Learning Public Speaking Techniques
Public speaking is a daunting prospect to many people, especially if your experience of expressing yourself in front of others is limited.
This is will be a particularly pertinent issue for anyone who is scheduled to speak at an important conference, or take on hosting duties at an event. You might feel incredibly exposed as you stand before an audience of assembled industry insiders, decision makers and trendsetters. As such it is sensible to learn the techniques that the pros use to conquer their nerves and make their voices heard.
Here are just a few of the top pieces of advice that public speaking experts have to offer on their chosen profession, each of which can help you whether you are addressing colleagues in a presentation, giving an address at an event, commanding the room at a conference or attempting to capture new clients in any business setting.
Practice Is Important
The most obvious and oft-repeated guidance relating to public speaking is also the most effective. The better prepared you are for your performance, the less anxious you will become.
Being well rehearsed is even more important if your speech is accompanied by multimedia elements or involves other factors which you need to control at the same time as maintaining the audience’s attention with your words.
Practice on your own, practice in front of a partner, perhaps even attend a public speaking workshop if one is offered in your area.
Communications experts recommend a rigorous approach to public speaking preparation, both for practical purposes and to combat nerves.
Acclaimed American public speaker Dale Carnegie described the process succinctly, saying: “There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practised, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave”.
In short, it is better to practice as comprehensively as possible, rather than live to regret it for the rest of your life.
Take Stock As You Start
The temptation to start speaking and power through your time in the spotlight will be great. However, if you watch any of the leading speakers work today, you will notice that they never dive right in.
Author Frances Rodman once said “The problem with speeches isn’t so much not knowing when to stop, as knowing when not to begin”. When you get up to start speaking, it is a good idea to pause, gather your thoughts, make sure you have everything you need to do your best and only continue when you have taken a few deep breaths.
The Audience Matters
Writing a speech can be a relatively solitary pursuit, but it pays to remember that this is not just a process of creating something for yourself; it needs to be framed with the target audience in mind.
Achieving this effect may not be possible from your first attempt, which is why editing a speech before it is given should not be overlooked. The language should be appropriate, for example; using jargon and technical terms in front of an audience that has no grasp of the words you are using is a bad idea.
Author Joseph Conrad covered this when he said ““He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word”. That is not to say that your points should not be carefully considered, but rather that it is the way you express them that matters more.
Brevity Is A Benefit
In everyday conversations where you are thinking on your feet and improvising most of what you say, it is acceptable to ramble, repeat yourself and take a little time to come to the point of what you are trying to convey. The same is not true of public speaking, yet many people make the mistake of over-writing their speeches and talking for much longer than is necessary.
Ira Hayes went down in history not just for being a war hero, but also for once saying “No one ever complains about a speech being too short”. This applies perfectly in this case, revealing that it is better to be brief than to pack in as much detail as possible.
That is not to say that you should trim down your speech to the point that it lacks interest or flare. Instead you need to stick within the allotted time, aim to be concise and resist the urge to expand on points that have already been adequately explored.
The delivery of a speech relies on lots of little techniques in its own right. One aspect the great speakers agree on is that it is better to take your time and be measured, rather than rushing through, squashing sentences together and barely pausing for breath.
Author and wit Mark Twain had a lot to say on a variety of topics, but on public speaking his most pertinent point comes into play here. “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”
If you are worried that the audience’s attention will wander during your speech, adding regular bursts of humour throughout will keep them engaged.
This is all part of the tapestry you create when you speak publicly, as outlined by journalist Peggy Noonan, who said “A speech is poetry: cadence, rhythm, imagery, sweep! A speech reminds us that words, like children, have the power to make dance the dullest beanbag of a heart”.
Dullness and disengagement can be combatted through humour, but it should not be the centrepiece of the entire speech. Sparing, well-timed and appropriate use of jokes will work best.
Structure Is Essential
A speech needs to tell a story, if not explicitly then at least structurally. Start with the main point you want to make, expand upon it in the middle and conclude with a satisfying resolution. An audience will not just respond well to this approach, they will expect it innately.
