It’s party conference season and politicians are exploiting, with varying degrees of success, the age-old art of oratory to win hearts and minds. We have myriad ways of communicating in the 21st century, but there is nothing so persuasive as face-to-face interaction.
Whether you are making a speech to a large audience at a conference, or presenting to a small gathering of colleagues, the basic principles are the same. You must present rational, and well-ordered, arguments. You must appeal to the audience’s emotions. You must communicate your own character and personality – even the most eloquent speech will fall on deaf ears if it is delivered by a robotic automaton.
It is entirely possible to become a great speaker through the application of some simple techniques and a bit of practice. The most important thing to understand is that you will be at your most effective when you are relaxed and when you feel you have the attention of the audience.
Speakers often mistakenly believe that a formal occasion requires clever language and long words, when these are the very things that obscure understanding and prevent a connection between speaker and audience. The most compelling speakers have a style that is closer to normal conversation than you might imagine.
A speaker who cannot convey confidence will undermine their message. Here are four simple steps that will help you to create the impression of confidence when you are called upon to deliver a public speech.
Relax your body (check that your shoulders are not hunched and your fists are not clenched) and remember to smile. If you can smile at your audience, you will fool your brain that you are happy and confident, and that in turn becomes genuine happiness and confidence. This makes you more relaxed and it becomes easier to smile.
2. Remember to pause
It can be challenging to introduce deliberate pauses into your speech, as we are all aware that humans are uncomfortable with silence. Public speakers fear silence because they are worried that the audience will think they have forgotten what they were going to say, or will interrupt. But pausing can compel the audience’s attention, and it will also ensure that you don’t rush or gabble your speech, a sure sign of nerves.
If you pause before speaking, you will draw the audience’s attention and create a sense of anticipation. It will also give you time to think about what you’re going to say next and eliminate distracting stutters and ums and ers. If you pause after speaking, it will give your audience a chance to think about what has been said.
3. Maintain eye contact
This underscores the importance of your words and sends a subliminal signal to the listener to think about what has been said, and to trust in your authority. When people talk about not trusting someone, they often use phrases such as ‘they couldn’t look me in the eye’. This is as much the case for speaking to a large audience as it is for one-on-one conversations.
Having established the importance of eye contact, many people worry that the need for notes or even a full script prevents them from making good eye contact. This is the easiest challenge to overcome. All you need to do is make sure that your script or notes are well laid out and make judicious use of pauses.
4. Prepare your notes
If notes are written in the same way as an essay, you will inevitably sound like someone who is reading out an essay. Instead, use a large font, which will be easy to read. Next, take out all extraneous words to make the language sound conversational. You can also take out the connecting words such as 'and', 'if', 'but' and 'also'.
Having fewer words on the page makes the notes easier to follow. Additionally, the fact that you have to think a little about the text, rather than just reading it off the page, creates a more natural performance.
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