public speaker

How to Dazzle at Your Next Speaking Gig 

Getting out in front of an audience as a public speaker is one of the best and most efficient ways to network. Approach the podium, and the spotlight will shine on you! Everyone in the room will want to meet you and exchange a few words. Inevitably, some will ask to exchange cards and request follow-up conversations.

Taking on a keynote speaking role instantly lends credibility, showcasing you as an expert in your field and a trusted source of information. Freelancers, owners of business ventures of every size and corporate and not-for-profit organization leaders understand that speaking engagements introduce them and their organization to colleagues, potential clients or donors, influencers, referral sources, potential investors or strategic partners.  

Public speaking isn’t natural for everyone. Some feel intimidated by the thought of speaking before a group of people, no matter how well-versed they are in the subject matter. Nevertheless, for those who hold or aspire to a leadership role of some sort, public speaking comes with the territory.

Become a better public speaker

The good news is that public speaking is a skill that you can learn. Those who make the effort to develop the skill will be happy to realize that the more you do it, the more proficient and comfortable you’ll become. Consider it professional development. Also encouraging to know is that, like learning any skill, breaking the components down into manageable “chunks” and tackling them one by one prevents you from feeling overwhelmed and helps you to learn. 

Keep it simple 

Be considerate to your audience by making your talk both informative and relatable. Let the audience govern the content. In particular, unless you’re addressing an industry group, avoid technical jargon—it’s not the best way to show off what you know. Not only does high-falutin’ tech speak bore most listeners, but it also doesn’t convince anyone of your expertise or insights into the topic.  

To make your subject engaging for your audience, using easily understood language is the most effective way to demonstrate your grasp of the subject. The most important thing about your talk is that the audience gets it. “Keeping things simple allows you to control the flow, no matter which way it goes,” says Maria Thimothy of Forbes Magazine Young Entrepreneur Council. 

Shape the story 

Rather than composing your entire speech ahead of time, write out key concepts you want to emphasize and rehearse, using those key points as a focus. You’ll find that by allowing room for flexibility, it will be easier to adjust your talk to the mood of the room and your talk will be better received. For example, if you sense that you’ve lost the attention of some in the audience, you might pose a question, slip in a joke or reference to something happening in the news as a way to re-engage people. 

Own the stage

A presentation is more than words. People expect a speaker to be an expert in their field, possessing knowledge and experience that will inform and enlighten those who’ve come to listen. Additionally, the speaker’s intention may be to rally audience members with a compelling call to action that inspires listeners to demonstrate their support for a cause. To achieve these objectives, public speakers must be both highly competent and confident. 

The successful speaker makes it known that s/he is worthy of an audience’s trust and respect not only by way of the content of the talk but also in body language and demeanor. A public speaker needs to develop stage presence.

Power stance

How you stand is a strong indicator of your confidence and mindset as a public speaker. When facing an audience, hold a strong and steady position. Set your feet at shoulder width, with knees relaxed and not locked. Your spine will be comfortably erect, and your neck and shoulders will be relaxed.  

With this posture, you can signal that you have important information to share and feel confident. In a 2012 TEDGlobal talk, Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are, social psychologist Amy Cuddy sparked a sensation when she modeled this and other so-called “power poses.” 

In a 2013 Harvard Business Review article, TED Curator Chris Anderson seconded Cuddy when he noted that the most common mistake made by inexperienced or nervous public speakers is the inability to maintain a solid, stationary posture. Swaying or fidgeting works against the ability to communicate confidence. Anderson noted, “Simply getting a person to keep his or her lower body motionless can dramatically improve stage presence.” 

Eye contact 

Making eye contact is important for maintaining dynamic interaction with the audience. It’s another reason to avoid memorizing your speech and instead focus on the key points you want to emphasize 

To incorporate good eye contact, Anderson recommends finding five or six friendly-looking faces in different parts of an audience and making eye contact with them as you speak. “Even if you don’t have time to prepare fully and have to read from a script, looking up and making eye contact will make a huge difference,” he advised. 

Vocal power  

When you think about it, the human voice is like a musical instrument. What is singing? You can learn to use your voice as if you are playing a musical instrument, to increase your vocal power and persuasiveness, whether you’re giving a speech or having a conversation.  You can learn to adjust your vocal pitch, volume and speed in ways that allow audiences to follow you and want to hear more.  

The primary lessons are to keep your tone of voice conversational, enunciate your words clearly, speak more slowly and pause. When you slow down your speech somewhat, your voice will take on more power, and you’ll sound more authoritative. Another benefit of slowing down your speech is that it allows your listeners to absorb and reflect on what you’re saying.  

Another useful public speaking vocal technique is to include strategically placed pauses when you’ve made an especially salient point. This lets the information sink in and resonate. Tape your rehearsals and play them back to assess your vocal delivery and make adjustments where necessary. 

Dynamic opening 

Attention spans and patience seem to get shorter every month. In the Twitter, TikTok, jump-cut to the chase media hyped world, engaging an audience has become more challenging than it was even a few years ago. A public speaker in search of an audience has to become more inventive.  

So try this tactic—rather than opening your talk with the usual trite and predictable ritual of thanking the person who introduced you and then greeting the audience and asking everyone how they’re doing, dare to do the unexpected. Why not simply take the stage, look at your audience and pause for a beat to create a frisson of tension? Then, launch your talk with a fact or a story that is surprising, if not shocking. You might begin with a tale in which you or someone else is in a moment of crisis. Make a confession. Say something in that very first line that both demands attention and is entirely relevant to the rest of your speech.

Learn how to get started in public speaking from Lioness’ editor-in-chief Bobbie Carlton.

About the author

Kim L. Clark

Kim L. Clark is the founder of Polished Professionals Boston, a business strategy and marketing consultancy. She is also an adviser to small business owners and develops workshops and classes that provide instruction in writing business plans. Kim has lectured at the Lesley University Seminars, the Boston Chamber of Commerce and the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.

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