As we all know, the benefits of having well-developed public speaking skills are many: They boost our confidence and self-esteem, they give us a platform to spread good ideas – Heck, they even provides us with an (implied) credibility on the topics we speak on, be they professional or personal in nature.
So if all this is true, why is it that so many people avoid public speaking like the plague?
That’s because nothing raises the blood pressure or freaks people out as much as hearing the two words “public” and “speaking” fused together; but preface them with “I need you do do some…” and people go downright insane.
I’m serious; there are documented cases where – when asked to give a speech – some people have actually spontaneously combusted!
Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic; being asked to give a speech never actually caused someone to burst into a big, expensive “Michael Bay” inspired fireball. However most usually respond with that panicky “Deer caught in the headlights” look – you know the one – which pretty much feels the same as being blown up from the inside out after swallowing a stick of dynamite.
One thing’s for sure – the request to “say a few words” is an act that can reduce the biggest, boldest people into a blobs of quivering, angst-ridden messes; and to be clear, I’m not talking about speaking to The United Nations or at a localized TEDx event…
No, I’m talking about giving a toast at a nephew or niece’s wedding, pitching an idea to a few work colleagues or simply speaking up at a P.T.A. meeting – from what I’ve seen, even these types of informal public speaking opportunities still totally freak out a lot of people.
Are these reactions to public speaking something you can relate to? If so, don’t worry, because you’re not alone; but you should also know it doesn’t have to be this way – not at all.
Rather than viewing pubic speaking as a fear-inducing, mind-melting stress-fest, by simply learning just a few simple steps – as in seven – you can actually face it with confidence and ease.
Best of all, once you understand and apply these seven strategies you’ll be able to come away from every talk (a) looking & sounding like a rock star, and most importantly (b) with your underwear clean and intact… It’s true! I know this because I do it all the time.
You might be thinking “There’s no way! I’m absolutely, 100% completely terrified and freaked out speaking in front of people, and always will be! Besides, you’re a “natural” speaker”
Trust me when I say that I understand, because I’ve been there myself. When I began speaking I lacked a ton of confidence, but kept at it again and again as I knew this was the only way to improve my skill level.
If you want to know the real truth, the only thing “natural” about my speaking style is that I “naturally” (a) practiced, (b) practiced and (c) practiced every chance so that I WOULD become better.
And with all that practicing, you know what happened? I discovered seven common denominators that – whether I was addressing two or two hundred people – made all the difference.
You know what’s even better? If you are willing to put in the time and effort (+practice!) these strategies can do the exact same for you… Pretty cool, eh?
But before we get into the seven strategies, let’s first address that perplexing question…
WHY IS PUBLIC SPEAKING SO FRICKIN’ SCARY FOR MOST PEOPLE?
My favourite quote about the fear of pubic speaking comes from my man, Jerry Seinfeld:
Most people think they are terrible public speakers because they’ve never really tried it, let alone practiced; and while they probably aren’t very good at it, they’re rarely as bad as they think they are.
The problem is that they’ve convinced themselves they aren’t any good; and that if they do speak, they’ll risk looking foolish or stupid, so they avoid it all together.
And truthfully, even at their very worse most speaking efforts don’t come off looking – or sounding – anywhere near as terrible as Miss Teen South Carolina did a few years back when answering a question about why some Americans can’t locate America on a map.
What’s that? (a) Who is Miss Teen South Carolina and (b) what’s so terrible about her speaking? You had to ask, didn’t you…
Now to be fair, I know this speech wasn’t prepared; however, for someone expecting to speak publicly on a regular basis, her skill level should be much better than this.
Having said that, unless you are (a) a teenage girl from South Carolina who is (b) planning on wearing a sparkly sash and representing your state on national television I doubt such academic time-bombs being will be lobbed your way during a speech you might be giving.
All kidding aside, the video shows how important it is to have something worthwhile to say; after all, having a good message to communicate is the reason we give speeches, right? Without having specific information to share, speeches will lack the clarity and focus of a message – and without these, it would be easy for anyone to mess up – you know, like Miss Teen South Carolina did.
But even when you have a clear and concise message to share, it’s equally as important to communicate that message in a way that is both engaging and interesting to your audience. As way of example, this is a key element that a very excited politician seemed to miss out on during his speech, beginning at around the one minute mark. Watch and learn!
Okay, so there you have it – two examples of what BAD speaking looks, and sounds like. Again, trust me when I say that no matter how badly you THINK you mess up a speech, it will never be as bad as either of these examples! How can I say this?
Simple! These two didn’t have the benefit of reading this post before they hit the stage, and you do; and BECAUSE you do, you’ll know to use the seven strategies that – with a little practice – anyone can use to be an awesome public speaker… Heck, with these even Miss Teen South Carolina could come off sounding brilliant! (Okay, I’ll leave her alone now)
SEVEN STRATEGIES TO KILL YOUR PUBLIC SPEAKING
1. Always Have Something Worthwhile To Say: As much as this seems obvious, it’s not always, something proved by Miss Teen South Carolina… and yes, I lied. Assuming you are starting with strong message that is of value, the remaining six strategies will help you nail it so that you’ll be able to communicate it with confidence, and in a way that engages your audience.
2. Always Have a Beginning, Middle and End To Your Speech: Like any good story, your speech should have these 3 critical parts to flow fully and completely. Think of them as the WHAT, HOW & WHY” of your story, like this:
A Beginning: (The What) This is when you present a concrete idea of WHAT you will be talking about. e.g: “Public speaking is hard! But today I’m going to help show you how to make it easier in five easy steps”.
