You've heard about positive visualization, haven't you? That's when you lay the groundwork for a successful outcome by imagining an event or interaction before it takes place, investing it with positives all along the way.
Let’s put a new twist on using positive visualization, though—in our case to imagine a successful outcome to an upcoming presentation. Instead of projecting success into the future, let’s say you’ve already succeeded. Your talk at the team meeting or annual sales conference or pitch to a prospect went wonderfully well, impressing everyone including your boss.
How did you do it?
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Sure, you got the essentials right: you knew your content, and you did your homework in terms of preparation and practice. But you went further, by incorporating many of the “best practices” you learned in workshops and in-house training. And you paid attention to dynamic speakers you watched along the way.
Your Approach to How to Become a Successful Speaker
So what were the elements you paid attention to in that winning presentation? Well, you focused on six specific items that you knew would help you nail every speech or presentation you give. Three of these elements deal with performance, while the remaining three make up an “action plan” for continuing improvement.
Here are the areas of speaking performance that are now always on your radar screen:
1. You preview your speech in your opening. You realize that audiences need a “heads-up” concerning the specific aspects of content you’ll be covering in this talk. Otherwise, your topic just seems too big to cover in a single presentation. Your listeners, in other words, need to know not only the specific destination, but the stops along the way you’ll be visiting together.
Let’s say you’ll be discussing the energy sector in Gambia to companies interested in doing business there. First, you’ll educate your audience on the unique geography of The Gambia (as the people prefer their nation to be called). The entire country is shaped around a river, which has unique implications for water usage. Next, you’ll break down the major sectors: water, electricity, and liquefied petroleum gas. You’ll conclude with the renewable energy sector that the government is particularly interested in promoting.
Now your audience can follow you every step of the way in terms of the specific areas of the Gambian economy they need to deal with. Just as important, they won’t have the impression that you’re trying to squeeze too much information into too short a time. Yes, you did just deliver a lot of information, but you gave them a road map that allowed them to stay with you on the journey.
To engage listeners in your opening and get them on your side immediately, you need to captivate audiences within the first 30-60 seconds. Learn how in my e-book, How to Start a Speech. Get this easy-to-use blueprint for opening and closing powerfully!
2. You use your performance space effectively. You know how to use the stage itself to make your presentations more interesting. (And you understand that “stage” in this sense means your performance space, not necessarily an actual stage.) You also know the 5 key body language techniques of public speaking.
Audiences need visual variety as well as changes in ideas discussed. One way you give them that is by occupying a different place for each of your main points. This not only makes your speech more visually interesting for the audience. It also makes your content easier to remember, because your location on stage is always linked with one particular item of discussion. Three main points, for instance, equates to three different spots you occupy during your presentation.
3. You employ vocal energy and variety. You understand the need for vocal expressiveness. A monotonous voice flicks an audience’s attentiveness switch into the “Off” position. The vital points you’re discussing need a voice that makes them come alive. As a resource in this area, you found my article on the 5 essential speaking techniques for leadership with examples from great speakers.
You use two skills connected with voice in particular: (a) You keep your vocal energy high. That means a voice that is not only projected strongly enough for everyone to hear, but that seems to embrace everyone. And (b) You use pitch inflection. By raising the highness or lowness of your voice on the musical scale, you help listeners stay interested and engaged. They can easily grasp your essential message because you understand the following equation concerning audience attentiveness:
Emphasis + raised pitch = something important is being discussed.
An Action Plan for More Effective Public Speaking
In addition to the three performance techniques above, you’re continually seeking new opportunities to improve your skills as a business speaker. You’ve discovered a great combination, in fact, to make that happen: a helpful web site; a worthwhile group to join; and a trio of books on the use of voice that will continue to benefit you.
4. You visit TED.com. It’s no secret to you that TED.com is a popular web site for anyone interested in listening to contemporary public speakers. But you’ve also found that it’s the best web site for you to visit regularly in terms of improving your own speaking skills.
That’s because TED features some of the most innovative thinkers and “doers” that are giving speeches and presentations. An added benefit of TED is that it isn’t a site that focuses only on business speaking. To be a more interesting business presenter, you know you should be watching some people speak whose focus is NOT business! For the same reason, you attend in-person lectures of speakers you think would be interesting, but who don’t necessarily come from the world of commerce.
5. You practice your business presentations regularly. Back when your responsibilities began to increase and you were becoming more of the face of your organization, you started to work with a speech coach. You understood that, at the executive level, 1:1 speech coaching is the fastest route to communication excellence.
But you had a slight problem: You weren’t getting quite as many opportunities to speak in public as you wanted. Constant practice and feedback were essential, you knew, so you asked for advice as to where you could find both.
Your speech coach told you about Toastmasters International, the organization that operates clubs to help professionals improve their public speaking and leadership skills. Toastmasters operates thousands of clubs worldwide, many of them easily accessible in urban centers. Joining one of them gave you constant practice, while receiving support and recommendations from your peers on your speaking skills.
6. Voice training keeps your edge sharp. At some point in your efforts to become a more effective business speaker, you decided to get serious about voice training. You were interested in how to "speak smart" by using your voice to influence others. You wanted to study a vocal system—something that went beyond even the work you did with a speech coach. And here you got lucky.
You learned about three books on using the voice that were written for actors. Your voice coach (who is an actor) suggested you take a look at any or all of them. The first two books are by the most famous voice teacher in the world, someone who has worked for decades with the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. The third book is by a man who has directed stage plays for the RSC and coached some of the troupe’s most famous actors, like Judi Dench and Ian McKellen.
Importantly, you didn’t let the focus on acting and Shakespeare in these books put you off. And, in fact, you found that each of them is a fascinating exploration of how spoken language works. The books are Cicely Berry’s Voice and the Actor (Wiley, 1991) and The Actor and the Text (Applause, 2000), and John Barton’s Playing Shakespeare (Methuen, 2001). Having read and cherished the books, you enthusiastically recommend them now to anyone who wants to be as good a business speaker as you’ve become.
And that's how you did it!
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