Category Archives: Public Speaking Tips

Embrace the silence

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What does a silence mean for you when you are public speaking?

For so many of us it means three things:

Fear.

Forgetting.

Failure.

What if you embraced the silence and rather than seeing it as something to avoid, made it part of your arsenal for delivering a great speech?

What if silence after a line of your speech added impact?

What if it gave you time for thought about what to say next?

What if silence was your chance to breathe, be calm, and make your point?

Ironically, silence is not the speaker’s enemy, it’s  the great speaker’s best friend.

Apologising for nerves during a speech

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I’ve read a lot of articles and books that mention referring to any nerves you may have as a good way to make light of your fear during a speech.

I’m not sure I agree entirely. I personally feel that this is acceptable for social speeches, such as toasts, wedding speeches.etc, but is not something you should do during a business or professional speech. Unfortunately our corporate culture does not look kindly on perceived weakness! 

So what do you do if you are nervous in a business talk or speech that you have to give?

Prepare.

To avoid nerves in business speech or presentation, preparation is always the best remedy.

If you know all the data, all the facts and all the answers to questions, you’re the expert in the room and you can’t fail.

If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. Sorry, no shortcuts.

The night before a speech

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Dave has a night out the day before the big presentation. He wakes up bleary eyed, hung over and goes and gives the presentation of his life. Dave’s lucky, a little cocky and gets away without the preparation and nerves that everyone else has about speaking. Lucky Dave.

So what should the rest of us be doing the night before a big speech or presentation?

Chill, relax, have a little you-time.

Hopefully you’ve spent some time preparing your presentation already. You have the facts, the data, the slides if need be, what you are going to present is ready. But are you ready?

The night before a big speech should really be all about making sure the instrument that will be delivering the speech is in top condition – that’s you.

What makes you relax? What makes you feel confident? What makes you feel good about yourself? If you don’t feel like a million dollars about yourself before giving that speech then your nerves will most likely be greater, you’ll feel more tension and you won’t perform at your best.

Get a good book, run a bath, make sure your ‘power suit’ is ironed and ready to go, exfoliate, eat some chocolate, take your partner out for dinner, do what makes you feel good. Get some sleep, wake-up, feel a million dollars and be ready to floor your audience with a stunning presentation.

Don’t do a Dave. He’s just the guy that got lucky and can nail a presentation on a few hours sleep and no preparation. Chances are you’re not, and do you want to risk finding out?

The night before a presentation is all about you, not the people you will be talking to.

You’ve spent days and weeks preparing a talk for them, spend a few hours on you!

Opening a speech

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The opening line in any speech is the most important.

Know it, live it, breathe it every second of every day leading up to your speech.

If you can deliver that opening line perfectly, confidently and powerfully, you will have already gained the confidence and interest of your audience and reduced your nerves before you even start your second line!

Your opening line is your first impression – use it to your advantage.

Eye contact in public speaking

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Eye contact is the simplest and often most effective way to engage an audience. For the nervous speaker it is often a hugely daunting thing to do. Many of us would rather not look at the large, imposing audience in front of us.

However, a speaker who looks around at their audience and draws them in, provides a much more entertaining and effective speech.

So how should we use our beautiful baby blues when public speaking?

Where you shouldn’t be looking during a speech:

  • At the ground
  • At your slides, reading the bullet points to your audience
  • At your colleagues, relatives or anyone not officially in your audience
  • At your feet

Where you should look during a speech to really engage your audience:

  • At various individuals, directly in the eye
  • To the back of the room, just ever so slightly above the back row of your audience, so that you appear to be talking to the whole room
  • At an item, or object if you are drawing your audience’ attention to it. If your audience are engaged, they will follow your eyes to the object.

Thinking about where we are looking whilst speaking is difficult for the nervous speaker, but a great way to introduce this into your speaking is by planning ahead.

The first time that you try to put using eye contact in your speech into practice, identify several points in your speech at which you will look to a certain area or audience member in the room. Make these points relevant to the speech content if you can. Learn the points that you planned along with the text of your speech and implement them as you go.

