Scared of public speaking? There’s a few simple things you can do to improve your oratory.
1. Know What You Want To Say
Identify the key message of your speech, whether it’s “I want to celebrate my best mate on his wedding day” or “I want to convince clients our company is the best investment they can make”. From here on you need to ensure that every other specific point or example relates to that sentiment.
2. Know Your Audience
Are you giving a buck’s night speech? Or addressing a packed auditorium in the middle of week-long business convention? They’re very different audiences and settings. Tailor your material, timing and approach accordingly. A digressive, anecdote- and joke-filled speech might be spot on for the backroom of a pub, but it’ll anger a room of CEOs who’re expecting a tight 10 minutes about a specific business topic.
3. Write Down Subjects and Specifics
You’ve got you key message. Now take your time to write down everything you might want to say about that key message. For instance, if you’re toasting your best mate, maybe break your notes down into categories like “earliest memories, sporting achievements, embarrassing moments, funniest times, best qualities, fishing trips” and then list specific examples of each. Don’t worry about editing at this point. Just throw it all down on the page. The process of doing this helps you see connections between topics and ways to structure and link them naturally. It also gives you the opportunity to come up with turns of phrase that might connect with your audiences. Once you’ve got all your notes down, it’s time to start drafting the speech.
4. Less Is More
Strip away anything that doesn’t need to be there because it’s rare an audience will complain a speech wasn’t long enough. If your best mate’s fishing yarns aren’t actually that interesting, drop the reference to them because what’s left will be stronger for it. Write your speech out in full — seeing the words on the page will make you better able to memorise sentences and structure. It will also help you cut away any superfluous material.
5. Colour, Personality and Humour
You grab an audience by painting a picture, using examples, making them feel or inducing them to laugh. Do this with vivid language that puts you into the scenario. You don’t want to be self-indulgent but by injecting your personality you tell an audience you’re invested, whether in the person you’re celebrating or the product or service you’re describing. Jokes are welcome, so long as they’re in service of the message rather than an excuse to be a stand-up. Don’t mistake a toast with a roast: you’ll soon lose the audience and come across as an arsehole if you lash the guest of honour or reveal embarrassing personal information. In a business setting, anecdotes can also be powerfully effective in getting across an otherwise dry or abstract point. “This will save you 50 dollars a week” doesn’t have nearly as much impact as “With the money you save you can take an extra holiday every year.” You could do worse than re-watch some of Don Draper’s pitches in Mad Men because he was an expert in making would-be clients feel something about a product.
6. The Old Razzle Dazzle
Pictures and sounds can be worth a thousand words and help break up the material. But, as with your written material, make sure they relate to and illuminate your key message. On the day of the speech, ensure your AV equipment is working correctly and that the images, video and/or audio can be seen and heard by all in the audience. But don’t lean too heavily on YouTube or Powerpoint because it’s dull watching a speaker read from a screen or simply narrate video clips.
7. Read and Rehearse
Reading the speech aloud will help you edit further by identifying any verbal stumbling blocks or dull spots. Rehearse your speech in front of a mirror or even make a video. This will help you add emphasis at the right points, arrive at a pace that’s neither rushed nor sleep-inducing, introduce images or clips at the right moment and remind you to look up and engage the audience. Feel free to use notes or even a full copy of the speech. But you should know your material well enough that you use this printed material only as a guide and safety net. There’s nothing worse than someone reading dully from a podium. Also: time your speech. If it’s too long, cut it. Going over time is considered rude, particularly in a corporate environment.
8. Look And Act The Part
If you’re speaking at a buck’s or wedding then be respectful by waiting until after the speech to hit the booze in any serious way. Also: obey the RSVP dress code – so keep your tie on until you’ve finished. If you’re giving a business speech, look your sharpest and stay away from alcohol entirely. Even having a calm-down drink could affect your performance and a slurry speech is likely a one-way ticket to unemployment.
9. Relax, Smile and Make Eye Contact
Public speaking terrifies people. But your audience wants you to succeed and they’re not going to be as tough on you as you are. Try to breathe deeply, slow yourself down and make an effort to look at and connect with your audience. The better you know your material, the more relaxed and confident you’ll be. Ensure you have a glass or bottle of water handy so you don’t start rasping. If something goes wrong, don’t panic – just apologise, start over, refer to your notes and/or have a laugh at your own expense. Inviting audience participation – either during or after the speech – also increases interest and makes for a more convivial and interesting atmosphere.
10. Thank Your Audience
They’ve listened. Thank them. Hopefully they’ll thank you right back.