How To Improve Your Communication Skills | What things to do that will make you a successful speaker
Public speaking or death- which would you prefer?
Most of us are familiar with the claim that more people have a greater fear of speaking in public than the fear of facing death. I think most people would rethink that claim if faced with the choice of dying or giving a speech, but the thought of public speaking can be pretty intimidating...so much so, that the average person would never volunteer to give any kind of formal speech.
Delivering a formal speech, however, is only a small portion of public speaking. One expert claims that " the increase in public speaking seems clear, dramatic, and widespread". This means that the chances of you having to speak in public at some point in your life is likely.
Business people speak at conferences and meetings all the time. A parent may have to go before a school board. A church member may need to speak to the congregation. You may be asked to give a toast at a wedding or some other social event. You may give a eulogy at your great aunt Ida's memorial service. Or you may be called on to address your social club about an up-and-coming event. All of these situations require you to get up in front of an audience and say something...that is public speaking.
Writing your speech is the easy part
Given the fact that most of us will have to speak in public in some capacity, let's look at what causes us to be so afraid of the idea. For seasoned pros and amateurs alike, we all get nervous. Most of us are afraid we will say something stupid... or that what we say will come out all wrong. We may not like the sound of our own voice, or how we look.
We are afraid people will not listen, or laugh at us. And the worst fear is we might simply freeze, get a blank stare on our face, and forget what we were supposed to say. All of these things boil down to one emotion- we fear being embarrassed in public. Embarrassment causes humiliation and damages our pride. We don't like the idea of looking like a fool.
Three things to make you a succesful speaker
All of our fears have a grain of truth to them. We could get up in front of our audience and make a complete fool of ourselves. So how can we reduce the chances of that happening? There are three things that all professional speakers do that give them the highest chance of a successful speech.
The first thing to remember when speaking in any public situation-- be yourself. Remember before, when I said we don't like to be made a fool of? Well that isn't always true. There are a lot of comedians who are famous for acting like fools. They can get up in front of an audience, and it seems the goofier they act, the funnier they are. If that describes you...awesome! use that to your advantage. Not all of us have that kind of talent, however. There is nothing that falls to floor deader than road kill than a poorly delivered joke. If you aren't known for your comedic timing- skip the joke telling! I am not saying don't be humorous, just let it be a natural thing.
Humor is one of the greatest tools in making a speech effective. You just need to understand your own personal style. The best way to do this is to pay attention to what people laugh at in a normal, relaxed conversation with you. This is the kind of humor you can inject into your speech. It may not be the side splitting laughter that Robin Williams will get, but it could bring a smile to your audience's face. This lightens the mood and helps your audience like you.
Humor may not always be an appropriate thing to incorporate into a speech, however. When it isn't appropriate, we need to stay away from it. We may need to rely on other things to help make our speech effective. Passion, anger, and other forms of dramatic delivery may be suitable. For instance, If we are trying to convince a city council, or school board, to supply crossing guards at a street corner where two children have been hit by cars near a school, a passionate plea is suitable. The main thing here is be yourself...don't try to be like someone else.
If you are true to your own personality and style of conversation, your sincerity will win your audience over. Think about it for a moment, how many times have you listened to a politician give a speech, and you didn't believe a word they said? Other than the obvious reasons of politics and truth being strangers...often it's because the speech was written by someone else...in the writers style of speaking, not the politicians. When you write your speech, say what you would naturally say in a conversation, and say it how you would normally say it...perhaps with a little extra "umph". Be true to yourself.
The next thing to do is practice your speech. Some people have the unfortunate idea that they want to just speak from their heart whatever comes to their mind, or don't want the speech to "sound too rehearsed". I can just about guarantee you that this will be one time where your heart and mind may decide to go out to lunch and not make it a threesome. You will be left standing at the podium like a patient who just received shock therapy.
Rehearsing your speech to the point of knowing it like the back of your hand will actually help you to relax and speak more naturally. If you don't rehearse, and instead, rely on those little yellow three-by-five cards to get you through, you may end up giving one of the shortest, disconnected speeches you have ever heard. Ask me how I know this.
Giving a speech at a woman's lunch
I had to speak at a woman's luncheon several years ago. i was fairly comfortable with the idea and with the audience, so I thought there was no need to practice. i just wrote a few notes on a handful of cards and left it at that. For some reason when I got up to the podium, I froze. All I could to do was read my notes. True story- what was supposed to be a twenty minute presentation went something like this;
"Ladies thank you for coming today. You all look great. We all know why we are here. Its important to do what we need to do. Thank you again and enjoy your lunch."
And i went and sat down.
The moderator was a little unsure what to do so she just started clapping and...well let me put it this way...it didn't have the same impact of Winston Churchill's succinct speech that is so famous. Rehearse your speech-- don't memorize it word for word-- just know your material well.
The third thing to do is know the situation. What do i mean by this? I mean several things. First, know your audience and make sure the speech is appropriate for them. If you are talking to a group of bankers at a finance meeting, you would stay away from phrases like, "OMG"... and...." it was like, so like, totally amazing...like". Make your language appropriate for your audience.
Next, know the room you will be speaking in. How will the room be arranged? Will you have a table or a podium? Will there be stairs you have to climb up to get to a stage? Is there a mirror nearby where you can do a last minute check for lunch remnants? Where will you be entering from? All of these details if covered ahead of time, can keep you from having an unpleasant surprise as you are walking up to give your speech. Struggling with stairs because you have a bum knee can throw off your confidence, and cause your nerves to escalate.
The other thing to check is your audio/visual equipment. Do a sound check to make sure the microphone is at the right volume and height. Are you getting any screeching feedback when you speak?. Make sure all the cables you need are plugged in and ready to go. Check your Power Point presentation to see that it will be functional. Will the screen you are using pull down? All of these technical things, if left to the last minute, can cause you to bumble and stumble as you try to get them to work. Again, this will raise your anxiety level. One final word on AV equipment-- have a back up plan in case you do encounter some unforeseen technical issue as they can happen even when you have planned well.
You are a successful public speaker...say this to yourself three times
Public speaking, like death, will eventually happen to all of us. Being prepared, knowing your stuff, and being yourself will give you the greatest chance of having a successful outcome. You might even be surprised to find you like it. So the next time someone asks you to give a speech at a wedding...don't weigh out the options of death or speaking...just go for it and have a great time.
Training for public speaking can help you to become a better speaker!
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