Clem Sunter

Public speaking 101

2010-08-05 08:00

I am still feeling chuffed about a lifetime achievement award that I received a few weeks ago from Speakers Inc. The thought crossed my mind, as I went up to collect the award, that the only people who get lifetime achievement awards at the Oscars ceremony have to be assisted to the podium. Luckily, I can still get there under my own steam!

With 25 years experience behind me, I thought I would give you my list of rules of the game for public speaking. Comply with these rules and you will get good feedback. Break them and people will look the other way when you ask them how you did. They apply under all circumstances whether it be a huge conference, a cosy management workshop, a wedding reception, a sermon from the pulpit, or a dinner celebrating a special occasion.

The rules are as follows:

1. Make your content simple, consistent and compelling. Break it up into segments which you may wish to share with your audience at the very beginning. Memorise the number of points you want to make in each segment. That way, you will be more fluent in your delivery and take the audience along with you.

2. Be enthusiastic about your message. There is nothing worse than a speaker who lacks conviction and drones on in a monotonous manner. The audience immediately switches off. Equally, you won’t please everyone, so don’t be put off by that.

3. Be entertaining. Intersperse serious points with humour. The chances are that many listeners will remember the joke and then remember the serious message attached to it.

4. Maintain eye contact with the audience as much as possible and turn your head left and right so that you are not seen to be addressing just one section.

5. If you do use PowerPoint and slides, don’t go through every line in the slides. Emphasise the important points and presume the audience will read the rest. They can read faster than you talk.

6. There is a difference between being risqué and being sordid. So many wedding speeches are completely spoilt by over-the-top vulgarity. Find the right balance if you must tell a dirty story.

7. Never humiliate a member of the audience in your presentation or in question time afterwards. You have the power as the speaker and you must use it sparingly.

8. Try to avoid “ers” and “ums” and repeating stock expressions. I know this is difficult for some people.

9. Be spontaneous with your gestures. An audience can spot very quickly if you are being very organised with your hand and body movements.

10. Never go beyond the scheduled period of your speech. Trespassing on the next speaker’s time is an absolute no-no.

I am sure there are other rules which you will suggest in the comments section, but I would like to follow Rule 3 and end with a funny story. A speaker once came into a huge auditorium and, to his surprise, it was completely empty save for one other person. He said: “Thank heavens you are here.” The other person replied: “I’m sorry to disappoint you but I am the next speaker!”

Send your comments to Clem

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