I even enlisted the help of my dog
In the early days of my career, I worked as an executive in the advertising business. My job demanded that I make a lot of presentations. In those days the very idea of public speaking made me break out in a cold sweat. This was a real problem for me because I had to make a lot of presentations. I had to learn fast so that my life would not be a constant misery. So I thought I’d share with you some of the tricks I learned that enabled me to overcome my nerves and make good presentations.
The 5 Most Important Pillars of Good Public Speaking
I learned an important lesson from the legendary advertising man Bruce Barton, a founder member of the Batton, Barton, Durstine and Osborne advertising agency where I worked for a few years. The agency had a formula for producing good advertisements:
- Know your product – In the case of public speaking this means, “know a lot about what you are speaking about.” Research your topic to find interesting facts, statistics, and case histories.
- Know your prime prospect – know your audience. What are they interested in, what entertainment media entertains them, where do they get their opinions?
- Beat the boredom barrier – find dynamic ways to present your proposition.
My experiences taught me that successful speeches also required two more elements:
- Rehearsal – I studied what makes for a successful performance. I noticed that the actors in every Broadway hit learn their lines thoroughly. then they rehearse, and finally, they try the show out off-Broadway. In this way, they create opportunities to polish their performance, get feedback from the audience reaction, and sharpen up the script. This is all done before the grand opening night. I’ll tell you more about how I used to rehearse in a moment. As you rehearse you should make up your mind that your presentation will be a success.
- Develop your personal performance style – Have you noticed how the best performers have a style of their own? Jack Benny was a master of the long pause and the aside. Harrison Ford has a way of looking intense. Julia Roberts has an amazing smile. Dolly Parton delivers her lines at high speed. I eventually found a style of my own.
First Set Up Your Speech for Success
I always start by asking myself some important questions:
- What do I want my audience to think, believe or do as a result of my speech?
- If I want the audience to adopt a new OPINION, what exactly do I want them to think? And why should they adopt this new opinion?
- If I want to create or change a BELIEF, how can I best describe the new belief I want adopting? And, why should they believe what I say?
- If I want the audience to DO something when I finish speaking, what, exactly do I want them to do? What are the reasons why they should do what I want?
Should I Write My Speech?
This is a nutty question. The answer depends on whether you are someone who likes to write. It may be that you are happier to dictate your speech. Or you might like to create a PowerPoint. Personally, I just write headings.
What matters is that you find a way to ensure that you include all your content when you come to make your speech.
I always prefer to write down the bullet points of my speech along with any evidence I want to use. I then add anecdotes that I think will liven up proceedings.
In any event, the one BIG NO is never, never, never read your speech. Very few people can do this well. There’s a real danger that all that will hear is a droning monologue. The audience does not want to see the top of your head as you peer down at your notes.
Best Ways to Rehearse
These are some of the ways that I found it valuable to rehearse my speeches.
I used to rehearse in front of my dog. He would watch me intently and I noticed that his ears often moved when the inflection in my voice altered. If I went into monologue and my delivery became boring he would just lie down and go to sleep. A typical audience reacation!
I often found that it was valuable to record my speech and play it back so that I could hear what I sounded like. This helped me to tighten up my script, it improved my timing and helped me understand where I needed to place greater emphasis.
The British wartime leader Winston Churchill used to rehearse his speeches in front of a mirror. He would practice his facial expressions and his hand movements until he felt they were adding emphasis to his words.
I Found My Feedback Mentor in an Unexpected Way
I was booked to do a presentation in an office I had never visited before. I was uncertain about their facilities. To ensure my presentation went without a hitch I needed to find a way to connect my laptop to a portable projector.
I put out a call for help’ on the then equivalent of our office Slack board. A female colleague turned up to show me what I needed to do. She was interested in the subject of my presentation and asked if she could watch while I rehearsed.
Of course, I was nervous about rehearsing in front of a stranger. But I thought it would give me valuable practice. The feedback she gave me was astute and valuable.
Very soon I was able to return the favour and give her feedback on one of her presentations.
As we both enjoyed giving feedback and found feedback a very valuable way of helping us conquer our nerves and improving our performance we decided to work together on our presentations. This was a great help to both of us. It played an important part in improving our public speaking skills.
One of the most valuable lessons we learned was to not just accept general feedback like, “that was good.” We learned that the real value came when we dug down into feedback comments by asking questions like, “what was good about it?” In that way we were able to learn more about what worked and what weakened our performances.
Working together we found that we started to enjoy public speaking.
Developing A Personal Delivery Style
I found telling jokes invaluable. Whenever I heard a joke that made me laugh I would memorise it. Then I would rehearse it in my head until I thought I had mastered how to deliver it. Finally, I would tell the joke in front of friends to see whether they found it as funny as I did. By doing this I learned a great deal about where to put the emphasis in a story. I learned how to build up to the punch line. Telling jokes improved my timing. It generated confidence in my ability to speak in front of an audience.
I used to go out of my way to find opportunities to give short speeches. My aim was to accustom myself to being in front of an audience. I also wanted to get used to the sound of my own voice. I wanted to learn how to gauge audience reaction. In later years I joined Toastmasters International who ran public speaking group training. I found being a member of a practice group an invaluable way to develop my own voice and style. There is probably a Toastmasters group somewhere near you.
I remember once watching a famous actress on a late night chat show. The host asked her: “You always strike me as a happy person. How did you manage to get into the character of the psychotic murderer who you played in the film?” She replied, “I did what I always do. I used my imagination and just held the picture of that person in my mind throughout my performance.” You can do the same thing, just imagine yourself as a confident, dynamic speaker.
You must express who you are so that you come across as real and genuine.
Your Imagination Can be Your Best Friend and Your Worst Enemy
When you allow negative images and feelings of doubt to invade your being you are on a slippery slope. Very soon you will become so fearful that you will stammer and stutter your way through your presentation.
It is important therefore to always imagine a positive outcome to your presentation and a happy audience. In this way, you are constantly expecting the best. And guess what, you very often achieve the result you want.
I used to use my imagination to see myself confidently delivering a great speech.
Find Your Voice – Put Yourself Into Your Speech and Express Your Personality.
Wherever possible include snippets of information on subjects that interest you. It will soon become obvious to you that your enthusiasm levels increase markedly when you are talking about your interests. There will be more energy in your delivery.
The Real Benefit
By working at it as I did I started to believe that I could be a reasonably good speaker. The audience reactions I started to get gave me the confidence to go on. The confidence I gained from becoming a good speaker gave me the confidence to become a world-class coach.
You now have a long menu of techniques you can use to improve your public speaking. You are unlikely to use them all. I recommend that you choose a few of these techniques and start to practice them. Once you have mastered a few techniques you can come back to this article at a later date and find some more useful tips.
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