3 Public Speaking Tips To Own Your Stage
My father, an entrepreneur, longtime coach and self-made man, always says “If you’re gonna be a bear, be a grizzly.” This is great advice because it can essentially be used in every area of life. Simply put, it mean be your best.
With the overwhelming popularity of (and addiction to) Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and whatever other social media sites may crop up before this article is published, we are bombarded with quotes from great thinkers past and present. To disrespect to Ghandi, Oprah or Socrates but I think my dad’s words are truly words to live by.
We are not in competition with anyone but ourselves. Each of us is unique with our own special qualities that we bring to the table of life. That said, I am a public speaker. In my opinion I am one of the best around. That is because I choose to be a “grizzly” and give my audiences and clients more than they bargained each time I take the stage.
As someone who has worked on (not in…I’m not limber enough to crawl into even the biggest flatscreen sets) television for over twenty years and has appeared on stages all over North America and Europe, I have found it beneficial to keep a journal of what works as a presenter and what does not. I’d like to share three observations that keep coming up with you now.
The first ingredient to success as a speaker is PREPARATION. Be ready. It sounds trivial but it is crucial to your success as a speaker. By being ready I mean a multitude of things. Obviously a great speech is a well prepared speech. We have all heard the story of Abraham Lincoln pacing back and forth in the car of his train rehearsing the Gettysburg Address. President Lincoln realized the power of a well rehearsed speech. By doing the research yourself and drafting your own outline you are creating from within and being genuine. An audience can smell a store bought speech from a mile away and they will check out at the first whiff.
When a speaker is passionate about the topic on which they are presenting, they (you) will appear confident. I speak on a number of different issues. Motivating people to live their best life, developing a healthy balance between work and home and making little choices that lead to big results are all things that I believe and have lived personally. As a result, my message has a a greater affect and is more memorable because it comes from my heart. The more you realize the value of your speech the easier it will be to build confidence in your words.
Being ready also means understanding who your audience is and respecting their time. Your audience is your customer. Just as you may expect great service at a fine restaurant, your audience expects great content from your presentation.
It is your responsibility to identify their interests, likes as well as dislikes. How do you gauge interest level? By being “present and aware.” The best way to judge if an audience is with you is at the beginning and during the speech. By being aware and comfortable with your material, you can tailor the speech on the fly to suite their responses. One of the most beneficial training steps I’ve taken in my career was to study improvisational comedy with the Harvey Lembeck Comedy Workshop in Beverly Hills, CA. Improv is not about cracking jokes, it’s about making the most of every moment of a performance. This training taught me the fine art of slowing down, reading my audience and thinking before I spoke. I highly suggest studying improv if you really want to be a big bear in the speaking world.
When an audience senses that you are catering to them then you have created rapport. Rapport is essential if you want them to walk out feeling as if they’ve benefited from your time together. A couple of ways of establishing a bond is by telling stories rather than stating facts or incorporating people known to the crowd into your speech. When speaking on the corporate circuit, I always make sure that I do a little research on some of the key players or events in the organization. I don’t try to pretend I’m one of the team but a professional and respectful joke about the boss or office clown certainly spices up my opening and always gets a positive response.
While preparing your speech it is also important to be aware of your allotted time. Most events are scheduled down to the minute and it is not a smart move to hold up the serving of dinner, the musical act or, worst of all, the CEO’s address. Make sure, as you rehearse in your hotel room or into your digital voice recorder, that you are able to nail your sixty minute keynote in sixty minutes. Practice, practice and practice some more so that your audience will sense your confidence and appreciate your passion for the topic.
The second tip for delivering a great speech is remembering that LESS IS MORE. If you don’t have sixty minutes of solid content don’t sell them a sixty minute speech! It is more beneficial to you as a speaking professional to offer a shorter, more powerful speech rather than adding twenty minutes of nothing just to add some money to your fee. Remember, the goal is to over-deliver and get asked back year after year.
I mentioned Abraham Lincoln and The Gettysburg Address earlier. That speech made history and it did so in 273 words. In all of my research on Lincoln I have never come across a letter of complaint from someone who was upset because the president wasn’t on stage long enough. On the contrary, William Henry Harrisson gave the longest inaugural address and ended up catching pneumonia and dying from standing out in the cold rain for so long while delivering it.
* Be concise. To quote the GM of the first radio station I ever worked for use “word economy.” This is especially true when delivering a business presentation. In the corporate world one is wise to use more verbs rather than adjectives. People want action in the workplace. I encourage you to use brief and abrupt sentences as this will give your presentation a more “to the point” feel.
Think about what the thought you want to convey and find the most direct way to get it across. Remember that your audience is giving you the gift of their time and attention. Don’t waste it.
Finally, the last tip I want to pass along to you is BE AWARE OF YOUR BODY LANGUAGE. My fellow speaker, this awareness must begin the very moment we walk onto the stage. A successful and well received orator does not merely control what words come out of his/her mouth, but is constantly aware of what the body is also saying. Strong, positive body language is an essential tool that will help you build credibility, express emotion and connect with your audience. This, of course, includes appropriate hand gestures and eye contact.
Understanding that body language accounts for between 55% and 65% of our communication, here are some notes that I have pulled directly from my speaking journal that I carry with me to every event.
* It’s important to rehearse hand gestures along with the wording.
* Don’t use the same hand gesture over and over.
* Avoid using finger and fist gestures as they may be offensive to other cultures.
* Hands in pockets only if emphasis is on being casual.
* Audience responds better when I am alive and energetic in my delivery.
* Eye focus is more important than eye contact.
A famous study by Albert Mehrabian found that nonverbal language makes up 55% of how we communicate in face to face or audience interactions. He also included that we communicate as much as 38% of our message through the tone/pitch of our voice. Which leaves only 7% to the actual words we choose to say.
Being a presenter is not just a job. It is a craft. An art. We are performers and informers with a great responsibility.
In summary, to be a powerful presenter one must prepare and invest the time required to deliver a speech that will stick. We must appreciate and respect the time we have been given to speak and not waste it with words that do not contribute to the message. We must also understand that our bodies say as much as our mouths.
As you journey out into the wilderness that is the public speaking world, I encourage you to always remember the words of Jim Newton…
“If you’re gonna be a bear, be a grizzly.” Just don’t growl into the microphone. It causes feedback.
Todd Newton is a veteran TV host, certified personal life coach and international keynote speaker. His company, Todd Newton Life Strategies, LLC trains CEOs, trains executives and entrepreneurs on presentation excellence and media appearances. For more information please visit www.toddnewtonlive.com
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