That Vital Preparation
There are two elements to your preparation:
- Your Content
Deciding what you are going to say is the easy part, but do make sure that you are very clear about the purpose of your speech. What message do you want to leave them with? What really can you come up with? Don’t try to feed them too much information at once and please don’t read any slides to them!. Stop from time to time to check their understanding and (if necessary) get their agreement
By far the most important is preparing yourself. When I say preparing “yourself “, I mean you need to feel comfortable being “you” in front of your audience, rather than a different person altogether. If you suffer from “stage fright” then try out some of the exercises available to help you in such situations.
If you are unable to engage with your audience in a relaxed and confident way, what you say becomes irrelevant – they won’t be listening!
You need to be able to develop an instant rapport with your audience. Once you’ve got that connection they are much more likely to listen to you.
Here are some rapport building suggestions:
Get there early:
Get there early and introduce yourself to your audience on an individual basis. Be interested in them as people (where do they work, live, travel from etc). You’ll get a much better response later on from a group who feel they already know you.
Find something that you have in common with your audience
Whether its childhood memories or a dislike of traffic police, you need to identify something other than the subject matter that you share with your audience. And something that you can use as a link to your opening .
Then ask them (something like) “Who else finds parking in the middle of town difficult”, raise your hand and you’ll find some of your audience will copy you. Then have a brief exchange with one or two of them on the subject you’ve just shared. They’ll all then see you as a real person rather than a “Public Speaker”.
Smile and make eye contact
It’s what you’d do if you were talking to an individual and public speaking is no different; so make brief eye contact with as many in the room as possible, looking all round the room, into the furthest corners and to the front row and back again. Catching people's eyes for a second will keep people interested and listening.
Grab their attention straight away and you’ll give off an air of confidence:
- Stand up straight
- Keep your head held high
- Look around at your audience
- Make eye contact as you look around.
Your Position and Posture
Whether you are sitting or standing make sure that you are balanced with both feet on the floor. Standing or sitting with your weight to one side or legs crossed, gives the impression of being imbalanced which can lead to your audience thinking, sub-consciously, you are unsure of yourself and what you are saying. In a more traditional public speaking set up, leaning into or slightly over a podium or holding any notes tightly can make you seem nervous and unconvincing.
Your Tone and Gestures
Vary the speed and rhythm of your voice.
A monotonous voice will send the audience to sleep so allow your voice to rise and fall naturally during the delivery and inject some enthusiasm and emotion into your voice to convey the point. It’s not only infectious, but your enthusiasm will overshadow any shyness! Use arm and hand gestures to emphasis any points.
If you want the audience to agree with you open your arms in an expansive gesture. A downward gesture will reinforce the point you want to get across. Keep your voice slow - don't be tempted to speed up as you are getting to the end.
Keep your voice strong and clear and keep maintaining eye contact with the whole of the audience. Finish your speech with a hand outstretched 'over to you' gesture and a smile to indicate that you've finished speaking and that you expect a positive response from your audience.
If you’ve had reason to illustrate any points on a flip chart, putting the cap back on the pen, will also tell them that you’ve finished. Conversely, if you are asking questions and writing down their answers, leaving the top off the pen tells them that you are willing to accept more questions.
By adopting some of these ideas, your audience will feel that you've informed and entertained them. They'll remember you as a confident communicator rather than having attended a "stuffy" public speaking event.