evening number three I can muddle through the speech in a suitable time, even if I don’t always use the exact words or lines that I desire at each stage. It’s a start.
I’ve cut the script down to just four headings, which act as prompts as I talk. Before each full, out loud rehearsal of the speech I revise the key phrases that I need to hit, word for word. When I first begin, I’m getting an average of two out of the ten phrases in correctly. Four nights later, on day 22, I now have them all down perfectly.
Things are going well. I know the speech, I can give the speech, I’ve highlighted lines that need extra volume, emotion or pace and I’m pretty certain that within seven and a half minutes I will give a good account of myself. It won’t be a train wreck.
But there’s something missing. The UK Business Speaker of the Year contest final (the evening event) is likely to have at least six speakers in it. That’s almost an hour of men in suits preaching. If I were in the audience, no matter how interested I was, it’s likely that by speaker number six, I would have switched off. To stand out therefore, I’m going to need a signature trait to my speaking.
For the past six years ‘my signature’ has often been the fact that above and beyond being able to speak in public to a good level, I have a baby face. The surprise element of standing-up and appearing to be a teenager, but then speaking as someone with a few more years on them than it appears has helped to win over (and surprise) a lot of audiences. At the UK Business Speaker of the Year contest, not needing to shave is unlikely to win me any awards. I need something different, something new.
There’s a style of speaking that I have wanted to attempt for some time, but never had the right brief, or amount of rehearsal time to achieve well. As such, I have not yet had the chance to attempt it. The style that I’m speaking of is used particularly well by a comedian that you may have heard of; Dave Gorman.
Dave uses vast amounts of image-led slides in his talks. As he speaks, the slides behind him change rapidly, with each slide demonstrating or supporting a word, sentence or proclamation by the speaker. He uses up to 40 slides in a minute using this method and to make it work well has to memorise every single slide so that the image on the screen behind him is never wrong, and he doesn’t have to keep glancing at the screen to check the slides are displaying correctly.
It’s a wonder to behold when Dave Gorman is in full flow and adds momentum, life and engagement to his speaking. Check out an example below.
It’s also bloody hard to do.
But if I’m going to try and do well at the competition, then this is the kind of thing that will make me stand out.
So I set to work highlighting words and phrases that can be supported by a slide. I then produce the slide deck and rehearse as best I can.
I have 70 slides for a seven minute talk. I also only have a few days left before the competition. I soon realise that however hard I try, using this method isn’t going to work. The margin (!) for error is too high.
An hour later, I have cut the slides down to nearer 20 and can (just about)
muddle through them without losing my way and without looking at the screen.
5 days to go until the contest and things are going well. I know the speech. Well, I say I know the speech, but that’s not true.
I know 95% of the speech. The 5% that I don’t know is a list of ten ways to use the morale margin to beat the recession that I want to rattle off quickly and succinctly to impress the audience. The pace and clarity of the list is it’s real impact and it’s a vital part of the ‘big finish’ that I want my speech conclusion to be.
It’s also the 5% of the speech that I’ve been procrastinating about and saying to myself (both consciously and sometimes sub-consciously) that I will learn later. With five days to go, there isn’t much ‘later’ left and so by the time I go to bed I have the ten items written out and pinned to various items around my living room. I have the list brown down in to three sets of three points, and one final point. I’ve invented a rhyme to help me remember them. I have a copy to take to work tomorrow to pin to my computer screen and my phone contains an audio recording of my reading them aloud.
With the ten items swilling around in my brain (they’re all in there somewhere, I just can’t remember them altogether!), it’s unlikely I’ll get to sleep quickly tonight.
Rehearse all evening. Out of ten attempts I get the list of ten items correct three times.
Rehearse the speech four times tonight. Get the list correct eight out of ten times. Getting there.
Rehearse speech five times. Get list right three times. Two steps forward, one step back?
Rehearse four times. Get list right every time. I then proceed to give myself a talking to; ‘I cannot do any more. Whatever will be, will be. It’s too late now to panic’.
I pour myself a beer, have a bath, watch some football and go to bed.
The day of the UK Business Speaker of the Year contest. I won’t give you the full story, but I think my mood, my mental state and my need for energy for the performance is summed up by a list of all of the things I ate that day. As the culmination of an article in which I have laid my speech-writing process bare so that others can learn from it, this menu recommendation comes with a health-warning; don’t try this at home (or at your next public speaking engagement, for that matter).
- Five chocolate fingers
- Three Mr Kiplings Apple Pies
- A chicken salad sandwich
- A bag of Hula Hoops crsips
- A Snickers chocolate bar
- A banana
- An apple
- A bag of cashew nuts
- Three cups of coffee
- Half a tube of Pringles crisps
- A full pack of Jaffa Cakes
- A pint of beer
I have a fascination with the ways in which people write, learn and rehearse speeches and presentations. The process is a very personal one, and although we all go through many of the same key tasks such as brainstorming, drafting and editing when writing a speech, the speed and way in which we complete the tasks varies from person to person.
In truth, the speech that is the outcome of our labours is the result of the way in which we have conceived it. If we all produce our speeches in our own personal way, then the speeches that we write and deliver are therefore a reflection on us, perhaps even a part of our soul. This is all rather deep for an online blog and what this means for those who give away a piece of their soul by writing speeches for others one can only imagine!
However, my fascination with how speeches are produced by individuals has led me to take two actions. The first is to write a day-by-day diary / autopsy / review of the process that I went through to write my winning speech for the UK Business Speaker of the Year contest. You will be able to find that here when it’s written (this sentence will be a hyperlink – keep checking back folks!).
The second action is to put a lot more effort into getting a blog off of the ground that has been lurking in my consciousness for some time now. In short, the blog will be a collection of 500 word (max) entries by speakers from all over the world detailing the process that they go through to produce and deliver a speech.
If you would like a slightly longer explanation, read on. The plan is for the blog not only to look beautiful (each contributor must provide a hi-res photograph of their speech notes and an image of themselves), but also to be an online resource for visitors from around the world to gain insight into to how others ‘do it’. And by others I do not mean just speakers and trainers, but instead speakers of every ability and age from across the globe. The details of how a teenager with learning difficulties writes their presentation is just as valuable to the world as how a world champion speaker produces his.
This idea perhaps isn’t even just a blog. In time, it may become a printed tome, a coffee table book (with value) or something more. But for now, it needs contributors. So, if you’re a speaker (and we all are really) that wants to share your speech writing process in 750 words or less, then please contact me here and we’ll try and get you involved in the project. Your experience is what is needed.