Category Archives: Public Speaking Tips

Preparing for a presentation or speech – Part 2

child reading

This article is the continuation of my guide to preparing for a presentation or speech. Part 1 covered what you should be doing in the weeks leading up to your public speaking assignment, this part focuses on what you should be doing in the days leading up to your speech or presentation as well as a few things to remember whilst you are speaking.

The night before:

Late night, rushed and anxious rehearsals the day before your presentation will only help to reinforce any anxiety you may have. Set yourself a cut-off point at which you will finish rehearsals the day before your presentation (say 3 or 5pm) and then distract yourself for the evening by doing something that you enjoy and that will take your mind off of your upcoming public speaking.

Top tip: Try to spend time with someone who is aware of your anxieties –they can help to distract you and will calm any irrational fears that might be forming in your mind with some pre-prepared rational statements!

The morning of your presentation:

Have a good breakfast and lots of water to help make you alert and ready to face the day. Caffeine optional!

Top tip: Wear something for your presentation that is appropriate, yet makes you feel confident. Wear something that you think you look great in. If you feel that you look good, you will notice a natural boost in your overall confidence and positive attitude. Look at it as wearing a public speaking suit of armour!

The minutes before your presentation:

Focus on what you are going to say, not how you might feel when saying it. If you can, have a chat with people that will be in the audience and get to know the room that you will be presenting in. Walk around it, touch every chair – get comfortable with your surroundings!

Top tip: If you begin to panic, find a window, look outside and take five deep and long breaths. This will help to slow your heart rate and change your concentration from nerves onto your breathing.

The seconds before your presentation:

Smile, breathe, look around at your audience and launch in to that first killer line that you’ve been rehearsing for weeks now.

Top tip: The chances are that you’ll be using short notes to help you remember and deliver your presentation. Never be afraid to have a slightly fuller set of notes behind you on a table or lectern. These act as a nice safety net should the worst happen and you forget your lines. Remember, your audience would rather see you take a few seconds to consult some notes than you not be able to express your messages to them correctly.

During your presentation:

Focus on smiling, making contact with your audience and talking slowly. Adrenaline often makes us think that we are speaking slower than we actually are.

Top tip: To keep a good pace to your speaking, count ‘one thousand’ after every sentence and ‘one thousand, two thousand, three thousand’ after every key point. This will also help to add emphasis to your key points and give your audience time to absorb them.

After your presentation:

Smile, be happy, milk up that applause and focus on the buzz that you are getting from having been ‘on fire’ and done well in your speaking.

Top tip: Always reward yourself after speaking. It gives you something to look forward to during all of those hours spent writing and rehearsing. Your reward should always be a positive goal to work towards.

Preparing for a presentation or speech – part 1

child reading

child reading

This series of articles aims to be a quick guide to how best to prepare for an important speech or presentation.

Key steps are outlined that you should stick to in your preparation and at each stage I’ll offer a top tip to help you get the most from your speaking.

The first part of this series focuses on the weeks leading up to your speech or presentation.

6 weeks before:

Plan your presentation; ensure that it includes a clear introduction and conclusion, as well as clear sections or ‘points’. This will help both you and your audience to understand exactly what you are expressing in your presentation.

Top tip: Begin and end each section with a clear and memorable line. This will help you to memorise your presentation script and give you a point to return to should you lose your way when presenting.

4 weeks before:

Type out a full script, word for word of what you plan to say in your presentation. Rehearse this script each evening for a week, paying good attention to your key points and phrases.

Top tip: Rehearse standing up to help you get used to speaking on your feet (quite literally) and being in ‘presenting mode’.

3 weeks before:

Take your script and condense it down in to two or three key sentences for each section of your presentation. Rehearse your presentation aloud each evening for a week using these new, revised notes.

Top tip: Don’t worry if for the first few nights you can’t remember every word you want to say, this is why we practice! By the end of the week you should be able to cover all of your key points and use different, but correct, language each time.

2 weeks before:

Now take your notes and condense them again – this time aim to have just a few words for each section of your presentation. Your new notes should ideally fit onto a side of A5 paper.

Top tip: Your notes don’t always have to be direct words associated to each section of your presentation. Odd or bizarre words that remind you about the content of the section are enough – sometimes quirky works better!

1 week before:

By now you should know your presentation script and key phrases within it inside out. Now is the time to begin practicing how you deliver your speech to make it really engaging for your audience and to show them that you are a confident speaker.

