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Don't Speak Like A Loser (Public Speaking Post Part 1)

Updated on June 27, 2016
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Cedric earned a bachelor's degree in communications studies in 1999. His interests include history, traveling, mythology, and video gaming.

Public Speaking can be a breeze, if you work the basics properly.
Public Speaking can be a breeze, if you work the basics properly. | Source

A tumultuous event took place last September in my country. It ended on an anti-climax note, and thus for some, was a massive disappointment. In the aftermath, plenty of articles online and offline strove to analyse the outcome. Surprisingly, few of these mentioned one glaring fact. Which was that the losing factions, in general, had appallingly lacking public speaking skills.

Lacking public speaking skills, be it in style or content.

It’s astonishing to me because competent public speaking is long recognised as a core component of persuasion. Persuasion whether for business, politics or any form of social advancement. When you speak poorly, you do not convince, and so you will never get what you want. To be fair, I suspect most of those I’m referring to thought of public speaking as just handling stage fright or dishing out a heated message. They do not understand a competent public speech is so much more. A whole package involving not only the style of speaking, but also the content of the speech. While anyone can go up to a stage and blab for a few minutes, only the skilled can manipulate convictions with a few minutes of words. Only a real orator is capable of redefining perceptions, and subtly leading audiences to embrace new convictions.

Relying on a fully written script is hands-down the biggest pitfall for public speaking.
Relying on a fully written script is hands-down the biggest pitfall for public speaking. | Source

Style Tips

Don’t read from a script (style tip)

One of the first admonitions by my speech communication prof in university, was to never read from a script. Not a surprising exhortation, given people generally admire orators who speak from memory. But here’s what my prof also said. It's unnecessary to commit the entire speech to memory too. Use cue cards instead.

When you rely on a script, you are setting yourself up for pitfalls. Your attention is occupied, denying you of opportunities to engage your audience. (See next tip). You might also fumble with your script; imagine yourself looking away for a moment and then struggling to find the place you stopped at, in that sea of words. On the other hand, you also never know entirely how you would be when speaking. Tension, environmental factors, might overwhelm you. Relying on memory, thus, is a tad too risky too.

To avoid these situations, use cue cards. Write down your key points and learn to speak about those points. This inherently forces you to utterly know your content too. With practice, you can even improvise on the spot, because you are no longer dependant on pre-prepared content. In other words, you have achieved control of the content. Your speech is just the channel that delivers your message.

Don’t ever FORGET to engage (style tip)

It’s called public speaking. But in truth it is public communication. It is a two way process. A competent public speaker is not just a robot droning a prepared statement. He is someone having a conversation with you.

Engagement could be accomplished in many ways. Eye contact is foremost, which reiterates why you should not use a full script. (See above tip!) Appropriate pauses are also important, so as to allow the audience time to digest. Advanced methods would include spontaneity. You should check your audience regularly and when appropriate, throw an impromptu question, or a joke, or invite for feedback. The crux of it, it is communication. You want to give your audience the impression you are NOT talking down to them. What you are doing, is speaking with them.

Don’t get carried away (style tip)

It is that thin a line between passion and hysteria. You might think you are speaking with vigour, when in truth your audience finds you incomprehensible or comical. The basic guideline, stay composed. Speak evenly and clearly throughout your speech. Do not rant. Never shout into the mic, unless you intend static feedback to be a special effect. Don’t roar, shriek, growl, thump the podium, curse, crush your cue cards, whine etc. Theatrics like these only work with the most competent orators. They certainly wouldn’t work when your head is clouded by your own fervour.

Practice makes perfect, as we all know. For public speaking, adequate rehearsal also minimises anxiety and fear.
Practice makes perfect, as we all know. For public speaking, adequate rehearsal also minimises anxiety and fear. | Source

Don’t speak without rehearsing (style tip)

I’m not referring to rehearing the actual speech. That’s understood. I’m referring to props. Especially electronic props. Think about it. Ever had that situation when your laptop freezes, because of some sudden update? Ever been in the middle of a slideshow when suddenly, something happens, and you cannot continue?

Know your room, as it is said.