Don’t worry if you forget a few, but try to use some of the eye contact points you planned as you give your speech.

You will soon find that not only does your speech become more engaging for your audience, but over time and with practice you begin to naturally use eye contact with your audience in your speech too!

Speaking in a double act

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I have recently been offered the chance to speak as part of a ‘double act’. Speaking as one half of a partnership throws up all sorts of interesting points that speakers need to be aware of for a successful two-man speech.

I’ve come up with three points below that speakers who are talking as part of a double act in a business setting should consider. Interestingly, they all centre on giving the greatest value to your audience, which should ALWAYS be your primary objective!

Roles – each half of the duo should know what their responsibilities are and why their speech content is important.

It must also be remembered that the audience needs to understand the role of each speaker too – clearly sign post for your audience which areas of the speech or talk each person will cover right from the start.

Handovers – most of us probably have a memory from our early schooling in which a group or class are asked to perform a story or play and each member of the class reads a line aloud each.

This is fine when you are four years old, but it is unlikely to impress anyone in a business presentation or speech. Make sure that each speaker has clear, relevant sections of the speech to avoid confusing your audience with constant chopping and changing of speakers!

When you do handover, state that you are passing the speaking baton back to your partner and sign post for your audience what they are going to talk about using a quick sentence or two.

It’s not a competition – there is nothing more frustrating than being an audience member watching two speakers who are battling to impress over one another. Your objective is to give value to your audience. If you, or your partner, is likely to be trying to get one over on you, be wittier, more entertaining or put you down, then politely back away from the speaking opportunity. It will only do your credibility (and theirs) more harm than good!

Have you had a positive or negative experience as a speaker as part of a double act or group presentation? I’d love to hear about it and what you learnt from it.

Leave the lectern and improve your speech

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A lot of public speaking is carried out from behind a lectern, or stood behind a desk. More often than not there is some form of furniture between you and the audience.

This is a great comfort for the nervous speaker, but is hiding behind a desk or lectern reducing the impact of your speech or presentation?

I regularly encourage others to ‘leave the lectern’ or ‘step out’ into their audience.

Moving in this way often makes the speaker feel ‘naked’ or exposed in front of their audience, but such fluidity can actually hide nerves and increase audience interaction.

Next time you do a speech from behind a lectern (perhaps at the end of a day full of similar, text book speeches or lectures) why not step out from behind the lectern, engage with your audience and change the way they see and take in what you are saying?

I know I would much rather listen to and am much more likely to remember a speaker that was prepared to break a few rules and really present something in a unique style – wouldn’t you?

Impromptu speaking tactics (Part 2)

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The Past, Present, Future method

This method is great for impromptu speaking where you have been asked a question (usually nothing too serious) and you need to fill-out your answer some what. I’ve found it’s also great for one-to-one conversations, if you find you are the person having to do all of the talking!

So, you could be asked: ‘What did you do for your birthday this year?

You would then proceed to tell the questioner what it was that you did this year (the present).

But where to next with this speech? You may find that you still have several minutes to fill.

Why not talk about your favourite birthday to date, or a birthday from your childhood (the past)?

If this birthday was your favourite, or a child’s birthday party with lots of jelly and ice cream and party games played, then you will find you have a lot to talk about!

Still running short of content? Then, you guessed it, lets talk about a future birthday party  – your ideal birthday.

This technique of past, present and future can be applied to lots of questions. In the workplace it can be used strategically. So many businesses base decision on historical data (past), current situation (present) and the desired situation (future) and so applying this technique to answering problems at work on the spot can be extremely useful too!

The basics of a good speech

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I recently attended a wedding – a great day full of fun, laughter and speeches.

The father of the bride after making his speech proceeded to come to me directly and ask ‘How was that, was it ok?’.

There was so much I could have said. I could have advised on his speech structure, his voice, speed of delivery, stance, content and so much more.