Top tip: Look for parts of your speech that can be boosted by using a change in volume, movement, props or a change in the pace at which you are speaking. Adding in these things where appropriate will help to keep your audience ‘switched-on’ and paying you attention.

Please do come back next week to view the second half of this article which will cover key actions and strategies for the night before and morning of your presentation as well as tips to help you out during your speech.

Using movement within your speech or presentation

Eddie Izzard

Using movement within your speech or presentation can really help to enhance the effectiveness of your delivery and keep your audience engaged. Eddie Izzard does this well in the clip above, during one of his standup comedy shows.

Eddie uses movement and the space around him to demonstrate two sides of a story as he tells his ‘Geoff Vader’ story. When he stands on one side, he is the canteen maid, when he stands to the other side of the stage he is Darth Vader, the dark lord.

This technique allows Eddie to help his audience picture the scene and to keep up with which character in his story is talking, without him having to indicate this verbally. (This is a great technique if you’re rubbish at voices and cannot give distinguishable, different voices to each of the characters in your story).

But how can I use this in my speech or presentation?

Ok, so you might not be a standup comedian like Eddie Izzard, but you may still need to demonstrate two sides to a story in your speech or presentation, or perhaps demonstrate the passing of time or the development of a key message.

Imagine you are presenting the case for and against a certain topic. Moving from side to side can be used to visually define to your audience which side of the argument you are currently presenting to them. For example, if you are speaking for and against Fox hunting, you may stand to the right of the stage when presenting an argument for Fox hunting. However, when you come to speak about the arguments against Fox hunting you may move to the left of the stage to clearly define to your audience that you are presenting the opposite side of the argument. This movement will help to enliven your speech and clearly demonstrate your speech structure to your audience.

Alternatively you may be telling a story that has a timeline within it, perhaps you are speaking on a story about where you have come from and where you are today in your life. For such a speech you may wish to begin your speech and start talking about the past on the left hand side of the stage. Then, as your speech develops, move from left to right as time passes within your story. this helps to illustrate the timeline that you are describing to your audience and makes them aware of what point they and you are at in that timeline. Your speech should then conclude as you reach the present day, or the goal within your story, with you on the right hand side of the stage.

These are just two ways in which you can use movement and the space on stage to help enhance your speech or presentation. There are many more depending on your goals and objectives when speaking and of course, the space available to you! I hope to cover some more and any new ones that I discover in future blog posts. Please feel free to leave your own tips and experiences in the comments section below.

Crafting and writing a well-rounded speech

If you can convey your message in a single line, then you shouldn’t be giving a speech.

A good speech should always be a build up of information and messages delivered in a very specific way that combine to convince your audience to take action, change their beliefs or walk away inspired.

Of course, many of history’s greatest speeches are remembered for a single powerful line. However, it is more often than not the speech in full that sets the scene for those lines to be remembered. It’s the use of tactics such as specific language, a certain tone and a well-structured argument that helped to make those speeches, and the messages they sought to pass on, so effective.

How can you ensure that all of your speech contributes to your one, overall message?

Here’s my recommended checklist that you should check all of your speeches against to ensure that everything gives the same message to your audience and that there is no unnecessary fluff!

Structure

Is every element of your speech relevant to the single objective that you are trying to achieve? Do you clearly define to your audience in your introduction what it is that you are going to speak to them about, and does every stage of your speech after this support your topic and add to your argument? Without structure, neither you or your audience know what you are speaking about or why it is important.

Language

If your objective is to paint something in a positive language, then use positive words. Likewise, if you are speaking about something negatively, use negative terms. It’s so simple, but relevant language will reinforce a certain mood or atmosphere to your audience.

Language can also go beyond positive or negative. Think about your audience – will technical or simplified language appeal to them? What sort of language will get your message across most simply? Once you’ve written your speech be sure to reread it and identify language that can be changed to support your objectives. Your natural writing style might not always immediately suit what you are trying to achieve – there is nothing wrong with this, just be open toe editing it!

Pace

Think about the pace at which you will deliver different parts of your speech. As with language, positive and negative messages can be amplified by increasing or decreasing the pace at which you deliver your speech. More meaningful points or items you want your audience to remember can be emphasized by slowing down, taking pauses and reflecting. Once you’ve written your speech, take a marker pen to your script and identify these areas that can be strengthened through a change in pace.

Conclusion

Ok, so it sort of comes under structure, but don’t forget that your conclusion is the final message that you leave your audience with – make sure you leave them with a clear, succinct and memorable message or call to action. If you’ve spent ages writing and rehearsing your speech, the last thing you want is for it to fizzle out and fade away – go out with a bang!

