Q: As a motivational speaker and thought leader, do you have any suggestions or experience that you want to share? I understand that practice makes perfect. Do you have specific tips for improving public speaking? —Yue L., School of Management, Syracuse University
It could take an entire semester to answer this question. Are you talking about a motivational talk, an attorney’s closing argument, or a political or oratorical type of speech? There are different nuances and tricks of the trade for each. Here’s my advice, however, regardless of the type of speech:
Be good, be brief, and be done!
The true sign of a Master is the ability to make everyone in the audience feel like you were talking directly to them.
This is based on relevancy, subject mastery, and eye contact.
Initially your audience may not believe or understand that what you have to say is relevant to them. You have to show them the relevancy; help them to understand why and how your topic is relevant.
Provide them with stories or examples that directly relate to them. Be empathetic by showing them that even if you haven’t had the exact same experiences, you have had similar ones.
Once you have the power of relevancy on your side, you will have a stronger hold on the minds and hearts of your audience.
You should know more about your topic than you have time to talk about. For a one-hour keynote I come prepared with three hours of information on my topic. For a half-day seminar I show up with 1½ days worth of material. I want people to know that what they just received from me was the tip of the iceberg.
Also, if you happen to loose your train of thought or completely forget something, it’s easier to recover when you have a ton of information in your arsenal.
The best speakers seldom worry about perfection because they spend more time working on credibility and expertise—the fruits of subject mastery.
Which do you think an audience would prefer:
a clueless speaker that delivers a perfect speech
or an expert speaker that delivers a good speech?
Research shows that around 70% eye contact is optimal during a typical conversation in the U.S. In public speaking that percentage needs to be raised to 95%-100% because the audience is focused on you.
Of course, gawking at people is a no-no. Your goal is to make meaningful eye contact (translation: more than a split-second glance) with as many members of your audience as possible. It’s best to look at an audience member, complete your thought then move on to someone else.
Two final things about being good:
First, take a public speaking class or join a Toastmasters club.
Second, DO NOT tell jokes (unless you are a comedian or have taken stand up comedy classes). Tell humorous stories and use witty phrases. I would rather watch grass grow than be subjected to the torture of listening to a boring speaker.
Unless it’s a eulogy or some other serious or somber speech, the audience wants to laugh. Laughter increases blood flow to the brain and keeps your audience from turning into a room full of zombies.
No matter how good you are, you still need to…
Continued in part 2
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