Monday, October 9, 2017

The Art of Public Speaking



I make no bones about it – I like to speak in front of an audience.  In a group, however, I am generally quiet…unless I am feeling very comfortable.  I know many people, that one-on-one, or in a small group, have no problems speaking, being open and honest and providing opinions.  Stand them in the front of the room (even behind the protection of a lectern) and everything falls apart.  I get it, I understand it and recognize that most people would rather undergo something painful against their bodies in lieu of speaking to an audience.  The ability to stand in front of a crowd, while seemingly natural to some people, is for most a learned skill.

I am a member of Toastmasters, which helps people to feel comfortable to speak in front of other people and provide leadership training.  Needless to say, I am a big fan and even though I enjoyed being on the stage prior to joining, the skills that I have learned and practiced over the past few years have enhanced my oration abilities.  On the way to earning an advanced speaker status, I had to give a 40 minute seminar.  As part of the seminar, I led the group in ways to improve their speaking experience in two ways, how we use our bodies and how we use our voices.  When we talk to our friends, most people will gesture.  If we are talking to someone (especially on the phone), based on their vocal usage, we can tell what they are feeling.  Too many times, I have watched speaker grasp the lectern with two hands and proceed to speak in a monotone voice, making them look uncomfortable and unpleasant to listen to.  Yes, there is a bit of theatrics that goes with public speaking!  Remember, the goal is get across some message (your reason for speaking), stay on point of the topic (i.e., 2 or 3 points supporting one thought), keep your audience’s attention and /or provide some measure of entertainment, so that afterwards they remember the message.

I need to spend a few lines on keeping on topic.  When we read a story, there is a basic format of beginning, middle and end.  When I first worked as a consultant, some 20+ years ago, my project manager, Charlie, made me present to the client and gave me the simple advice, go out and tell them our story.  I am not a natural storyteller, but the advice has stuck with me, so that when I present, there is always a beginning, middle and end (purpose, options / supporting info, conclusion).  Public speaking is no different.  If you want your audience to follow your message and have a chance of remembering your words, have an easy to follow beginning, middle and end.  Too many times, I feel that people speak just to hear themselves speak (yes, this happens at meetings too).  Unfortunately, even people that speak publicly are not always self aware of what they say, the message, nor how to “craft” a speech, or realize that sometimes a good message can be delivered in 7 to 10 minutes.

I recently had the opportunity to watch two people speak – one a novice and one seasoned at speaking to an audience.  Both of them had a beginning, middle and end, both asked for an action to occur and both did a great job.  One of the speakers asked if I could tell that they were nervous.  I responded that you looked up, engaged your audience and spoke slow and clear, and, you looked calm and comfortable.  Unless you are sweating profusely, have a weird waver in your voice or use some unusual gesturing, your audience will not know you are nervous.  I have a small confession – the truth is that I am always a little nervous before I speak, but I turn my nervousness into the energy I use to help deliver the message.