Glory lines

Ok, don’t try to be too much of a hero, but feel free to insert some ‘glory lines’ in there. The sort of lines that you hope will go down in history as greats The lines that will be remembered forever. The lines that will be used by generations to come. Even if it is just another office presentation – go for it!

Don’t overdo it, but glory lines are a great way to break up your speech, give your audience something to be inspired by, or remember and will aid your learning of the speech too, as you’ll have key lines to remember and hit at each stage!

Good luck and remember – if your public speaking message doesn’t need the support of all of the tactics above, it probably doesn’t need a whole speech to promote it!

Words per minute when speechwriting

speechwriting pace numbers

speechwriting pace numbers

I’ve been asked a few times recently about how many words one should write if they want to speak for 5, 10, 15 minutes.

There is no straight answer to this.

Head to tools like Wikipedia and it will tell you figures around the 150 words per minute mark. However, there are actually a lot of different factors that will influence how many words you need to write for each minute that you plan to speak. These include:

– Pauses – what is the structure of your speech and how many pauses will there be?
– Nerves – if you’re more nervous, you’ll speak more quickly (generally!)
– Tone – if the speech has a negative or positive vibe, your pace of speaking will change
– Personality – how do you speak naturally – faster or slower than the average person?
– Memory – will you remember everything you’ve written when actually delivering your speech – or will you even add bits in as you go?

The solution!

The best solution I’ve found is to take your favourite work of fiction from your book case and read it aloud, with appropriate intonation and pauses.

After a minute, stop the clock and count how many words you’ve read. Voila.

It’s not a perfect science, but can give you a very good idea of your natural speaking pace, rhythm and how many words you require per minute.

NB. It’s not always about speaking for the allotted time – if you can convey your message perfectly in two minutes, why waste your audience’s time doing it in five minutes?

Need help with your speechwriting?

If you need help with your speechwriting, Rich Public Speaking provides speechwriting services and public speaking training. For more information, please get in contact and tell us a little more about your needs using the contact form here.

Impromptu speaking tactics (Part 3)

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The displacement method

Ok, so you’ve been asked to give your views on whether a North/South divide should be introduced into our country. You step up in front of your audience, and really can’t think of anything interesting to say beyond the word ‘yes’ (or possibly ‘no’!).

What now?

Now would be a good time to try the displacement method for impromptu speaking. Don’t give your opinion, give the opinion of someone who you feel might have much stronger views on the subject, someone your audience can relate to and most importantly someone you can speak on behalf of.

So, for our North/South divide example, you may wish to begin by saying: ‘I don’t have much of an opinion on this, but I can assure our royal highness, the Queen sure does!’.

From here, you can lengthen your answer to the question by explaining the Queen’s stand point on this and her reasoning behind it. If you begin to lose inspiration you might then switch to the opinion of someone else who has contrasting opinions to the Queen – perhaps Cheryl Cole (I’m sure she’d be against a North/South divide in the UK! – how would she get to all of those X-Factor auditions?!).

Giving your audience the opinion of someone with much stronger feelings on the topic will always provide you with more content and choosing a well-known celebrity will ensure that your audience can relate to your speech content – an important factor whether your speech is planned or impromptu!

Tips on giving a reading at a christening, wedding or funeral

Wedding reading

At some point in our lives most of us will be asked to give a reading at a ceremony such as a christening, wedding or funeral. It’s easy to think that giving a reading is a simple thing to do, after all, it is just ‘reading’ isn’t it?

In fact, it’s not as easy as it looks – if I simply read the text to you, it probably wouldn’t have much impact. How do you make a reading engaging for your audience and more than simply ‘reading’?

Here’s my top 5 tips for giving a reading:

1. Know what you are going to read off-by-heart. If you do, you won’t always have to look at the paper in front of you and can look up, make eye contact and engage with your audience.

2. Look for areas that you can ‘bring to life’. There might be parts of the reading that you can read slowly or with a varied volume for more impact, just as you would if you were reading a storybook to a child.

3. Identify why your reading is important to the ceremony you are reading it at. It might then be useful to introduce the reading before you start. For example, ‘I am reading this poem today because it is Mark and Sharon’s favourite poem and is very relevant on this special day’. Such a description will add to your reading and set the scene for your audience.

4. Don’t be afraid to show emotion. If you are giving a reading at a funeral it is natural to worry about if you can hold it together and not be overcome by emotion. This is perfectly natural and illustrates the importance of the reading to you and your audience. Your reading isn’t meant to without emotion, so don’t worry if you unintentionally show some!

