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Be a better speaker

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How do you ensure your audience is always listening to your every word?

1. Keep the end in mind

Half the battle is won if you first take the time to decide on the objective of your presentation. Start by deciding on your general objective. Are you speaking to inform, to influence or to inspire? Once that is decided, work on your specific objective. For your presentation to be successful, what do you want your audience to think, feel and do? Once you are clear on your end point, crafting your presentation becomes a piece of cake

2. Make your presentation about your audience

Dale Carnegie, the father of public speaking, once claimed that “You can make more friends in two months by being really interested in them than you can in two years trying to get people interested in you.” Likewise, if you want to win your audience’s interest, make your presentation about them. Here’s how:

  • Help them solve their most pressing problem
  • Show them ways where they can do their job better
  • Address some of their grievances that they face at work
  • Answer their burning questions relating to your topic
  • Borrow famous quotes from people they know
  • Speak their lingo
  • Share stories and examples that they can relate to
  • Even better, share success stories about their organization that can inspire them to shoot for the stars

3. Start strong

The first 30 seconds of your presentation is the most critical. You are the most nervous and your audience is the most skeptical. To ensure success of your presentation, you must start strong. Here are 5 surefire ways to kick start your presentation:

  • Open with a humorous or emotional story that leads to your key message
  • Ask a rhetorical question that gets your audience thinking
  • Shock them with a startling fact
  • Share an expert opinion that links to your topic
  • Reference to a current event and then dovetail to your message

4. Use stories to persuade

Dr Ray Price once conducted an experiment to prove the power of stories. They provided three different groups of MBA students with exactly the same information. For the first group, they were presented with a verbal description that contains facts and figures. The second group was given the same information in the form of charts and graphs. The last group was presented with a story of a little old wine maker. Several weeks later, not only did the group who heard the story remembered more details, they also found the story more credible.

For your story to be effective, it must

  1. Make your audience think (“Can this happen to me?”)
  2. Make your audience feel (“How will I feel if this happen to me?”)
  3. Make your audience take action (“What can I do to make sure this will not happen to me?”)

Only an effective story can transport your audience from the role of a passive listener to an active participant of your story. Perhaps that is why Bill Gove – an award-winning speaker – claimed that the essence of public speaking could be summarized in six words: Tell a story, make a point.

5. Direct a Spielberg moment

Have you ever wonder why you are able to sit through a 120 minutes blockbuster movie yet you can switch off within minutes of a presentation?

The reason is simple. A typical Hollywood movie engages all your senses – visually, auditory, kinesthetically, physically, mentally and emotionally and these days, even spiritually! In your next presentation, try engaging the other senses of your audience as well:

How to engage the visual senses:

  • Props
  • Cartoons
  • Videos
  • Stock images

How to engage the auditory senses:

  • Music
  • Vocal variety

How to engage the kinesthetic and physical senses:

  • Group activities – getting your audience to break into groups and discuss an issue or explore ways to apply what you have just taught
  • Games

How to engage the mental senses:

  • Share interesting content that they have not heard before or will make a difference to them
  • Give them puzzles or problems to solve

How to engage the emotional senses:

  • Tell stories
  • Talk about issues that they care about (address their pains, frustrations, wants and desires)

6. Speak in a conversational tone

Public speaking in the 21st century is no longer a monologue. It is a dialogue between your audience and yourself. To ensure that happens, write your speech for the ear and not for the eye. In other words, type your speech as you talk.

When you rehearse, practice aloud to your colleague, while you are driving or when you are on your way home. Present as though you are speaking to just one person.

When you are presenting, train yourself to look at your audience in the eyes, one pair at a time. This will help you to moderate your tone and pace. More importantly, it will also help you strengthen your rapport with the audience.

7. Stop being speaker-centric, be audience-centric

Nervousness stems from being speaker-centric. Will they like me? What if I forget my script? Can they understand what I am saying? Will they laugh at me?

Instead, be audience-centric. This will take the pressure off you. Questions to ask include: What will the audience get out of my speech? What are three points the audience can take away today? Is this setting appropriate for my audience? By focusing on your audience’s needs, it allows you to be in control. Control gives you certainty. Certainty kills off nervousness.

Getting to know your audience beforehand also helps reduce any uncertainties you have. This includes researching about your audience before your presentation. What are the demographics of your audience, what are their needs and wants, what are the pains they are suffering from, what will they consider to be of value, what can they relate to best. Not only will this help you be more prepared, the audience will also appreciate you more!

8. It’s all about stage time

If you want to become a more confident speaker in the shortest amount time –speak in front of a live audience as often as you can. In other words, clock your stage time because 95% of your growth as a speaker comes from speaking in front of the audience!

And to ensure that you milk every speaking opportunity, remember to evaluate yourself after every presentation. One way to do that is to videotape yourself and watch the recording.

Another way is to self evaluate by asking yourself two questions: “What do they like best about your presentation?” and “What’s one area you can improve?”. Continue to leverage on your strengths and use your next speaking opportunity to overcome your weakness.

It’s never about how you good you are right now. It’s about stage time. If you speak in front of the audience today, you will get better tomorrow as a result of this experience!

This column is contributed by Eric Feng, author of the book The FAQ Book on Public Speaking. He will be conducting a workshop on presentation skills organised by SIM Membership Services at SIM Headquarters on 22 May.

Written by Human Resources

April 6, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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