Have you ever met someone that is so good at Public Speaking that you forget you’re listening to a “speech?” I know. It’s over and suddenly you feel duped. What just happened? Listen. No one wakes up and is suddenly a boss at standing up in front of a crowded room and delivering a concise, coherent message. I tell you what, speaking eloquently and with ease is quite the skill. Public speaking, like any other talent, takes practice and, frankly, a little patience, but once you have mastered it, watch the world become your oyster.
I’ll never forget the first time I stood up to deliver a message on my (then) “platform,” the Dove: Campaign for Real Beauty, at the Chattahoochee Valley Rotary Club. I was approximately eighteen years old, scared to death, and my mouth was so dry that I actually drank an entire bottle of water mid-speech.
It took a long time for me to find my voice (see what I did there?).
Public speaking doesn’t have to be this big, scary thing. I promise! Here are my tips for leaving the dry mouth and sweaty palms behind:
- Know Your Audience– To whom are you speaking? Take some time to look in to who will be listening to your message. A group of college students has different needs as an audience than your local Lion’s Club or the Board of Directors of a non-profit. When you have solidified your audience, think about what type of things in pop culture, on the news, and in their life to which you can relate and, then, find small ways to include those thoughts in your message. When you craft your message around the people who hear it, they are more likely to listen, retain and apply what they have learned.
- Do Your Homework– If you have been asked to speak, chances are you are some sort of “expert” in this field, and that means that you should be a wealth of knowledge. Researching and understanding the subject from every angle gives you the opportunity to build a “knowledge” bank, or place the knowledge you have gained in your subconscious. When you have researched and understand the topic on which you’re speaking, there’s absolutely no way you will lose your train of thought. The next step will help you organize said knowledge and use it to captivate your listeners. Remember… you’re the expert!
- Bullets not Boatload– After doing your research, pull the most important, relatable and fascinating aspects of the topic and create a bulleted version of what you will say. If you write out your entire speech verbatim, you lose the ability to insert thoughts at a moment’s notice, or genuinely react to the room to which you’re speaking.
Begin by explaining your connection to the topic and why it is important to you or the people who are listening. By explaining your connection to the topic, you humanize the issue at hand, and thus, put your audience at ease. This process allows them to trust you. Then, fill in the remainder with the “meat and potatoes” of your message to be delivered. Essentially, speeches are meant to inform or persuade (now is the time to pull out those old high school English notes), so follow the traditional format with transition sentences to help you move from one thought to the next. Voila! There’s your bare-bones speech.
- Study– Do. Not. Memorize. Not only does memorization make for a boring speech, but it also takes any spontaneity out of how you interact with the audience. Take the time to learn the material and understand how the first bullet point connects to the one that follows. Before long, you will be able to recall the bullets in order, and thus, the information that comes with each one.
- Practice. Practice. Practice. – Perfection is unattainable, so I will not say, “practice makes perfect.” What I will say is that practice gives you peace [of mind]. By practicing your speech, out loud, multiple times before delivering it to a group of listeners, you will begin to notice what works and what doesn’t. While practicing, turn on your phone’s voice recorder and take a listen to your speech. Listen for the inflection, pace, and dynamic. Are you engaged after the first few minutes? If not, there may be room for improvement. Practice so that you can put your best food forward when in front of your audience.
- Breathe! – After all…they’re just words. The audience is on your side and they want you to do well and they are there to be exposed to or learn about something of interest to them. Just breathe!
After many years of public speaking, these are the tips that still get me through it. I hope they help! Go forth and be awesome. ☺