5. Be loud and proud. If your audience can’t hear you, they cannot appreciate the reading. Be sure to project your voice and let them know how great your reading is – your audience would rather you were slightly too loud than completely inaudible!

Good luck!

Want help giving your reading?

If you would like training or coaching in giving a reading, please contact Rich here. Rich is happy to work with you in person or via video link to ensure that you deliver your reading in a meaningful and effective way, whatever the occasion!

The two-sided business card

Public speaking thoughts icon

My pet hate is the two-sided business card.

It says to me that the owner of this card doesn’t know exactly what it is they want to provide you with. They’re not sure about what they do and so why should you be?

A two-sided business card gives me no faith that the owner can deliver either product or service successfully.

A similar theory can be applied to public speaking. If your speech, presentation or workshop does not have one clear goal, then it is unlikely you will achieve your objectives.

Your audience will not know what you’re trying to say, you will not know what you’re trying to say and no one will ever remember what it was that you tried to say.

If you cannot sum up the objective of your speech or presentation in one single line, then you are speaking on the wrong topic or in the wrong way.

Think about how your muddled, unclear objective can be broken down, brought to life, reworked or delivered in a different way to ensure everyone knows exactly what it is you are trying to say.

Keep it simple.

Smile

Public speaking tips tick

Ok, so you’re nervous, trying to remember your notes, attempting to make eye contact with your audience and one hundred other things whilst you’re presenting.

It’s likely that your voice might sound a bit nervous.

But a monotone? A depressed voice? A dull voice?

Unforgivable.

Why?

Because it’s so easy to solve.

Just smile. Smile at your audience, smile while you speak, more than likely see your audience smile back too.

It’s amazing how much more positive the voice that comes out of your smiling face will sound and how much more intonation, expression and impact that voice will subsequently have.

Don’t believe me – test it next time you’re on the phone – how different does your voice sound when you answer the phone with a smile on your face compared to when you do not?

Just a thought.

How powerful are visual aids when speaking?

Public speaking thoughts icon

20 years ago I sat in a crowded assembly hall with 200 other school children and was told all of the stories from the Bible by a vicar who used images of the Mr Men to represent characters within the stories.

To this day I remember that Mr Happy was Jesus, Mr Tall was God, Mr Greedy was Judas and so on.

I was four years old, desperate to go outside and play in the sunshine, fidgety and easily distracted, yet to this day I still remember every one of the stories that were told and the characters that were within them.

That’s how powerful visual aids can be when public speaking.

Involving your audience in a presentation – a great way to make them feel special

Public speaking tips tick

Ok ok ok, so nearly every post I write mentions your audience and how important they are – but it’s true, without them you’d just be talking to yourself (a sign of madness!).

Making your audience feel special, involved and valued in your speech can benefit you and them in many ways;

– Increased feelings of satisfaction and belonging for your audience
– A greater understanding of the message you are attempting to convey
– An increased enjoyment of your speech

(All of the above are beneficial to you as the speaker!).

So how do you make your audience feel special? Here are my top tips on making your audience feel valued by you, the speaker.

1. Quote the audience.

Reference a point made by an audience member earlier during your presentation or in a past encounter. For example, ‘As David said earlier, oil is nowadays much more commonly found beneath seas and oceans’. This will make David feel valued, demonstrate to your audience that you are willing to listen to and take on board good comment and feedback and encourage further comments from your audience in future.

2. Ask rhetorical questions. Get your audience thinking. Their thoughts will quickly become comments and interaction, which will make everyone in the room feel involved in a positive, energetic discussion or workshop – most of us can relate to how great it feels to leave a room feeling that you have been part of something really useful and constructive for everyone involved.

3. Ask non-rhetorical questions. If you’ve been parachuted in as the ‘expert’ speaker, your audience will feel especially loved if you value them enough to ask their opinions, thoughts and views on the topic on which you are speaking. However much you may have been paid or bribed to speak, never forget that everyone secretly loves the sound of their own voice too.

4. Use the audience as an example. Much like quoting your audience, using audience members as example characters within your speech or presentation keeps your audience awake and on their toes (who will be used as the next example?!) and increases their buy-in and propensity to remember the points that you are making. It’s a proven fact that we’re more likely to remember something that has been explained to us using people we know as examples, than generic characters or names.

5. Challenge your audience. Give them a prize. Do you ever remember a quiz, test or challenge that you didn’t enjoy where there was chocolate (or an even greater prize_) up for grabs?!

