According to various surveys and polls, public speaking is one of the most frightening things a person will have to do in his or her life, often more feared than severe physical dangers, even death.
Instead of dreading your moments in the spotlight, you can easily follow just a few simple steps and learn to thrive there; to be the bold, assured public speaker that makes everyone feel at ease and who inspires confidence and heightened listening at your every word. More than that, you will be dynamic, entertaining, fun… even funny! You will leave a crowd that really likes you and your message… in fact the two things will become somewhat indistinguishable.
Let’s look at four essential ingredients to a great public speaker. If you only remember what I call ‘The Four C’s’, you will be way ahead of the game. In fact, you will be able to come off like a pro. The Four C’s are Composure, Cadence, Communication and Comedy. Let’s find out exactly what they entail.
1.) Composure. This means how you present or carry yourself. Your body is your instrument. You are thinking: “Wait, my mouth is my instrument when I’m speaking.” Yes, but your entire body is physically the vessel that carries your voice, and visually, mentally and emotionally, your entire body helps you connect with the people that you are talking to.
Try to stand straight up, and make your spine and your limbs straight. Not ramrod stiff and uptight, but self-respecting, commanding straight. Stand to your full height. If you are much more comfortable leaning over just a bit, or bent slightly, that is OK. The point is, find your “power position”, where your body feels most naturally authoritative and deserving of being looked at and listened to.
Look out and survey the crowd. Develop hand gestures that convey strength combined with approachability. Perhaps fingers together, facing up , like a “church steeple”, or a very loosely made fist like Bill Clinton used to do, or a flat “karate chop” hand. Some people point. Some give the “thumbs-up”. Some lightly slap the table or podium under them for emphasis. The point is, experiment beforehand and find your “power position” and your “power moves” or “power gestures”.
If you feel nervous at the outset of a speech, take more time before starting, become more deliberate and look around the room and the crowd for a few moments. You know exactly why you are taking time and looking around. Everything you do is on purpose. You are in control. You are leading and the crowd will follow. This is just a law of nature.
2.) Cadence. This means the tempo, rhythm or speed of your spech. Most people, most of the time, simply speak too fast. They rush. If you are at all a nervous type who has an inclination to speak quickly, especially when nervous, then SLOW DOWN. Make yourself speak a good fraction slower than what initially comes out of your mouth.
Slowing down a bit helps make you seem more deliberate and in control. To the audience, what sounds slow to you probably sounds very coherent and actually easier to understand. Also, if it doesn’t sound hasty and rushed, then almost subliminally the message to people is that what you are saying is interesting and important and will “pay off” and that you know this for a fact.
Do not speak too slowly, though. You should maintain a “spring in your step” vocally and feel the up and down rhythms inherent in your words and sentences. Find the words of emphasis, the “punchlines” (even if they are serious and not funny) and distinguish the importance of words by your pacing. Watch and study great deliverers, such as late night TV hosts, news anchors and famous celebrity roasters. Emulate their rhythms and pacing.
If you suspect that you might be a naturally slow talker, then ask a few friends or confidantes and confirm this. If you really are a very slow talker, then speed up a bit. But most of you will naturally be on the fast side when initially speaking publicly.
3.) Communication. OK, you know what this word means literally. But what do I really mean by it? It’s so easy to forget when speaking in public, but you are really just having some kind of conversation with human beings. It could be a Presidential address, trial attorney in court, actor thanking the Academy Awards or standup comedian doing his bits. They are all just SPEAKING TO PEOPLE. The basic mechanics of intention, emotion and personal need are really the same as an intimate conversation. And I know that every one of you reading this knows how to talk, how to just talk to a person, be it a family member, co-worker, friend, shopkeeper, what have you. When you talk to another person, you naturally and unconsciously attach real emotion and urgency to what you are saying, because the words really mean something to you. They come from a need to communicate something, whatever that might be: “Can I have some potato chips?”, “You HAVE to go see Despicable Me,” “I hate the 405 Freeway!” or “Will you give me a hug?” It sounds simple, and in your everyday life it IS simple.
When you speak, imagine a real person you know, right in front of you, or out in the audience. Speak to that one person if you need to. Connect with that person in your mind. Convince him or her of the importance, the deep meaning of what you are saying. Unless you are just calling bingo numbers, or reciting statistics for half an hour, you are not just saying words. You are saying THOUGHTS, FEELINGS and IDEAS. You are communicating MEANINGS.
Now, of course, emotional doesn’t mean loud, overly dramatic or scary. It means literally that there is some emotional component or feeling attached to it, the way regular people really speak almost all the time, at least regular people that you want to listen to.
Therefore, to summarize Communication, practice public speaking as if you are conversing with close friends or people that do not intimidate you at all. And make personal, emotional associations with what you are saying so that it sounds like you CARE about those ideas. Because you really DO care about them. And then the audience will care.
4.) Comedy. Humor, levity, funniness… comedy. By whatever name, it is a very potent and valuable weapon in public speaking. Presidents use humor. Corporate CEO’s use it. So do military brass, athletes, teachers, managers and professionals of every type, stripe and classification.
Human beings use humor, and not just those we think of as being “clowns” or “comedians”. Sometimes the most serious person can crack a sharp comedic line and bring down the house, elevating his or her stature and command to even higher levels. Think about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in the Terminator movies. He started as a huge, heartless, robotic killing machine and he tossed out a series of funny one-liners that have become among the most widely used and appreciated in the world. Now you are probably not a heartless, humorless robot. In fact, you probably do already use humor at times in your life. The key is bringing appropriate, razor-sharp humor into your public speaking.
If you feel unable to write clever, appropriate, relevant and gut-bustingly funny lines into your speech or presentation, then hire a professional comedy writer like The Humor Writers. We professional comedians and comedy writers do not try to fix our own car engines or re-work the plumbing in our house- we call a proven, expert professional to do the work for us so that it is guaranteed to be top quality and one hundred percent effective. You need to do the same with humor in your speeches.
Not everybody was born a giant of public speaking- a Bill Clinton, a John F. Kennedy, a Winston Churchill. But with a little work, a bit of preparation and some serious concentration on The Four C’s, just about anybody can become a strong and compelling public speaker.