Thank you. Of all the introductions I’ve received, that was by far the most recent.
Who here today would like to become a better public speaker? That’s great! You’re in luck, because I’m here today to talk to you about the art of public speaking. Having good public speaking and presentation skills is important in today’s world, whether you work for the government, in education, or in private industry. I’m going to talk about skills that you can develop in order to be an effective public speaker, and I’ll talk a bit about the art of evaluation, too.
Many people are afraid of public speaking. In fact, it’s our number one fear. Do you know what our number two fear is? Death. Yes, death is number two. That means for most people, when they’re at a funeral, they would rather be the person who recently died, than the one standing up in front of others saying nice things about the dead person.
So, what’s the best way to overcome something you’re afraid of? Practice. I’m speaking from experience. I’m a member of Toastmasters, an organization of 13,500 clubs around the world that is dedicated to helping people improve their public speaking and leadership skills. In a supportive and caring environment, people give speeches and evaluate others’ speeches, helping each other to achieve and grow.
Are there Secrets to becoming a good public speaker? Everybody likes to know Secrets. Well, the secret is: there aren’t any secrets, but there are certain skills you can develop to become a confident, successful speaker. Here are some of the skills that Toastmasters emphasizes:
1. Organize your speech. Your speech should have a strong beginning, middle, and end. It shouldn’t meander this way and curve that way, so that your audience becomes confused about the topic of your speech. It should be focused and to the point.
2. Know your audience. Talk about something your audience members are interested in, and say it in a way they’ll understand. A speech about teenagers will be different depending on whether you’re talking to parents, or to psychologists, or to teenagers.
3. Involve your audience by making eye contact with them. Who are you more likely to pay more attention to: to a speaker who’s looking down at his feet? Or to someone who’s looking out at members of the audience? You vote. Would you pay more attention to someone who’s looking down at his feet? Or would you pay more attention to the speaker who’s looking at audience members? Now, do you notice how I asked questions, and got you to raise your hands? Asking questions is another way to get your audience involved and paying attention to you.
4. Choose the right words to convey your message clearly, accurately and vividly. Short words are better than long words. Short sentences are better than long sentences. Words that paint a picture are better than words that are flat and dull. Use rhetoric, too. Notice how I just repeated “are better than” three times. That’s a rhetorical device that is pleasing to the ear.
5. Avoid the wrong words. The ah wrong words um to use are, you know, space fillers. It’s like better to uh say nothing at all than to um use a verbal crutch. Often we use space fillers without knowing we are doing so. When someone points out how often you are using verbal crutches, it can help you to break the habit.
6. Use vocal variety. Do not speak in a monotone. That’s boring! Instead use vocal variety. Say things high, and say things low. Say something loudly, and then say something softly. One of the most effective devices of all is…a pause.
7. Use your body. As actors well know, you can convey all sorts of information with your body. Use your face. Use your arms and your legs. One of the best beginnings of a speech I’ve seen was by a woman who was trying to convince other women not to wear high heels because they are bad for one’s health. She wobbled to the stage on high heels, and at one point, she fell down.
8. Use props, costumes, and other visual aids. For example, a flip chart is a visual aid. Once, when I was trying to persuade my audience that the U.S. should adopt sensible gun control laws, I started out wearing a raincoat and sneakers. I put on a scary mask, pulled out an imaginary assault gun from underneath the raincoat, and pretended to spray my audience with bullets. People still remember that.
9. Why? Because it appealed to their emotions; in this case, fear. Emotions are the best way to connect with people. Make people laugh, make them cry, make them feel proud or surprised or inspired. Connect to others at the emotional level. You know who was quite skillful at doing this? Adolph Hitler. So was Martin Luther King.
These, then, are key factors involved in speechmaking: organize your speech and keep it focused; know your audience; involve your audience; choose the right words; avoid verbal crutches; use vocal variety; use body language; use props, costumes, and visual aids; and make an emotional connection to the audience.
In Toastmasters, however, making a speech is only half of the equation. The other half is the evaluation. If you wish to grow and achieve, then it’s helpful for others to tell you what you did right, and what you can improve on. Being able to give an effective evaluation of employees is also a key skill to possess in the working world. Your evaluation will depend on your experience and your speech objectives.
When you are the evaluator, a good way to evaluate a speech is by using the sandwich method. Start out with praise for the speaker. Point out what he did right. In the middle, suggest how he could improve. End on an upbeat note of praise and encouragement.
We have a joke in the U.S. involving Carnegie Hall, a top concert hall in New York City. A man in New York City walks up to a woman and asks for directions: “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The woman answers: “Practice.” People become good public speakers through practice. After you write a speech, practice giving it alone. Practice with a stopwatch so you know how long it is, and adjust the length if need be. Practice in front of a mirror. Give your speech to a pet or to a human family member. All this practice will help give you the confidence to speak before others. Some of the best public speakers were scared stiff the first time they spoke. If they could overcome their fears and become confident, successful speakers, so can you!