Leadership expert Patricia Fripp summed this up when she said The first 30 seconds and the last 30 seconds have the most impact in a presentation”. This applies to all public speaking; as long as you have the right framework in place, the rest of the building blocks should fall into place more easily.
Use Your Body
In public speaking, your mouth is not the only part of your body that will be doing the talking. Communication comes from how you hold yourself and how you use your physical presence.
Your hands are the key; too much movement will make you look nervous, none whatsoever will make you seem terrified and wooden.
Entrepreneur Richard Branson has a recommendation relating to movement in public speaking. He said “Picture yourself in a living room having a chat with your friends. You would be relaxed and comfortable talking to them; the same applies when public speaking”.
Review Your Performance
Sports stars watch back footage of past games to learn from their mistakes and make improvements. The same can be applied to public speaking.
Whether you record your practice sessions on your smartphone or get a colleague to do the same at a real event, you can learn so much from 30 seconds of footage.
Public Speaking Is Not Public Reading
While extensive notes are helpful during preparation, it is better to give a speech without having an entire script with you. This will draw your attention from the audience and you may become too attached to it to look up and engage them directly.
As you practice, reduce the level of detail in your notes and move towards using little more than a bare bones structural overview. This will let you make more eye contact and be more effective as an orator while still giving you something to fall back on if you lose your place.
Read The Room
While speaking in public, it may feel like the world shrinks until there is only you, the mic and your notes. The best speakers remain aware of their surroundings and pay attention to the ebb and flow of the audience’s reaction to what they are saying.
Poet and theologian Frederick Buechner opined that after giving a speech to an audience “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel”. This feeling towards you will be greatly impacted by how well you respond to the audience’s own feedback in the moment.
Avoid Relying On Technology
PowerPoint and similar slideshow software solutions have swamped public speaking in the past two decades. However, using such tools as a starting point for a speech is seen as a bad idea by some industry stalwarts.
TED Talks advisor Nancy Duarte said “Presentation tools force you to think through information linearly, and you really need to start by thinking of the whole instead of the individual lines”.
Similarly, you should avoid overstuffing slides that you do use with text. This will distract the audience’s attention, so be sparing and let your words take centre stage instead.
Movies and TV shows may poke fun at the positive thinking pep talks that people use before speaking in public to gee themselves up, but they really work.
The simple act of telling yourself that you are going to nail a speech will have an uplifting impact on your performance. Whether you execute this mantra out loud in a bathroom mirror, or silently in your own head, reinforcing your self-worth just before you are the centre of attention is an excellent strategy.
No matter how well pitched and carefully tuned a speech might be, it could still fall flat if the message is passive. Rather than skirting around making definitive assertions and solid statements of intent, embrace them.
This has been demonstrated effectively in a number of the most memorable and oft-quoted political speeches of the past century. Winston Churchill did not say “Perhaps we will be forced to fight on the beaches” – he made clear his intent and invigorated an entire nation as a result.
Use The Rule Of Three
The number three has a special power over people, for whatever evolutionary or intellectual reason. This can be used in public speaking to make sure that the most important aspect of your argument is unforgettable.
Public speaking specialist John Maxwell said “The first time you say something, it’s heard; the second time, it’s recognized; the third time, it’s learned”. This is a valuable lesson in its own right and one which applies to all forms of communication.
Accept Nervousness As Inevitable
This is the one thing that all experienced public speakers will appreciate. It is impossible to eliminate anxiety around having to stand up and use your voice in front of an audience. The worst thing you can do in this situation is try to fight your nerves; the best thing you can do is learn to control and channel them.
By mastering the techniques covered above, you should have a better chance of keeping your nervousness in check and delivering
These are the most impactful techniques to help improve your public speaking skills for business conferences and events. Experts recommend that you are thoroughly rehearsed, engaged with the room, precise with your language, concise with your points, well-paced with your delivery, not reliant on your notes, willing to accept feedback and in control of your nerves.