Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How To Make a Speech

Some people would prefer to dive over a cliff than make a speech. They conjure up all kinds of nightmare scenarios: What if I freeze? What if the audience hates me on sight? What if no one laughs except in places they shouldn't? Will everyone remember the mistakes I make for the rest of my life?

And yet, by learning a few techniques used by professional speakers -- who are very often the most scared of all -- you can not only conquer your nerves, you can also make a powerful impression and within seconds, actually start to enjoy the whole experience. Here's how.

First, check how you look. Dress appropriately, and be well groomed, so you feel comfortable and smart. Dressing professionally also helps the audience feel you've taken trouble for them and that they are respected. But make sure you don't go too far and unintentionally distract them, for example, with a man's flashy tie or a woman's low neckline.

  1. Opening nerves. Here are some techniques that will help you feel more comfortable and relaxed when you start.
    • Before you go on, chat to people in your audience. It will help create a warmer, more friendly atmosphere.
    • As you're waiting to be announced, repeat your opening sentence three or four times to distract you from your nervousness and to give you the confidence of a sure start.
    • To help relax from head to toe, take three deep slow breaths - in through nose - out through mouth with your hand on your stomach as it expands and contracts.
    • When starting, pause for 1-2 seconds to establish yourself.
    • Stand upright and relaxed.
    • Pleasantly acknowledge a friendly face nearby.
    • Smile. Smiling shows warmth for the audience and is rarely misinterpreted.
  2. Contact.
    • Make eye contact with the audience, momentarily from one to another as a way of showing interest in them.
    • Engage with animated listeners - but not too much.
    • Scan the audience, and don't miss anyone, anywhere, ever.
    • Occasionally start a sentence looking at one section of the audience and finish looking at another section.
    • Too shy to look straight at individuals? Until your confidence grows, try looking at the spaces between them.
  3. Speaking technique.
    • Recall how you talk to your mother, girlfriend or boyfriend, chief financial officer or boss. It's usually different for each. So imagine that someone who loves and appreciates you is listening. Start out by imagining you're talking to them.
    • Successful speakers project energy and conviction. They have to if they are to hold their audience from start to finish. They also know that if they stop concentrating on the words and the thread of their speech, so will the audience.
    • Believe what you say and deliver it with conviction and passion. The audience will sense if you're not sincere.
  4. Delivery. These suggestions may feel unnatural when you first try them, but you can see just how effective they are by listening to the phrasing of top presenters on TV and radio. Notice how they:
    • Emphasize key words in every sentence. So when you go through your speech, you will find it useful to underline a number of verbs and adjectives in each of your sentences to remind you to give them extra ‘punch.'

      • Don't drop your head when reading speech (many speakers type their speech only on the top half of pages).
      • Don't turn your back on audience.
      • Don't play with a pen or pointer.
      • Don't grip table or lectern.
      • Don't bend towards microphone (adjust its height).
      • Don't lean towards your notes.
      • Don't stare fixedly at notes or visual aids.
      • Don't fidget: Touch face, tie, lapel, etc.
    • And when it's all over . . .smile.

      (Unless the occasion's not appropriate....) It tells the audience that you've done your best, that you've enjoyed your talk and are confident they've enjoyed it too, that they're a great audience who've responded well. All that from just a smile? Sure, but it's what's behind the smile (learning and using the above) that's the real secret

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