5 tips for increasing audience participation in training workshops

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This afternoon I ran a training workshop focusing on blogging and blogging strategy. The session was three hours long, and I was keen to break up a talk of this length with some interactive breaks to help promote thinking around the topic and the application of the ideas I was presenting by the audience to their business.

I was fortunate enough to have a quite responsive audience who were keen to throw ideas around and discuss the points raised. It got me thinking though – what if I hadn’t had such a willing audience?

Here’s five quick tips to increase audience participation in training workshops.

1. Give your audience the chance to participate. It sounds so simple, but so many speakers and trainers do not design their talks with supporting activities, materials or breaks. Make the interactive parts a natural piece of the talk to avoid it feeling stilted.

2. If the audience are struggling with a task, or are not vocal, re-ask the question, reframe it, or ask them to apply it to a fictional scenario. Often, not talking about themselves or applying ideas to others encourages an audience to air more radical, forward-thinking views and shake off what they see to be their own limitations.

3. Always have your own answers. If the audience isn’t forthcoming with answers to your questions, give example answers from your own experience to help fuel the discussion or activity.

4. Make an ally. There will always be one character in the room that is more dominant than the rest of the audience, use this character to start discussions, use them as a conduit to get others talking. For example, ask the character of the group, ‘what would (other member of the group) think about this, in your opinion?”. Once the character has given his/her opinion, the person in question will no doubt respond and a conversation begin.

5. Bring a thought provoker. If it’s not going well and it seems nothing will inspire your audience or get them animated, always have some relevant and thought provoking videos/images/concepts to present to them to really switch the whole atmosphere of the session and reframe the thought processes behind their thinking on your topic.

These were my first five thoughts after my workshop today – has anyone else any lessons that they have discovered in increasing audience participation in training workshops?

Speaking with passion

Public speaking thoughts icon

I watched a speaker go through the motions last week…and it showed.

Speaking with passion is good. Speaking without passion is bad.

Your audience can tell if you don’t have passion for your subject or topic. If you aren’t passionate about what you are saying, why should they be?

You can’t (and perhaps shouldn’t) fake passion. At worst, fake a smile – it will make your voice sound more positive.

If you’re not passionate about your topic – choose a new one.

If you can’t change your topic, change the way you deliver the message to a way that inspires you – more humour, less humour, no slides, as a song – you name it – make it yours – own it – get passionate about it!

No one ever complained about too much passion.

Saying too much when public speaking

Public speaking tips tick

At the very heart of communicating to an audience is the objective to get your message across clearly and in the most effective manner.

So next time you’re speech writing or presentation planning – cut the fluff – only tell your audience what they need to know – only give them the message you want to give them. Nothing more, nothing less.

Ultimately you’ll be a more effective communicator and you’ll save hours of your audience’s time that can be spent achieving great things.

How many times have you sat in a presentation or meeting thinking, ‘I’ve already got the point of this, lets end it already, I have things to do’?

Don’t let that presentation or meeting be the one that you are running!

More help for stand up comedy at open mic nights

Public speaking tips tick

Ok, so I went along to my first open mic night on Monday and after ten pretty reasonable musical acts (and a questionable 70 year old man rapping), there was one comedy act.

Unfortunately, the audience felt that the ‘comedy’ area of the act was somewhat lacking. I’m not so sure it wasn’t just a lack of stage presence and impact (which could be easily solved) but hey, at the end of the day, your audience are the group you have to please!

So what other tips for stand up comedy tip I pick up from attending this open mic and witnessing an unfortunate stand-up ‘bomb’?

1. At an open mic night you often won’t be the centre of many people’s attention. There will be a lot of background noise which is easily overcome if you are a musician, but not if you are relying on your voice alone. My advice would be to get on stage early before this background noise gets louder (generally due to alcohol!).

If you do have to go on with a lot of background noise present, open with impact (a great joke or some real vocal variety and presence) to get everyone’s attention.

2. My second piece of advice would focus on keeping your audience attention. With the background noise and various other distractions, you need to keep your audience engaged (as with any public speaking). Do this by interacting with the crowd and asking questions of them – perhaps get them involved in your best gag or catchphrase.

3. My final tip would be about getting your audience onside – something all comedians aspire to. For an open mic night, I’ve found that the only thing that you and your audience likely have in common is your shared experience of the previous acts (good and bad). Why not make reference to a shared observation or piece of humour from a a previous act to quickly get your audience on side?

Has this experience of an open mic night put me off getting up there myself? Nope, it’s terrified me, seeing someone bomb, but if anything it has made me more motivated to get up there and do it myself!