For a lot of us, public speaking can basically amount to torture. Yet, it is practically inevitable for many people on their professional journey. How can we learn to embrace public speaking and its possibilities, instead of fearing it?
First we have to acknowledge its power. From a business standpoint, public speaking allows for clarity of communication and persuasion which in turn can instruct or motivate, influence others, and even inspire change. Communication is woven into the fabric of our society, which makes public speaking one of the most useful skills in your arsenal.
As it turns out, developing this skill can be fun too! At Dalia we do so by taking a bi-monthly group class on public speaking with Dyane Neiman’s Moving Speaker. We found that practicing in a fun, low pressure environment is a great way to help you overcome some of the initial hurdles on your road to public speaking excellence. We all came to the class with different end goals in mind, but everyone walked away with some valuable gems. Here are some key lessons we learned along the way. We hope they’ll be helpful for your team too!
1. Body language & voice projection
A strong physical presence is an often overlooked aspect of public speaking, so remember to maintain good posture. Refrain from crossing your arms, but feel free to use big open gestures. You can also make your speech more engaging by making eye contact with different individuals, moving around the stage, and coming closer to the audience. It also goes without saying that you should bump up your speaking volume by a couple notches at least, especially if you’re naturally soft spoken. However, what you lack in volume you can make up for with enunciation, confidence in your words through memorization, and variety in your speaking cadence. In fact, Zandan’s big data analysis of over 100,000 presentations found that “even just a 10% increase in vocal variety can have a significant impact on your audience’s attention to and retention of your message”.
2. Structuring your speech effectively
Despite what most might think, there are many ways to structure a successful speech. Are you telling a story, or showing off a new product? Explaining a scientific procedure, or trying to persuade the big bucks to invest in your business? When you pinpoint the goal and key message of your speech, the structure will take form accordingly. For example, if your speech is addressing a historical subject, use a chronological approach. If you’re debating a controversial topic, avoid ad hominems and emotional appeals, instead structuring your speech around strong, unbiased evidence. In the case of a pitch, however, you want to be as persuasive as possible. Facts won’t be enough; you’ll have to incorporate more emotional appeals and personal charisma. When showing off a new product, try basing your speech around the product itself by jumping straight into demonstrations and by highlighting special features that your audience will love.
3. How to sell your ideas, without lecturing
You won’t convince anyone to believe in you by boring them to death. Try to stick to the basics so that your core message doesn’t get bogged down in the mire. Present your ideas by outlining the 5 W questions: who is needed to bring the idea to fruition, what are the fundamentals of the idea, where will this idea be implemented, when should the idea be brought to life and why is this idea ultimately important. Anything that goes into the nitty-gritty details can be discussed later, after you’ve successfully persuaded your audience (or in the Q&A!)
4. Using storytelling in your speech
One of the areas our group was most keen on developing was storytelling, or how to “tell a story versus cramming loads of information in all at once”. To start, try to appeal to the humanity and compassion of the audience. You want them to be able to step into your shoes as you tell your story, and you can do this by speaking genuinely and by being evocative and descriptive. When using a storytelling approach it’s okay to be vulnerable or dramatic or ecstatic, because it establishes a stronger bond between you and your audience as you go through the journey together. But be careful not to get too caught up in the story itself; it should have a simple, clean arc, and the message of the story should tie in directly to the central thesis of your speech instead of distracting from it.
5. The truth about confidence
Many of us who partook in our group public speaking class wanted to learn how to “be more confident” and how to be able to “speak comfortably in front of people”. But what we found is that there is no single trick that instantly boosts confidence. Instead, it’s a combination of the preparation you put into a speech and the knowledge of what constitutes effective communication that will put your fears in the back seat.
From what we’ve gotten out of our public speaking sessions, we can only recommend the experience! It’s not only improved our public speaking at public events and conferences, but it’s made our interpersonal interactions and internal presentations more compelling and engaging.