“According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”Puts it into a different visual context doesn't it? We know that, because most people fear public speaking, that those who are capable of doing so are viewed as possessing many more positive leadership traits than simply the ability to speak. They will be viewed as more confident, likable, attractive, decisive and so on, simply because they spoke credibly.
For the lay-person then, the implication is that any time spent becoming a better and more effective public speaker (and note that any time you are speaking out loud, to an audience of one or more, you are technically speaking in public!) will help you position yourself more positively with that audience. It will always prove to be time well-invested.
To help you improve I have gathered for you some of the best tips to consider when preparing. These aren't the technical aspects of delivering a solid speech, but some of the impactful, but often overlooked, elements for you to consider that I use with my clients. The Pros know and do these.
Tell Stories. We've loved 'em since we were kids! Stories keep us engaged, make us wonder what's going to happen next and are memorable. You could tell your audience what you want them to know OR... you could tell them a story that delivers the message for you. Which would you rather listen to?
Don't Speak to Impress. Novices often try to sound smarter, confident, professional... by trying to impress their audience. Note though, that this is all about you. It is all about how good you are, how much you know, how important you are. Audiences don't care about you (yet!), they care about themselves. Make your speech all about them, show interest in and respect for your audience, and they will listen to what you have to say.
Prepare... and Prepare Some More. Yes, you must know your content. BUT.... don't memorize it! Too scripted a speech will feel soulless to your listeners. Know your content well enough to be able to let go of it, and just talk to your audience instead of at them. Doing this will build you instant credibility.
Make Eye Contact. I know that many books on delivering speeches tell you that you can look at people's foreheads, or above their heads, and they won't know. People know. You must connect with your audience and your eyes are a primary tool to help you make that connection. Don't try to fool 'em... they are smart and know the difference! Even short eye contact, acknowledging their presence in the room, is a personal enough connection for them to feel more positively disposed to you. Avoid their eyes at your own peril.
Focus More on How than What. Inexperienced speakers put all of the time and effort into creating the content of their speech, the 'what' they are going to say. However, they miss then focusing on 'how' they are going to deliver it. The 'how' of the message provides all of the secondary cues to your audience, the cues that tell them how they should feel about what you're telling them. This is the emotional component of your message. You may have the right content, but if 'how' you deliver it looks and sounds like you're bored or scared, it will negatively impact the strength of the content received. When practicing your delivery, tape yourself to hear and see your 'how'... is it saying what you need it to say?
If it's Important, it's Worth Saying Twice. This point speaks to the value of repetition. Don't count on your audience hearing everything that you say the first time. If you have one key take-away message for your audience, make sure that you have said it more than once in your speech. Repetition is memorable. Martin Luther King Jr. didn't tell his audience once that He Had a Dream... he repeated it over and over until it became his audience's dream as well.
The Rule of Three's. Taking the concept of repetition a little further is the rule of threes. Our brains work in interesting ways and one of the tricks to helping our brains remember informational content better is to cluster it in groups of three. Have three main points, use three examples of a point, repeat a key message three times. Breaking your information down into three distinct clusters of information helps to ensure that it gets remembered. ("Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness", "Blood, Sweat and Tears", "Friends, Romans, Countrymen", "Stop, Look, Listen"... 3 Wise Men, 3 Stooges, 3 Musketeers, 3 Bears... get the point?)
Feel First, then Think. Get your audience to feel you and your message first, then you have them listening. To do this you want to hijack their Amygdalas. What? The Amygdala is the emotional power center of the brain. It governs the fight or flight response, and it's responsible for the release of chemicals that put us into a heightened state of arousal and it triggers our emotions. For your speech, you want to ensure that you turn 'on' the Amygdalas of your audience, so that they feel and react to the content of your message. You therefore want to ensure that you connect with your audience before you say anything of substance. Get them feeling, and you've got them listening.