A Middle: (The How) Now it’s time to tell your audience how your topic works, or how the story unfolded from beginning to end, including suggestions, ideas or solutions HOW to tackle a problem. e.g: “Here are some examples; now here are five steps to help avoid those situations”.
An End: (The Why) Time to “wrap it all up” finishing with the reason – possibly a lesson or moral – WHY you chose to tell this story e.g. “Here’s what I wanted to tell you about, here’s what I hope you learned, and here’s how you can use this information in the future”.
3. Understand That Giving Speeches is Really Just Telling Stories: Speaking of stories, this strategy was an absolute epiphany to me. Telling stories is the very best way to engage people, because you aren’t in essence speaking AT them, but rather TO them. Best stories to use? Personal stories from your own experiences, and here’s why:
Such stories are rooted in actual personal experiences; and whenever we share our personal stories we tend to add in the bits that make them funny, sad, scary etc. which in turn makes our speech more relatable to our audience. When we do a really good job at this, we’ll touch their emotions – which just happens to be a great segue to strategy # 4…
4. Tap Into Your Audience’s Emotions So They Feel Your Message: The very best way to profoundly effect an audience with your story is to touch them emotionally with the details. In fact, the goal is that they not only HEAR your words, but FEEL them as well. This is done by explaining a situation in a way that relies on the emotion you want them to feel, which in turn pulls them into the action so they can almost “experience” it as though they were there. Therefore…
- If you want people to feel mirth, use a funny situation and help them feel the humour.
- If you want people to feel sorry, use a sad situation and help them feel pain.
- If you want people to feel fear, use a scary situation and help them feel terror.
5. Always Be Conversational: Just like learning that speeches are just stories, this idea was a game-changer for me. The best speakers don’t “speak” to their audiences; they actually have (often one-way) conversations with them. I could go on and on about how giving a speech is like a 10:15 a.m. water cooler conversation with your work buddies and you would probably get the idea; or I could just show you a master at work, and leave it at that.
6. Write Your Notes in Bullet Points: One of the biggest mistakes people make is writing out their speech, and then reading it off the paper – kind of like our angry politician did. As you can tell, this method not only looks terrible, but it rarely conveys the true message the speaker wants to get across because they are too busy reading a page to connect with their audience.
Strategy #5 says “be conversational”, right? Let me ask you this: When was the last time you conversed with someone by reading from a page? Never, right? Of course not, that would be silly.
A better method is to make bullet points of all the key items you want to talk about and then go down the list, speaking freely about each one in order. For example, the two opening paragraphs in my TEDx Talk* were:
Discipline or regret: Which one do you choose most often? You may be surprised to learn that most people choose regret – although to be fair, they usually don’t realize it when they do. You know the drill: We see something really cool or awesome. We get really excited and make plans to do or have it, but then we get busy; life gets in the way and we push it off, and off until it’s eventually forgotten all together. We’ve all been there, right?
But here’s the thing: A recent study done by a Hospice nurse found that at “End of Life” reflection, most people have regrets for the things they never did. They regret things like working too much, and not spending more time with their families. They regret not saying, “I love you” near as much as they should have, to the people who are most important to them. They regret never visiting those foreign countries and cultures they always wanted to see, but kept putting off until next year, and then the year after that, until – here they are at the end of their lives, and it’s too late. Their bucket lists are just that: Empty “lists” of unfulfilled promises. And personally I think that’s a tragedy; but I also know that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Lots of information there, and a ton to read, right? Now even – due to six months of rehearsals – I didn’t use notes for this speech, but if I did they’d look something like this:
- Hospice – End of life reflection
- Working too much / Not saying I LOVE YOU /Not visiting foreign countries
- Bucket Lists are unfulfilled
See how much easier that is? Just a glance at the page and we are on track. And because (a) we speak conversationally and (b) would have done a little rehearsing, these few words are enough to jog our memories, and ensure our core message gets out clearly.
*If you want to check it out, my TEDx Talk is at the bottom of the post
7. Be Actionable: For me, being actionable is the final key step in any good speech; it’s basically saying to your audience “I’ve told you a story (What), explained (Why) it’s relevant and/or important, and want to leave you with a way (How) you can use this information”. Action steps add real value to your message, by giving your audience something to do with the information you have just provided them.
Again, using my TEDx talk as an example, click on 15:44 and see how I finished up with four actionable steps highlighting how the story I just told illustrated the importance and execution of each one.
8. Bonus Tip:
If When You Screw Up: And finally know this: You WILL screw up. Lots. Lots and lots.
Sometimes you will forget whole paragraphs of your speech, or at times draw a blank and not remember what comes next. You will tell funny stories that people won’t laugh at; you’ll also get laughs when you don’t want them. All these things will happen, and then some. And you know what else? It’s all okay, and here’s why:
Because only YOU will know you “screwed up”, and never your audience. I’m serious.
They didn’t know there was a paragraph missing, and thought that blank star was actually a cleverly placed pause. They thought the funny story was just a story to illustrate a point, while the other one was there to make them laugh.
But most of all, they’ll know you are standing up in front of them as an authority in your subject, giving them great information and some action steps on a relevant topic. Heck, they’ll even be a little envious wishing it was something they had the guts to do.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll help them out and share these strategies with them; or then again, maybe you’ll just bask in the glory of being a rock star speaker instead, and you know why?
Because you are.
If you’d like to check out they TEDx Stanley Park Talk: May, 2015