I recently attended a public presentation that was sponsored by a Member of Congress. A facilitator welcomed everyone to the event and then introduced the young woman whom the Congressman had sent in his stead.
She walked to the podium and said something like: “Uh, hi everyone, um, I’m uh Jane Smith, and uh the Congressman, that is Congressman Jones, well, uh, he couldn’t be here tonight, but this is important, but he couldn’t be here, so, um…..(long pause)… anyway, he wants to welcome everyone, so welcome, and uh, this is, well, he thinks it’s important because, well, uh…..
You get the idea. I was literally cringing as I sat in the audience. Yet she had boldly strode up to that podium with all the confidence imaginable. Her mistake? I would guess it was lack of preparation. That is the number one mistake most people make.
Maybe you’ve done this yourself. You think, “oh, it’s only 5 or 10 minutes, I’ll just wing it.” Or, “I know this so well, I don’t need to prepare.”
It was clear to me that Jane Smith hadn’t even thought through what she was going to say. Imagine how different her remarks might have been if she had even thought “I’ll say that I represent the Congressman, I need to talk about why he thinks this is important, and then I need to welcome everyone.”
This illustrates a basic principle of public speaking. At the very least, you should organize your thoughts before you speak. Even if you don’t practice exactly what you’re going to say, you know that you need to talk about A, then B, then C – in that order.
If Jane had organized her thoughts, her speech might have sounded something like this: “Hi, I’m Jane Smith, and I represent Congressman Jones, who couldn’t be here tonight. This is an important issue to him because blah blah blah. On his behalf, I’d like to welcome you and thank you for attending tonight.
Not an um in sight.
For a longer presentation or speech, more extensive preparation is necessary. In my earlier blog post on public speaking, I addressed some of these points; I’ve expanded on them here.
- Organize your thoughts, as noted above. Think about what points you want to make, and the order in which to make them. Make an outline or talking points.
- Research your topic. For example, if you’re talking about your company, make sure you know all the latest initiatives and their status and goals. Gather more information than you think you’ll need.
- Write your speech. Revise and edit. Revise and edit again.
- Practice. This is by far the most important part of speech preparation, so I’ll say it again. Practice. Read your speech aloud to yourself or your staff. Tape record yourself talking or ask someone to videotape you. Rehearse the speech until you know all the main points by heart. Memorize the entire speech if that will make you more comfortable. Rehearse some more. And then some more after that.
One of the best speeches I ever gave was only 10 minutes long. I was welcoming everyone to a holiday luncheon and shopping bazaar. Of the 200 people in attendance, I probably knew 150. I was very comfortable with this group, and had run many events for them in the past. But for some reason, I decided to practice my short welcome speech. I went over it and over it. I tape recorded myself and watched myself speak in the mirror. I revised it and shortened it. And I practiced some more. When I stood up to speak, I knew the points I wanted to make, the order in which to make them, and I had memorized about 80 percent of the speech. More than 20 people complimented me on that speech. And it was “just” a short welcome speech.
The more public speaking you do, the more comfortable you will be, and the more you will improve. Although some personality types, such as certain extroverts, may be more comfortable in front of an audience than others, if you practice enough and give a lot of speeches, you will become better.
What’s the best compliment a speaker can receive? He/she is a natural! I suggest that most, if not all, of those people we consider to be natural public speakers have had years of practice. I’d like to think that people in the audience of that holiday bazaar I referred to earlier listened to my welcome speech and said, “she’s a natural.”
A few more tips:
- Wear comfortable clothes. Don that favorite suit or power tie or really classy shoes. When you feel that you look good, you will be more confident.
- If possible, scope out the area in which you’ll be speaking beforehand. Plan ahead if you’ll have a podium or be sitting at a table.
- Only use visual aids if they will ADD value to the presentation. How many presentations have you attended where the presenter literally reads the Power Point slides to the audience. Yawn. You don’t want your props to be a distraction. A compelling speaker doesn’t need visual aids.
- Pay attention to your body language. It’s best if you appear relaxed. See my earlier post on body language.
- Smile. Remember, you’re the star, even if it’s only for 5 or 10 minutes.
- Show your passion for the subject. A LinkedIn comment pointed this out on my last blog. My apologies to the woman who commented; I can’t find the post in LinkedIn. But, she’s right. Hopefully, you’re speaking about something in which you have a stake. Let your enthusiasm and passion come through.