Whether overseeing a staff meeting, making a sales pitch or delivering a keynote address, an experienced leader understands the importance of capturing the attention of the audience. Though their delivery may appear effortless, hard work, practice and strategy are generally poured into a successful presentation. While some may be more naturally inclined, most have to develop the skills necessary to become an effective speaker.
Here are my tips for talking so others will listen:
Make careful notes. Writing a draft is a solid first step when it comes to communicating in front of a crowd. Never plan to stand up and wing it, even for an informal talk. Putting your thoughts down on paper helps you commit your speech to memory.
Say it out loud. The quickest way to feel more at ease with the material is to become keenly familiar with it. Rehearse alone and in front of someone who will give you honest feedback. Watch for what seems to work well and what appears to fall flat.
Record a video. It's never been easier to get immediate feedback. With your smartphone, take a video you can critique in the privacy of your home or office. Use the footage to identify any mannerisms that come across as distracting or insecure. Avoid fidgeting, touching your face and hair, rocking from side to side and using filler words such as "um" and "like."
End each sentence with confidence. Many people unwittingly turn an opinion or statement into a question by using "upspeak." For example: "Based on my research, our new marketing strategy will benefit our bottom line within months?" Make it a point to own your words and speak with assurance.
Maintain eye contact. A vital part of connecting with those you are speaking to involves looking engaged. Establish eye contact with your audience and don't be afraid to respond visually to their facial expressions. Smile as you allow your gaze to "land" on each participant instead of nervously scanning the room.
Personalize your message. You may have a great deal of information to offer, but if you lose your audience's interest, it will fall on deaf ears. Aim for relatable content by recounting a story or personal experience that reinforces your speech. Use humor with caution. Nothing is worse than a joke gone wrong. While genuine laughter will energize the participants, appearing to be a jokester may not work in your favor.
Get a good night's rest. Do what it takes to arrive at your mental and physical best. Give yourself a generous window of time in the morning and don't neglect one last mirror check before walking out the door. Years ago, leading up to one of my first presentations, I had taken special care to prepare in every way possible. I arrived at the venue early to practice once more before meeting with the event planner. I proudly gazed down at my new outfit, only to notice I had omitted to switch my shoes before I walked out the door. Fortunately, I had enough time to go home and change. It was a lesson I will never forget.
Consider professional training. An executive trainer or speech coach can play an important role in developing your abilities far quicker than trial and error. The cost is worth the experience you gain, especially if speaking will be a significant component of your career path. A group like Toastmasters, dedicated to helping others become better speakers, may also assist in honing your skills.
Relax. Remember that while many people dread public speaking because they fear being judged by a crowd of onlookers, in reality, the audience wants you to excel.
Preparation is key to enjoying the experience, so do your homework and reap the rewards of a well-delivered speech.