Improve Public Speaking


Speaking With Confidence

If you are a student, you may be asked to speak before your class, and those of us who are not, may be asked to speak at a wedding, funeral, sports event, party, or office, sales, or political meeting. Public speaking, like dancing, builds our social skills, and like martial arts, builds confidence. Also, it is the foundation for leadership skills. There's no question about it, it empowers us, enabling us to inform, educate, motivate, inspire, and persuade others.

For this reason it makes sense to take a course or join a public speaking club, such as Toastmasters International. Yet, the thought of speaking to an audience strikes fear into the hearts of many. To encourage you to enter the exciting world of public speaking, I will share some ideas on overcoming fear, how to deliver a powerful speech, and end with a few more tips.

Overcoming The Fear of Public Speaking

Some fears always remain with us. It is not a matter of overcoming them as much as it is overcoming the inability to act because of them. Courageous men and women act despite their fears. The tasks at hand are too important to ignore merely because they are afraid.

1. Perhaps the best place to start is by recognizing there is nothing to fear about fear. It is just an emotion. Just a feeling of discomfort. And we all can learn to live with a little discomfort. Paradoxically, once we start to reap the rewards of a willingness to accept discomfort, we become comfortable living with it. In a word, each time we step out of our comfort zone we feel uncomfortable, but the rewards of doing so are so great that we willingly continue to repeat the cycle. In a word, face your fears and benefit. This acronym will help you remember fear is your friend: F.E.A.R = Face Everything And Reap benefits.

2. If you are as relaxed as a Zen monk, you are unlikely to be emotionally charged, fully energized, and brimming with passion. Professional speakers stepping on stage to address a large audience welcome their initial discomfort, for it discharges an adrenalin rush that pumps them up and allows them to deliver a powerful presentation.

3. The fear of speaking in public is not about the fear of speaking, but about the IMAGINED, POSSIBLE CONSEQUENCES of speaking. That is, it is about the fear of humiliation. A speaker that is racked with fear is plagued with thoughts such as, "What if I stumble as I walk to the podium? What if I lose my place and forget what I want to say? What if I mispronounce a word or make a grammatical mistake? What if I speak too softly, too loudly, too quickly, or unclearly? What if I cannot maintain eye contact with the audience? What if I look stupid, incompetent, or nervous?" This "What if." type of negative thinking is nothing more than fodder for anxiety.

The best way to overcome it is to change your focus from yourself to your audience. Rather than worry about how good YOU will look, concern yourself with how much THEY will enjoy your presentation. Ask yourself questions such as, "What can I do to make my material interesting for the audience? What would they like to hear from me? How can I best answer their questions? How can I help them feel at ease and enjoy the presentation?" Questions such as these release your creativity, inspire you to help your audience, and reduce stress.

4. Even the most skilled speakers abhor speaking when they are not prepared, so imagine how you would feel at such a time. The moral is prepare! Gather your resources, organize your material, and do your research. When you are prepared and know what you're going to say, you'll be able to relax and focus on your delivery.

5. After completing your preparation, it is time to practice. Do so in front of a mirror. By practicing several times you'll be able to remove the kinks, refine your delivery, and polish your speech. When you are ready, you will feel much more at ease.

6. Speak on a subject you are highly knowledgeable about. Then you will be able to face your audience and answer their questions with confidence. When you are asked to speak on a subject you haven't already mastered, do the necessary research to increase your comprehension, competence, and confidence. "Grasp the subject, and the words will follow." said Cato The Elder [1]. In contemporary language, Micheal Mescon [2] offers this advice, "The best way to conquer stage fright is to know what you're talking about."

7. We have a potent inner resource called imagination. If we channel this force, we become empowered, but if we allow our imagination to run amok, it can defeat us. Those who refuse to speak in public because they are afraid of being humiliated by an audience end up being humiliated by their fear. The secret is to harness the power of our imagination by practicing visualization. That is, rather than doing nothing and allowing your fears to run rampart, become proactive and control your thoughts. Deliberately imagine yourself succeeding. Don't ask yourself anxiety producing questions such as, "What if I screw up?" Rather ask empowering questions such as, "What if my presentation is brilliant? What humor can I interject to place my audience at ease? What can I do to help the audience feel it was well worth attending my presentation? What can I do to help them understand and benefit from my subject? How can I present my material in a lively and interesting way?" Mentally rehearsing your speech is just as important as actual practice (Point #5), so for a week before the event, spend 15 minutes a day doing so.

How to Deliver a Powerful Speech

1. To shine in public speaking, use the G.R.I.P. formula. Here's what the acronym stands for:

a) GRAB the attention of the audience with a dramatic opening.

b) RELATE the subject to the audience to make it meaningful.

c) Give INTERESTING ILLUSTRATIONS to make your points.

d) End with a POINT. Have a clearly understood PURPOSE for your speech, for speaking without a purpose is like shooting without taking aim.

