By Ellen Egan:
Many books on public speaking and experts on public speaking will tell you how to make a speech. But, I would suggest that if you want to improve (and more thoroughly enjoy) your public speaking, you should focus less on delivering a speech and more on having a conversation with your audience. This will improve your public speaking experience in several ways.
1. Your audience will feel more comfortable with you. We tend to feel more comfortable, listen more attentively and have greater respect for people who speak with us rather than people who speak at us. Conversations are naturally more engaging both for the person who is talking and for the person who is listening.
2. You will feel more comfortable. You have conversations every day. It’s a very natural thing. If you begin to view your public speaking opportunities as conversations, the “fear factor” of delivering a formal speech will dissipate.
3. Your audience will absorb and retain the information better. As I mentioned earlier, people learn or retain information better when they are engaged in the process. If someone is talking at you, it is very easy to drift off into your own thoughts because you are not truly involved in the communication process. However, in a conversation, you are part of the process and therefore, more apt to pay attention. When your audience is paying attention, they are more likely to hear and absorb what you are saying.
OK, Ellen. We are convinced. But the question is…
“How do we do this?”
1. Begin by removing some of the barriers to natural communication like staring at your notes and index cards. Remove physical barriers like the podium. Remove acronyms, “tech speak” and jargon from your presentation.
2. Make eye contact as much as possible. If you find this difficult, then find one or two friendly faces in the room and speak with them as much as possible (ideally they are in different parts of the room). If that is still too difficult, then speak with one or two people’s noses. It looks like you’re making eye contact, even when you aren’t.
3. Include questions within your speech – especially in the introduction. By including questions in your introduction, you are establishing the conversational style from the beginning. You can choose questions that require audience interaction – this is ideal, but may be intimidating at first. Or, you can ask a question that doesn’t need audience interaction, but the audience can answer in their own minds (e.g. “Do you think most people want to improve their careers?”). Then, answer the question. “Yes, we do!”. You can also use questions and frame your presentation to appeal to the audience’s natural curiosity and emotion (e.g. “Do you know how many children in our country are malnourished?”)
4. As always, one of the keys to getting comfortable, is practice, practice, practice. As you practice your speech, you will begin to get a more conversational rhythm. You can also practice with your volume to ensure that you have a conversational tone and that everyone will be able to hear you.
There are some good places to start. Let’s keep this conversation open and comment back to me on what you think and how its working for you.
You may ask. ”But, I’m covering a very technical topic, don’t I need to be more formal?”
No, you don’t have to. And, I will cover tips and techniques for public speaking with a technical topic in a post very soon.
To your success,