Good leaders master the art of public speaking: Tips for nailing your next speech

Posted by Shivali Anand

Communication greases the wheel of every organization. In its absence, you can’t form connections, influence decisions or motivate change in the workforce, to say the least.

And for leaders, the most important type of communication is effective public speaking. A leader who is a skilled public speaker leader can motivate and inspire.

Yet the fear of public speaking is common, even among seasoned executives. While some people join organizations like Toastmasters or take classes to get comfortable with it, plenty just try to avoid situations where they’d need to make a speech.

For those of us who seek to communicate better but don’t necessarily want to become professional speakers, we’ve culled practical recommendations from public speech experts on the best ways to finesse public speaking that anyone can use.

Prepare

Know your subject. To be an effective speaker or a go-to expert on your topic, you need a deep understanding of your subject. If you try to teach something you don’t understand, people will see right through you.

Know your audience. Familiarize yourself with the demographic of your audience. This lets you deliver a speech that resonates with your audience. Speakers who wing it have little chance of connecting with listeners.

Know the site. Get familiar with the venue and its stage, if there is one, in advance. This will help you be more at ease when it’s speech time.

Dry run. Head off last-minute technical difficulties. Test the equipment well ahead of time, including your computer and any music arrangements.

Rehearse

Practice again and again. There is no such thing as being overly prepared. Schedule a practice time and stick to it every day. Rehearse in front of the mirror to fine-tune your facial expressions and hand movements. 

Incorporate humor. Balance factual information with lighthearted wit in the speech to keep your audience engaged.

Work on tone, projection. Nobody wants to hear an awkward, monotone speech. Tone and projection are just as important as the speech itself.

Introduce distractions. Add distractions while practicing your speech to test preparedness. Turn on the TV or push your child on the swing while rehearsing to ensure you are ready in the event of the unexpected.

Take every opportunity to speak. Regularly perform in front of a live audience whenever the chance arises.

Fine-tune

Slow down. To engage with the audience, focus on delivering a clear, unrushed message with built-in pauses as opposed to a rapid-fire slew of words. Taking longer pauses than you think is necessary can be great for emphasizing key points and emotionally connecting with the audience.

Ensure eye contact. The audience is the essential element in public speaking. Make eye contact with as many people as possible to keep them engaged.

Display confidence. The more confident you act, the more confident you will feel. Even if you feel nervous and uncomfortable, fake it.

On the day of the speech

Work out beforehand. Exercise will help curtail anxiety and stress.

Mentally prepare. Before your speech, spend time alone reviewing what you plan to say. At least 10 minutes beforehand, try to calm down so you are able to think clearly.

Aim to wrap up before the allotted time. Never go over the planned time for the speech. It's poor etiquette and shows you are either unprepared or willfully ignoring the agenda.

Request feedback. It’s natural to fear criticism. But asking for feedback is a good way to connect and build relationships with audience members, and it will inform your future speeches for the better.

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