Public Speaking: Even Obama gets help!

According to a popular piece of survey, more people are scared of public speaking than

This is both good and bad news. It is good because the sheer number of people who do public speaking (either in the work environment or in a social setting) suggests that they feel this fear but carry on regardless! And it is always great when people go beyond their comfort zones.  It is bad because the number of people who attempt public speaking and get it wrong (often without even realising it!) serves to perpetrate the fear of public  speaking to the people who have yet to attempt it!

Public speaking is regarded as one of the top 3  competencies that are valued by most organisations. If you get it right, your perceived level of competence and all round professionalism magnifies, rightly or wrongly, many fold. Just think of such great modern day public speakers as Barak Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Tony Blair and you’ll understand what I mean. It is therefore admirable that so many people want to attempt it. It is also extremely creative that many people are seeking out a variety of opportunities to increase their public speaking abilities. Some surprises are emerging as a result. Those of us who watched the T.V coverage of Whitney Huston’s funeral last month, were stunned to see that Kevin Costner was indeed a master speaker. His tribute to Whitney,  with its mixture of humour, poignant moments of history, sadness and warmth was, for me, the highlight of the funeral. And it was effortless.

This apparent ease is indeed one of the key things one notices in a good public speaker. No matter what emotions or nerves are raging inside the public speaker or presenter, he should still manage to make the “performance” look easy. No one wants to see a person making it seem like hard work, with realms of sweat running down their faces as they read out pages of pages of notes. No one wants to see a person “die on stage” as they make an inappropriate attempt at humour or as they misjudge the mood in the room.  The  performance needs to be effortless… but the material doesn’t have to be written
by you.

Obama, and indeed most public figures, have speech writers: People who understand how to engage their audience, prepare their presentation materials for them (in a way that makes it seem as if the presenter actually wrote it himself) and help them to rehearse it until they get it right. This leaves the Presenter with the task of concentrating on just the delivery. I say “just” with my tongue firmly placed in my cheek as any presenter will tell you that this is the lion share of the whole performance.

If you have to write your own material, I suggest the following key points:

1. Begin with the end in mind!

  •  Know what message you want to give and  write your conclusion first.

2. Invest serious time in an impactful introduction!

  • It’s got to grab the audience’s attention straight away

3. Between  the Introduction and the Conclusion, tell a story!

  • That connects with all of the key senses and emotions of your audience.

4. Practice,  Practice, Practice beforehand

  • Please do not be tempted to “wing it”.  You’ll get found out!
  • Pay attention to your timing and stick to your allotted time…at all costs!
  • Practice by yourself, in front of the mirror
  • Practice in front of a friendly audience, e.g. family members & friends

5. Plan  every aspect your Performance!

  • What clothes will you wear?
  • How will you stand?
  • How will you move?
  • How will you engage your audience and appear likeable?
  • How will you “own” the room without appearing arrogant?

Finally, remember that public speaking or presenting is like delivering a performance, or acting in a play. If the performance is great, you will find that your audience are at the edge of their seats hanging onto your every word. If you ever find yourself pausing midway through your “performance” to ask your audience to shut up or to be quiet, then know that you haven’t  gotten it right…. yet.

So learn from it and do something different next time!

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