Eight tools to improve your speaking skills
A Gallup poll shows public speaking ranks second on the list of Americans’ fears.
Have you ever been afraid to express your opinion? Have you ever believed you’re not good enough? Or you thought your ideas and opinions had merit but you were unable to articulate your perspective? You are not alone. If you’d like to improve your public speaking skills now is the time. Here are several ways to improve your presentation skills.
1. Use an attention-getter. Light a fire under your audience. Gain attention by telling a quick joke, asking a question, offering a famous quotation, sharing a story or citing a statistic. Use this technique whether you are speaking to an audience for three hours or 30 seconds. An attention-getter allows you to focus the mind of your audience. Ultimately, it draws your audience in to listen to what you have to say.
2. Organize your main points. Edmund Burke, orator, author and philosopher wrote, “Good order is the foundation of all things.” Your main points are the central content of your message. Avoid making your audience decipher your key points or ideas. Every great written or verbal presentation is well organized. This makes it easy for your message to be understandable and increases your listener’s faith in your expertise. Take a few minutes to jot down your main or central ideas before offering them to others. Shorter presentations should contain less main points. Avoid packing too many main points into your presentation.
3. Summarize your presentation. This is simply a quick review of what has been said. Reiterate your main points. This helps your audience to remember what you presented. Basically, you follow the process of telling them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them. Avoid giving your entire presentation again in your summary. Winston Churchill has a great adage, “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use the pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again.”
4. Close with a call to action. This piece of the presentation should contain your call to action. The purpose of a presentation is to get your audience to take action. What action do you want your audience to take? You might simply want your audience to accept your point of view. You might want them to recycle, to vote in your favor, to volunteer in the community. Whatever it is, ask your audience to take some sort of action. After completing your presentation never open the presentation again. You can do a question-and-answer session, though. Master musician Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart shared, “To talk well and eloquently is a very great art, but an equally great one is to know the right moment to stop.”
5. Get your head straight. Anxiety and nervousness are commonly associated with public speaking. So, the first thing you need to do in order be successful is to get your head straight. Here are a couple of ways to do it: Breathe. Take a couple of breaths a few minutes prior to giving your presentation. This will send a message to your autonomic nervous system that helps relax and calm you. Another great practice to get your head straight is to use an affirmation or mantra. Most people have negation statements that they are repeating to themselves such as: “I am really scared and nervous.” Or, “I am going to goof this up and look really stupid.” What you need is something like, “I am going to do a great job.” Or, “I am calm and relaxed when speaking.” Or, “I am an excellent speaker.” These statements and others have a powerful affect on the mind since we tend to manifest whatever it is we think about.
6. Ask for feedback. Expert speaker and trainer Dale Carnegie said, “There are always three speeches for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” At times we are so blinded by ego that we fail to see our own dysfunctional behavior. Ask your friends, family and business associates, and of course your audience, to give you suggestions on how you might improve your communication. Encourage them to give you honest insight. Let them know that you value their perspectives and opinions. This can also be achieved by having your audience fill out an evaluation form. Be sure to follow their suggestions. You can also video or audio record your presentation and review it to see how you can improve. Major sports teams video record the game so they can review and improve.
7. Analyze your audience. Work diligently to uncover the beliefs and convictions of your audience. This is valid whether you are giving a speech, making a phone call or writing a letter. Understand their needs, their job positions, their demographics and their personalities. Only then can you structure the appropriate message to get the response that you want. You have missed your mark if you are giving a speech to a room of vegans and your stories and examples are of hunting and eating meat. Know whom you are speaking with if you want to connect with your audience.
8. Be real. Yes, be yourself. Ever notice speakers who change their voices when they address a group? Or the speaker gets stiff or seems contrived? If you want to connect with people then be yourself. The point is to not try to be someone else. Don’t be fake. Stay true to your integrity. Be your best self, not someone else.
It is time to step up from knowing to doing. These habits are simple, yet they are not always easy to consistently apply. Practice a few of these habits for success and watch your public speaking skills improve to a whole new level.
Best of success to you!
Jeffrey Benjamin is a contributing author in the book, “The Sleeping Giant: The Awakening of the Self Employed Entrepreneur,” and the founder of Breakthrough Training. He hosts Breakthrough Radio every Sunday at 9:30 a.m. on 99.1 FM Talk. Contact him through http://www.breakthroughtraining.com.
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