Introduction to public speaking
Public speaking is “speaking in public”. That’s it. No, I am not saying this just for fun. If you keep this phrase “speaking in public” at the back of your mind, it will help you to get rid of the butterflies that you might have in your stomach before your speech. Certain things remain the same in all kinds of communication via speech; be it public speaking, facing an interview or talking on the phone. However, public speaking demands a few specialised skills and techniques. So, if you want to explore some tips for a power-packed speech, read on.
- Set a goal.
Why are you making a speech? Is your speech to inform, inspire, persuade, educate or entertain the audience? And, more importantly, what exactly is it that you want your audience to do after listening to you? Do you want them to buy something? To change their lifestyle? To help you? To vote for you? To contribute in some way? Surprisingly, most speakers fail to see the significance of this first and foremost step.
- Keep in mind the audience.
Try to understand your audience’s background. Why are they there? Never presume that your audience knows nothing about your topic or knows it all. Otherwise you will either under-prepare or waste your time preparing more than required. Proper and adequate research will help you establish your authority. Remember, there may be a subject specialist in the audience.
- Make a good start.
Make a good start with an interesting or surprising fact that instantly draws your audience’s attention. You can give them a happy jolt too by sharing some latest news. A one-liner or a relevant joke can sometimes do wonders.
- Don’t be disheartened by initial mistakes.
It’s a misconception that first impression is the last impression. You can always improve as you progress if you have made a bad start for some reason. Don’t let that bad start spoil the whole speech. Audience is mostly sympathetic towards those who make sincere efforts to do their best. If you earnestly try, it will be easy for you to get the audience on your side. You will undoubtedly be able to make up for your initial loss.
- Arrange your ideas in a coherent manner.
What you need is a good beginning which cogently develops and logically concludes. It is said a good speaker can explain even Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity in an easy to understand manner. If you want to listen to such examples, listen to Carl Sagan or David Attenborough. It’s always good to put yourself in audience’s shoes.
- Use acronyms.
As you speak, a lot of thoughts go on in your mind, which can make you forget your speech. Use acronyms to remember your main points. You may count them off on your fingertips. By the way, an acronym is a word made up from the first letters of the name of something such as an organisation. For example, NATO is an acronym for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
- Dress for the occasion.
Wear clothes appropriate for the occasion. Your dress should not be too distracting. Wear anything that makes you feel comfortable. Try to avoid a newly acquired footwear or dress. For example, being conscious of a new pair of shoes which pinch or a new shirt whose collar is hurting your neck will make you lose concentration.
- Strike a comfortable posture.
Your posture should command authority and attention. A wrong posture will defeat the impact. The posture should be polite yet authoritative. Certain postures convey certain strong messages, both positive and negative. Be careful with your body language. For example if it is frankness that you mean but stand with arms crossed it means defensive and it is the opposite of your intentions.
- Mind your gestures.
Gestures should complement the point you are making and flow with the ideas. Do not overdo them. They should be meaningful and create a right visual impression on the audience. Do not repeat gestures unnecessarily. Control your mannerisms, ways of speaking or moving that is typical of you.
- Modulate your voice.
Vary the pitch of your voice, pace and volume according to the message. Do not sound monotonous. Use silence as a tool. Tone and rhythm are crucial for effect.
- Maintain good eye contact with the audience.
Look at the audience to show that you acknowledge their presence gratefully. Keep a smile to match. Scan the audience impartially whereby you show neutrality and show that you are speaking to everyone of them. This way everyone feels pleased to be there. Avoid reading from a text—it will make the audience think that you are just talking to yourself.
- Involve the audience.
It’s a little tricky to involve the audience. You can do so by asking a simple question where a simple nod suffices. Don’t ask questions which require a lot of thinking. Never ask a person to stand up and answer. Walk to either side of the stage to get the audience to pay attention. They will follow your movement and be connected with you. Recite or sing something to ensure audience’s involvement. You may find something interesting that they can repeat after you. In sum, they will be all ears if they are involved.
- Use humour.
It’s vital to have a sense of humour in public speaking. Humour can spice up your speech. Make sure it is not offensive to any community, class or creed. Humour should be neutral and in some way connected to the topic.
- Use anecdotes.
Everyone likes to listen to stories, so add them where appropriate. Anecdotes, your personal real-life stories, create interest because they are authentic, impressive and credible. Make sure that you don’t sound boastful while talking about you.
- Announce about handouts if any.
You should inform the audience at the beginning of your speech if you are going to give handouts during or after your speech. Handouts should have only the points and not the whole speech. Also instruct the audience whether the handout is to be referred to during the speech. A handout can be most useful in case of a power cut or other hindrances encountered during the speech.
- Design your slides well.
If you are using a projector, ensure that the colours and fonts you use are easy on the eye. Follow 6 X 6 rule; i.e., maximum six lines per slide and six words per line; but fewer the words, the better it is. Use pictures to add value. Use a light background and and dark fonts for good results. Do not read from the slides. Nobody likes to listen to somebody who is reading a speech. Reading in itself is an art used for different purposes but reading a speech won’t be acceptable. Present, not read.
- Keep your plan ’B’ ready.
It is always advisable to be prepared for any emergencies. There may be a power cut. There may be a change in the time limit. As mentioned earlier, handouts can be handy here. Have something up your sleeve in case you forget what you may have planned to say. Take a detour to buy time and try to recollect what you actually wanted to say.
- End on a positive note.
Conclude on a positive note. Thank the audience and get them to clap for them. Tell them they have been a wonderful audience. Let there be claps all round. Believe that the audience will have enjoyed your speech and are taking away something useful. That idea will boost your morale. Leave the audience on a high note.
Happy Speaking, Happy Sharing!
Best wishes from Hasmukh Umaria and Dharmendra Sheth