But on such a joyous day, there was only one piece of feedback I needed to give him. I reassured him that he had hit the one point that can make or break a speech. A speech can be lacking in any area, but the one thing that a good speech never lacks is the personality of the speaker.

This isn’t just a personality. This is THE personality of the speaker. Without this in the speech, your audience will realise you don’t believe in what you are saying, you are not comfortable with what you are saying and most importantly, that you are not delivering this speech in a way that is natural to you.

Before advising any one on public speaking I like to learn a little bit about them. Only then can I truly understand if the key foundation of their speech, the speakers’ personality, is present.

So next time you speak, ask yourself; am I comfortable with the way I am delivering this? Am I delivering this in my ‘personal style’?

If you’re not presenting with personality, your audience will never get to know you or the point that you are trying to make.

Impromptu speaking tactics (Part 1)

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It’s all very well have the strength of character to stand up and talk without warning in front of an audience, but if you have nothing to say, your bravery will be wasted.

So how do you fill-out that two, five or ten minutes that you have been asked to speak for?

There are several tactics that you can use, depending on the situation, and in this first post I will outline one of them. Watch this blog for details of the other tactics. Memorising them all will give you a powerful impromptu speaking arsenal to roll-out at will.

The PREP method

The PREP method for impromptu speaking is the most basic and simple method.

Imagine you are asked: ‘What are your views on fox hunting?’

If you were to apply the PREP method to construct a structured, effective answer, you may respond something like this (with a little more elaboration!):

Point: I am against fox hunting.

Reason: Because fox hunting is a cruel, vicious sport that is a terrible way for foxes to die.

Explanation (elaborate further on your reason here): When I was young, I was playing in garden when a fox hunt passed by the back of our house. At a young age, I had to watch a fox viciously torn apart (describe the scene!).

Point (this restates your viewpoint and acts as a conclusion): I am against fox hunting because of this experience I had as a young child.

Know your audience

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You wouldn’t run a marathon without knowing how far a marathon actually was. How would you know how hard to train, what to expect and how to succeed in running the distance?

Similarly, speaking in public becomes much easier the greater your level of preparation.

There are many things you can do to prepare, one of which is to gain a greater understanding of your audience.

Your speech can be increasingly tailored, and therefore much more effective if you know:

–         Your audience size

For example, larger audiences require a louder voice, wider gestures and a broader coverage of a topic

–         Your audience age

The fight between families on what to watch on the TV is a prime example of how different ages prefer different content

–         Your audience interests, or desired outcomes from your speech

Your overall objective is to satisfy your audience needs. Do they want to be inspired, educated, informed? If you are unsure of their specific targets, ask them!

–         The length of time you have to deliver your message

Running over your allocated time can frustrate an audience with little time to spare and not having enough content can be embarrassing for you and awkward for your audience. Practice to ensure that you have enough content for your speech

–         How interactive your audience expect your speech to be

Does your audience want to be lectured or to get involved in your speaking? Which will get your point across more?

The greater your level of preparation, the easier you make your task. Remember, public speaking is one of the few areas of life where you, the speaker have complete control over the outcomes of the activity.

Preparation, such as researching your audience well, helps you to control the success of your speech.

Fear of impromptu speaking

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So many of us have a fear of impromptu speaking. For example, we fear being asked to stand up and speak in a meeting at work, without warning.

We fear being put on the spot. We fear not having anything to say.

What so many of us also don’t realise is that we speak on an impromptu basis everyday.

How many people have asked you ‘how are you?’ today?

How many free-flowing conversations have you had?

These questions, and your answers, are impromptu public speaking. You did not prepare an answer, you most likely answered instantaneously.

I wouldn’t believe that you struggled for an answer to any of the questions you have received in the course of conversation today, so why should you struggle if asked another simple question, if you are asked to speak at work in a meeting, or at a family gathering?

Never be worried about not having prepared anything to say. You survive without preparing answers throughout the course of your everyday life.

The only difference is the size of your audience – an aspect which I will cover in a future blog post.

Keep your eyes peeled over the coming weeks and months as I also cover tactics for creating great speeches ‘off the cuff”!