Here's an example of a poor opening for a speech:

"I want to speak about the dangers of global warming."

Here's an example of four 'paragraphs' from a good beginning for a speech:

"The fate of the Arctic is on Thin Ice.

"Since 1979, the size of the summer polar ice cap has shrunk more than 20 percent. Average temperatures in the Arctic region are rising twice as fast as they are elsewhere in the world.

"Arctic ice is getting thinner, melting and rupturing. For example, the largest single block of ice in the Arctic, the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, had been around for 3,000 years before it started cracking in 2000. Within two years it had split all the way through and is now breaking into pieces. [3]

"How much longer do we have to wait until global warming is taken seriously?"

2. Be brief. Keep your audience wanting more. Remove verbal clutter, and stay on topic. Franklin D. Roosevelt [4] offered good advice on public speaking when he said, "Be sincere, be brief; be seated." Or as Benjamin Franklin [5] wrote, "He that speaks much, is much mistaken."

3. The spaces between words and sentences (pauses) are as important as the words. Pauses are necessary for the audience to have time to digest the material. They can also be used to stress a point and build suspense. So, when building your speech, plan your pauses as well as your points.

4. There's no point in speaking if the audience fails to understand the message. To help them absorb what you have to say, speak slowly, clearly, and in short sentences.

5. Speak about a subject you believe in. When you do, the audience will sense your sincerity and are more apt to be persuaded by your arguments. Francois De La Rochefoucauld [6] agreed, for he wrote, "Passions are the only orators to always convince us."

6. In a similar vein, don't be timid about expressing your emotions. Allow yourself to be enthusiastic and get passionate, for enthusiasm is contagious and passion ignites the room, making your speech memorable. Remember, it is far better to make three memorable points than ten forgettable ones. I'll call on another Frenchman to give his view on the matter, "The people only understand what they can feel; the only orators that can affect them are those who move them." (Alphonse De Lamartine [7])

7. Offer your audience the gifts of hope and inspiration, or as Gerald C. Meyers [8] said, "Find out what's keeping them up nights and offer hope. Your theme must be an answer to their fears."

8. Don't build yourself up; remain modest. Audiences don't like arrogant speakers. "Do you wish people to think well of you? Don't speak well of yourself." (Blaise Pascal [9])

9. Double-check your facts. After all, "It is terrible to speak well and be wrong." Sophocles [10]

Additional Tips

1. Audiences love it when speakers share personal information, so much so that Ralph Archbold [11] said, "A speech should not just be a sharing of information, but a sharing of yourself."

2. When preparing your speech, don't forget to ask yourself what are you omitting, forgetting, or neglecting to say? The opposite rule also applies. That is, after you finish writing your speech, ask yourself what is unnecessary or irrelevant and remove it.

3. Dale Carnegie [12] also offers sound advice about the structure of a good speech, "Tell the audience what you're going to say, say it; then tell them what you've said.

4. Use anecdotes, stories, and quotations to illustrate the points you wish to make.

5. "If you have an important point to make, don't try to be subtle or clever. Use the pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time; a tremendous whack." (Winston Churchill [13])

6. Keep your material at the level of the audience. "We should speak as the populace but think as the learned." Sir Edward Coke [14]

7. If possible insert humor in your speech, for "Once you get people laughing, they're listening and you can tell them almost anything." (Herb Gardner [15])

Now, here is Lily Walters [16] to sum up in just a few words what it is to be a great speaker, "The secret of successful speakers? Passion and compassion with a purpose."

Resources

To find a Toastmasters International Club near you, visit: http://reports.toastmasters.org/findaclub/

If you need help in releasing a debilitating fear of public speaking, visit:
http://www.changethatsrightnow.com/fear-of-public-speaking/
http://www.undoityourself.com/

[1] Cato The Elder (BC 234~149, Roman statesman, orator)
[2] Micheal Mescon
http://www.aeispeakers.com/speakerbio.php?SpeakerID=689)
[3] Polar Ice Cap facts taken from Wikipedia
[4] Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882~1945, 32nd American President)
[5] Benjamin Franklin (1706~1790)
[6] Francois De La Rochefoucauld (1613~1680, French classical writer)
[7] Alphonse De Lamartine (1790~1869, French poet, statesman, historian)
[8] Gerald C. Meyers (former chairman and CEO of American Motors Corporation)
[9] Blaise Pascal (1623~1662, French scientist, religious philosopher)
[10] Sophocles (495~406 BC, Greek tragic poet)
[11] Ralph Archbold (a Philadelphia-area speaker known for his impersonation of Benjamin Franklin)
[12] Dale Carnegie (1888~1955, American trainer)
[13] Winston Churchill (1874~1965)
[14] Sir Edward Coke (1552~1634, British jurist)
[15] Herbert George "Herb" Gardner (1934~2003, American cartoonist, playwright, and screenwriter)
[16] Lily Walters (
http://www.lillywalters.com/)

© Chuck Gallozzi
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