Did you know that speaking in public is one of the greatest fears for many people? So, if you are frightened to stand up before an audience, you are not alone.
What is your fear about? You probably know your subject 100 per cent and relaxed and confident when you are talking around a table with colleagues. But it is at that moment when you get on your feet that you get tongue-tied, and perhaps even forgetting your key message. Many people are so worried about speaking before others that they will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid it.
Of course, being on platform is certainly high-risk because you are the focus of attention. Everyone is watching you expectantly, as well as automatically judging your appearance, body language as well as your words.
No great speech just happens. All the famous orators of our time — Martin Luther King, Barack Obama or Winston Churchill — may have had different styles, but it was the way in which they made their words come to life that inspired and motivated their audiences.
We are told that Margaret Thatcher even used a voice coach from the National Theatre in London to help lower her shrill tone to one that was deeper and more authoritarian. If you listen to Martin Luther King’s famous speech ‘I have a dream’, you will hear him repeating certain phrases time and again for greater impact as his passion is transmitted to his audience.
There are many speaking tips, but here are six really important ones:
Prepare! Prepare! Prepare! There are no short cuts to this one and if you think a presentation is going to take you a half a day to prepare, chances are that you may need to double this! The presentation needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Your PowerPoint slides should have a maximum of four bullet points with a small amount of content and maybe also include a relevant graphic.
Remember that your slides are only to reinforce your words. It is you that is on stage and not PowerPoint ...
Smile and engage: As you get onto the platform, everyone will be looking at you — so smile and look around the whole room. The platform is your stage and you need to take ownership of it — much as an actor looks stage-left, centre stage and stage-right, so must you when presenting in order to engage with your audience.
Use a well-rehearsed ‘opener’ ... and I mean well-rehearsed — Practice makes perfect. If you know exactly what you are going to say as soon as you open your mouth, it will give you an inner confidence. Then, by the time it is appropriate to move onto the middle section of your presentation, your adrenalin will probably have taken over and you will feel in control. Your ‘opener’ can comprise a piece of research, a question, a story or a quotation. Remember you want to grab your audience’s attention so think about this one very carefully.
Repeat your words for emphasis. This is really important and will reinforce your words in the minds of the audience.
Voice tonality: Your voice needs to go up and down so that you bring expression to what it is that you are saying. Never speak in a monotone unless you want your audience to fall asleep. Use your voice to attract your audience so that they actually listen to what you are saying.
Pauses: This technique is one that takes practice but makes all the difference. When you read a book, it has commas, full stops and paragraph breaks. It should be the same with your speech. Pauses, used correctly, will give you and your audience time to reflect on and absorb what has been said.
There are many more tools that comprise the public speaking skill set, but the above hopefully will give you a greater idea of what it takes to stand up on a platform and deliver your message with style and impact.
You may not win an Oscar for your performance, but you may well deliver a presentation that will inspire and motivate.