Got your New Year's resolutions in place for 2017? Is improved public speaking skills among them? As always, your ability to speak with impact and influence will be a key factor in your professional success in the coming year.
So why not develop some powerful new public speaking habits to help nail your goals?
Whether you'll be speaking in a conference room or boardroom, your credibility and ability to move others will be on the line. Do you know how to shape your message for maximum persuasiveness? To meet audience expectations? To impress listeners through your voice and body language? Learn how to speak with this kind of power with my essential cheat sheet, Leadership Skills: The 5 Essential Speaking Techniques.
Here are 5 ways to achieve more dynamic and effective presentations this year, and every year after that:
1. Focus on Your Audience's Needs Not Your Own
Changing your point of view can benefit you right away, even before you work on your skills. First, understand that your speech or presentation probably isn't as important as you think it is. That is, this particular appearance is just a small piece in the fabric of your life and career. Sometimes, in high-stress situations we can forget that fact. People seldom lose a job or harm their career prospects because of a single presentation.
Second, you may need to change your perspective. This is especially true if you need to learn how to overcome fear of public speaking. The spotlight of public performance can seduce you into thinking you're the center of things. But of course, it's your audience that occupies that position. Make your listeners' needs the essence of your focus, and you'll be more likely to satisfy those needs while reducing your extreme self-awareness. Want to get a leg up on understanding listeners to make that happen? Learn how to conduct an audience analysis.
2. Think and Speak Visually to "Create Word-Pictures"
This is the visual age. Your audiences have been trained by television, the Internet, tablets, smartphones, Apple watches, digital billboards, and many other persuaders that operate visually. And they think and act based on this nonstop overwhelming visual input.
As a speaker, you need to tap into this force and make it work for you. You should use the increasingly sophisticated visual aids at your disposal, of course, including video. Here's how to use the most powerful visual aid in your arsenal. But you must also speak visually, creating word-pictures in your listeners' minds that create strong emotional connections. Speaking like this also goes a long way toward increasing audience retention of your message.
Consider the following two versions of a famous speech. One of them is the actual speech, and the other is a version I created intentionally to make a point:
“Our enemies will discover what it means to attack a democracy. We are united in our resolve, and nothing will deter us from protecting our nation. However difficult the times ahead may be, we shall prevail until the end. Let us vow that we will learn from our mistakes, and make ourselves stronger. In defending our homes and families, we will be able to draw upon strengths yet undiscovered. Wherever we meet our enemy, we shall triumph. Our cause is just and our might unequaled. Let us now meet this challenge."
“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France. We shall fight on the seas and oceans. We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”
It's easy to recognize the real thing, isn't it? My version is informative enough, but it's flabby. Winston Churchill's version not only has more muscle; but by speaking of the seas and "our island," and the beaches, streets, and landing grounds, he lets us see the battle about to unfold. Here's how you can learn from the Churchill method of how to be an exciting speaker.
3. Use the Full Spectrum of Body Language
Are you a talking head? It's a bad habit too many of us are guilty of, especially when we believe that content is king in public speaking. But you are not a brain broadcasting data. You're a human being with a body performing in space. And the nonverbal aspects of that performance are extraordinarily powerful in terms of gaining audience attentiveness and engagement.
So discover the 5 key body language techniques of public speaking. When you do, you'll learn that movement and gestures are only the tip of the iceberg. Discover more about the actor's art and how it can empower your public speaking. If you want to develop habits that set you apart from your competition, these are key performance techniques you need to acquire.
4. Learn How to Pace Your Content and Delivery
A common mistake of speakers is to deliver one's entire speech without sufficiently breaking up the content and pace of delivery. Audiences can only take in so much data before reaching information overload; and we all need to take mental breaths to stay attentive and engaged. Here's how to use one of the most powerful tools you own—silence—to make that happen.
Be aware of the natural breaks in your material that occur as you transition between your main points. Use internal summaries (to sum up what you've just been speaking about), and internal previews (to relate that to what you're about to discuss). Once you've become aware of speaking in "bite-sized pieces" like this that your audience can mentally digest, practice pacing your delivery. Learn especially to trust silence: allow your audience to absorb the important information you just gave them, and to hear that you're about to start on a new point.
5. Discover the Art of the Conversation
Gone are the days of rhetorical "speechifying," with fingers poking holes in the air and larger-than-life postures. It's all conversational now—and the pace is accelerating. Compare any of JFK's speeches and Donald Trump's, and you'll understand how today it's all man-in-the-street all of the time.
On the other hand, even the typical business presentation is a somewhat formal affair, with the potential to create a certain stiffness and awkwardness in the speaker. This works against your effectiveness, since you're always at your best when you're just being yourself sharing ideas you're passionate about. The more you can sound like yourself, in fact, the greater your success will be. Here are 4 easy ways to become a more charismatic speaker.
So become conversational even in your most formal presentations. Speak like a Colin Powell, who doesn't sound very different when he's chatting one-on-one than addressing thousands. Here's a tool that can help: Imagine, even in front of a large audience, that you're talking to someone whose opinion you deeply care about. Your voice and your mannerisms will take on the authenticity that is the real you, and your audience will trust you more.
Doesn't that sound like a good way to begin a year of successful speaking?
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