Props can really trip your speech. Especially electronic ones. If you’re using any, be completely thorough with your pre-checks. Factor in contingency measure too, in case props fail. While at that, also ensure you do not use props that are so complicated they either suck away your audience’s attention, or add to your speaking burdens. For example, don’t use slides packed with so much information, your audience would be too busy reading them instead of listening to you. Needless to say, never use props you are barely able to handle too.

(PS: I’ve seen way too many folks embarrassed by mic problems. The suitable speaking distance, volume, etc. If you’re using mics, be mindful.)

Don’t dress inappropriately (style tip)

We are taught not to judge by appearance. But let’s be honest, don’t we still do it? Therefore, public speakers should assume that audiences would be influenced by physical appearances. I’m not suggesting that you need to look glamorous to be convincing. I’m saying your dressing needs to complement your speech topic. For example, aren’t you going to look weird introducing the workings of a car engine while in suit and tie? If you’re selling a bank product, is it appropriate to wear a t-shirt and slacks? Give thought to your audience and dress as they would expect you to. In short, no overdressing. Please, no underdressing too.

Always dress the way your audience would expect you to.
Always dress the way your audience would expect you to. | Source

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Don't bore your audience by taking forever to reach your key points.
Don't bore your audience by taking forever to reach your key points. | Source

Content Tips

Be mindful of your opening content (content tip)

Journalists consider the first statement of any article to be the most important. Why? Because they assume that most people wouldn’t read the entire article. And so they communicate the key information right away.

This would be difficult for speeches, particularly if you are beginning with anecdotes. That said, it is still possible to set the pervasive theme of your speech with your opening statement or paragraph. Approach it this way. Take it that your audience would only remember the first 30 seconds of your speech. After that, their attention dwindles. What is it that you want them to go home with? What is the one thing you want them to remember more than anything else? Put that right at the beginning of your speech.

Keep it short (content tip)

Going back to my speech communication lessons in university again, my classmates and I were scorned for always attempting to fill up the allocated time frame. If you have only five minutes to speak, do not prepare a five-minute speech. Settle for shorter, say four minutes. For myself nowadays, I usually prepare something that takes up 75 per cent of the allocated time.

You need to set aside “spare time” for so many reasons. Who knows what might happen during your speech? You might speak slower than usual because of unexpected environmental conditions. You might also be interrupted for repeats or clarification. In summary, why corner yourself by having no leeway? What’s worse than a bad speech? The inability to finish it. That’s just tragic.

Use storytelling techniques carefully (content tip)

I don’t think I need to go into the worth of storytelling techniques. Executed properly, stories can establish deep levels of connection. People also tend to remember stories more easily, compared to hard facts. Problem though, it’s hard to tell a good story. A memorable tale needs to be terse, eloquently presented and logical, on top of possessing the typical structure of a story. Personally, I find it safer to stick to quotations. Anecdotes, as in crispy ones, would also be preferable to rambling, drawn out sagas..

Metaphors could spice up your speech. But they could also baffle your audience.
Metaphors could spice up your speech. But they could also baffle your audience. | Source

Be conservative with metaphors (content tip)

Metaphors are potent speechwriting techniques. In the words of my prof, when the audience understands, they experience a mental orgasm. (Excuse me, but that a phrase I'd never forget) When they don’t comprehend however, you leave them more than baffled. And that’s putting it politely.

You should therefore be extremely conservative about metaphors. Do not leave any metaphor unelaborated upon. If possible, test your metaphors on friends and colleagues. Don’t be surprised that you might be the only one who sees the connection because of your personal quirks. If unsure, better to leave metaphors out completely.

Good public speaking gives audiences something to take home with (content tip)

In marking, the “call to action” is all important. This applies to public speaking too. Your speech must give your audience a call to action, or something that sticks in their minds. Accomplishing this is the ultimate objective of any speech. How you accomplish this depends on thoughtful handling of all the points written above

Public Speaking Is Not As Daunting As It Seems

To conclude, far more weight is on content than style. True orators would tell you that style only sets the mood, content does the actual persuasion. In my next hub, I would elaborate on content in more detail. I would also be introducing the various types of speeches, as well as the recommended methods to approach each genre. Do read on.

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