Being able to speak well in public is an acquired skill that takes years, and tons of trial and error, to master. And the quest for mastery never ends. The professionals say they’re always learning and improving, and most claim to have coaches and colleagues to keep them at the top of their game.
It’s easy to spot a trained professional. They don’t use notes, they’re at ease on stage, their content is engaging and full of well-told stories, and they finish on time.
It’s easy, too, to spot someone who’s never received speaker training. Here are three:
Nervous pacing or freezing
An inexperienced speaker moves unconsciously on the stage through pacing, rocking back and forth, moving sideways by crossing one leg in front of another, etc. Others stay rooted to the spot.
The Cure — Long before memorizing your script, read your speech aloud at your dining room table and mark places in the script where movement will add drama and emphasis to what you’re saying. As you rehearse and become more familiar with the material, you can make continual improvements. Every movement you make is in service to your message and is well practiced.
Not using their voice as an instrument
Good speakers modulate their voices and deliver their speeches as if they were telling stories to first graders around the campfire. They’re loud, and then soft. They pause for emphasis. They don’t rush. They make the audience feel. An inexperienced speaker’s voice is devoid of emotion, difficult to hear and often unconnected to the material.
The Cure — A great speech is a performance that entertains the audience. As you plan your movements at the kitchen table, you should also be marking up your script to indicate where you’ll be loud or soft, where you’ll pause for dramatic effect, where you’ll smile, and how you’ll move your hands to illustrate what you’re saying. You’ll then practice on your feet, rehearsing your speech over and over until it is a part of you.
They read their Powerpoint slides
A good speaker doesn’t turn to look at their slides, and doesn’t rely on a slide’s bullet points to deliver the presentation. We’ve all been guilty of this at one time or another. The prevailing wisdom is to use as few slides as possible to make your point. None of them should have bulleted lists. Use charts, images and illustrations to reinforce your ideas.
The Cure — You make Powerpoint slides as an extra way to engage your audience and explain complex information, not to give yourself a cheat sheet. Always ask yourself, “Do I really need that extra slide?” or, “Do I need slides at all?”