On Public Speaking: Making Utter Terror Look Good

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When it comes to performing, some people make the astoundingly difficult look easy. Olympic skaters seemingly float through a triple lutz. Roger Federer barely breaks a sweat defending his number one world ranking. Helen Mirren seems to actually become her characters. And so it is with any great public speaker. While most of us freeze at the sight of an audience looking back at us, great speakers seem to have no notion of the miracle that is their self-assured wit. Their calm bearing, though, is more often the product of careful preparation and an understanding of certain tricks of the speaking trade.

Dan Fogelberg, a popular balladeer of the 1980s, liked to introduce the performance of one of his hits by saying, “This is the only song you’ll ever hear with the word exhumed in the lyrics.” The crowd laughed, then moments later they were swooning to a romantic love song. Fogelberg’s little comment strategically accomplished several things: he reminded the audience he didn’t take himself too seriously; he combined lightness with meaning; and even more cleverly, he delivered a subtle instruction to listen closely. Great speakers do this all the time, from the way they set up their presentation to how they manage audience emotions and perceptions.

Here, then are a few tricks of the public speaking trade that will help you make it look easy, too, even when it isn’t:

- Indulge in light self-deprecation. There are times when it’s perfectly okay to admit that you’re nervous, it lets the audience know they are important to you. Just never allow this to water down a sense of self-assurance and confidence. – Use a witty preamble. Spend a quick moment talking about how you spilled your coffee on your tie that morning as you wrote your speech. Make them smile before you amaze them with your passion and eloquence.

- Clarify your main point early. Rather than asking your audience to perceive what you really mean, just tell them quickly and use the rest of your time to convince them that you’re right.

- Use bulleted notes. Never write-out your speech. It’ll be too tempting to constantly glance down so you can stick to the script, and the moment you start reading to an audience is the moment you brand yourself a nervous amateur. Eye contact should be with them, not your notes.

Effective public speaking is always a marriage of substance and style. Great presenters understand that the line between them is thin, and where audiences are concerned, it is also transparent.

Harrison Monarth is a New York Times bestselling author and speaker, and is the President of GuruMaker – School of Professional Speaking, a communications consulting firm that coaches Fortune 500 executives, political candidates and entrepreneurs in the art of influence, presentation and message development. To purchase your copy of Harrison’s recent book The Confident Speaker, go to http://www.theconfidentspeaker.com

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