If you have ever wanted to know how to improve your public speaking, the below except from The Age is going to wet your whistle.
Addressing a crowd need not be an ordeal – keep it simple, know your topic and remember the audience is on your side.
The opening scene of The King’s Speech, in which the future George VI (played by Colin Firth, with co-star Helena Bonham Carter) stammers through a public address, will resonate with anyone preparing their own oration.
His humiliation unfolded before a packed Wembley Stadium; you might be steeling yourself to address your sales force in a draughty conference centre, but the challenges are the same – speakers must battle through nerves and apathy to enthral their audiences.
Public speaking is an art few master. Lifeless delivery might undermine riveting content; beguiling enunciation cannot disguise a deficient script. But there are some guidelines to help you present yourself convincingly.“Most audiences are very much on the speaker’s side until or unless you make a mess of it,” says Max Atkinson, author ofSpeech-making and Presentation Made Easy.
“When you are in the audience, are you sitting there hoping the speaker will fall flat on his face or wanting to be bored out of your mind? If your answer is no, take heart, because that’s how everyone else feels.”
Ditch the script
Jot down salient points you wish to make – but Dale Carnegie, the self-improvement guru whose 1920s public speaking guides are still bestsellers, counselled against typing out a speech in full because you’ll end up using formal language instead of a conversational style and you’ll get distracted trying to repeat what you wrote. Don’t memorise it word for word, either, because you’ll sound stilted and unnatural.
“People tend to stiffen up on the podium because they are expected to be an authority and so use impressive words,” says Richard Heller, author of High Impact Speeches. Keep sentences short and words simple and try to sound conversational so that everyone thinks you are talking to them personally. Be yourself.
Think in threes
Stick to three main points with no more than three subsidiary points. “A list of three is the easiest for people to remember and gives automatic flow to any passage of words,” says Heller. “It also lets you introduce surprise: the audience might think you’ll go from A to B to C when you might rouse them with A to B to D.”
Whatever the topic, research it in far more detail than you need. You’ll speak with far more confidence, clarity and conviction if you have full mastery of the subject.
Look them in the eye
Eye contact is as vital for the speaker as for the audience.
“It also exerts pressure on an audience to pay attention and will often elicit nods or smiles because the most basic tacit rule of audience behaviour is ‘Thou shalt look attentive’,” says Atkinson. “If you don’t look around the audience, you’ll never know how well or badly they’re following you.”
See the funny side
“Humour is a powerful weapon, not least because once people have laughed they’ll listen closely to what comes next, hoping for more fun,” says Atkinson. “A lot of people equate it with telling jokes, but most humour in speeches comes from examples and anecdotes, provided they are relevant and to the point.”
“Most slides are verbal crutches for the speaker rather than visual aids for the audience,” says Atkinson. “They typically include too much information and distract audiences by inviting them to read and listen at the same time. The most useful slides are pictorial aids that help the audience to understand the point.”
End with impact
A powerful finish can make up for any misadventures along the way. Every speech needs a destination and the last sentence must deliver a memorable punch. “It must be clear and engaging and positive rather than negative,” says Heller.
What techniques do you use when public speaking?