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SPEAK UP! HOW TO UP YOUR PUBLIC SPEAKING GAME

Pretty, young business woman giving a presentation in a conference/meeting setting (shallow DOF; color toned image)

Psychology Today Has Reported that Humans Fear Public Speaking More than Death! Don’t Sweat It. Here are Some Great Tips From James Goodnow On How To Have Your Audience Eating Out Of Your Hand

After being personally affected by kidney disease in 2013, Attorney James Goodnow founded The Kidney Challenge as his way of speaking up about kidney disease, which is often called “the silent killer” because many people don’t realize that they have this dreaded malady until it’s too late. As the ambassador for this initiative, Goodnow has gone on to talk about the disease, and as a legal commentator he regularly provides legal analysis for media outlets including CNN, MSNBC and Fox News.

Here are some of Goodnow’s tips that can help anyone take their public speaking game to a higher level:

Don’t try to be perfect.  Whether delivering a keynote or going live on national TV, the most important rule is to remember that you do not have to be perfect.  Perfection, in fact, can be a detriment.  If you look scripted and rehearsed, audiences will disengage.  The key is for you to be affable and authentic.  Stumbling over your words or saying “um” is better than perfectly delivering a scripted speech that makes you sound like a robot. Remember that people care about your message and what’s in it for them — and not about you.  Our vanity and ego naturally causes us to believe that we are being judged based on delivery.  Although that’s true to a point, what’s equally important are the ideas we communicate.  Steve Jobs was a great presenter not because he had remarkable oratory skills, but because he had good ideas backing him up. The key is to be conversational with your audience to make them receptive to your message.

Pace matters.  Remember your pace. When people get nervous, they tend to talk more rapidly.  Remember that your audience needs to process what you are saying.  Effective speakers typically talk at a rate of about 125 words per minute.  If you don’t know where you are, record yourself to get a rough calculation.

Pause.  Consistent with the above, remember to pause before and after a significant point.  Let it simmer with the audience.  What seems like a horrible awkward silence for you is actually giving your audience time to reflect on the point you made.  If you move too quickly, there’s little chance your audience will remember what you said.

Gestures need to be scaled to audience size.  Make sure your gestures are natural.  Remember that people learn by listening and by visualization, so gestures can be a great opportunity for you to paint a picture and bring your words to life.  If you’re going live on TV, your gestures will need to be more subdued.  If you’re giving a keynote to a large group, your gestures will need to be more exaggerated.  As a general rule, the bigger the audience, the bigger the gestures can become.  Pay attention to your base position: where do you put your hands in between points? There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but make sure it’s natural.  Use gestures and movement to make points — don’t squander the opportunity you have with gestures and movement to help strengthen your message.

Emotions drive the point home.  For all speakers, remember that you will connect with people through emotions.  Too often, speakers become focused on crafting arguments so tight and logical that they could be dropped verbatim into a dissertation.  Although logic matters, it’s emotion that will allow you to really captivate an audience.  Don’t be afraid to show your emotion.  People want to see it — it’s what makes you relatable.

Focus on the audience.  Always remember there’s one thing that audience members care more about than anything else: themselves.  What’s in it for me?  Never forget that your job is to show why your ideas are worthy of being listened to by the audience.  You can do this right up front by establishing how the audience’s life will be changed or can be impacted by what you’re going to say.  If you can’t explain how that will happen, then you probably will not get their attention and their mind will drift off to something else that will impact them.  Use the first thirty seconds of your talk to explain exactly how your words will make a difference, and then loop back to that with a strong call to action at the end of your presentation.

Ditch the PowerPoint.  There’s nothing that will suck the oxygen out of a room faster than a speaker who uses PowerPoint as a crutch.  Reading from a PowerPoint slide will almost always be viewed a waste of everyone’s time.  “Why are you reading this to me when I can just read it myself—and in half the time?” the audience will ask themselves.  If you overload your slides with information, little or none of it will be processed by your audience.  That’s not to say there’s not a place for PowerPoint or similar programs.  There is.  You can emphasize a point you make with an image or a few short words in large font.  Any more, and it will start to detract.  There is no shortcut to a good speech.  Putting a script on PowerPoint may make you feel better because you know you won’t get lost, but you can be assured that it will make your audience feel much, much worse and disinterested.  The information needs to come from you to be effective.

Soundbites and metaphors.  If you’re going on television, soundbites are critical. Make sure you have a few in your back pocket, as that is likely what will make future news cycles.  For all audiences, use simple metaphors and similes to break down difficult concepts.  Not everyone may understand your topic, but anyone can understand a strong sports or baseball analogy.

Eye contact.  We’ve all heard it, but few speakers do it effectively.  Eye contact conveys sincerity and helps you connect.  In the presentation contact, effective eye contact means scanning the room and holding in place for about as long as it takes you to finish the point you’re trying to make but not more than about three seconds.  Too long, and your audience gets a “creep” factor.  Not enough, and people believe you’re not really interested in them.  And never forget to include everyone.  If you overlook one person, that audience member will notice it and may think it’s personal.  If you’re going on TV, there are two places you should look.  If you’re via satellite or on Skype, look at the camera.  If you’re being interviewed by someone, look at the interviewer and not the camera.

Handling nerves.  Everyone gets nervous.  It’s normal.  Here are a few tips.  First, breathe from your diaphragm before—it keeps oxygen flowing and can help calm you.  Second, remember your goal: seconds before you go on stage, don’t think about what others will think of you; think about the message you are trying to communicate to your audience.  Third, visualize success; imagine delivering your keynote or nailing your interview and the feeling of elation you’ll have when it’s over.  Fourth, burn off energy before the speech; going on a run or hitting the gym early in the day can help burn off the jitters that will otherwise be an impediment to you.

Finally, have fun.  Speaking is a privilege and opportunity that not everyone gets, so enjoy it and your enthusiasm will infect your audience in a positive way.

 

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