Make this your year of leadership! Use these 5 powerful performance techniques to break out of the pack and become an amazing public speaker.
I live in the city with the world's most famous marathon. Every year (long before the infamous Boston Marathon bombing), I would stand on the sidewalk, watching for the elite-of-the-elite athletes to come into view. Even better, a relative has a home on Heartbreak Hill, that supreme test of runners simultaneously nearing the finish line and exhaustion.
As I considered this year how to open my year-end blog, I thought of the Marathon, and what it means to be the amazing runner who comes into view in the first position. Do you aspire to stand out from the pack like that? When it comes to presenting to expectant audiences, do you perform with the look and sound of leadership?
Why not reach the elite level yourself as you speak as a leader in 2018? The choice, really, is yours. Whatever your innate talent, there is almost certainly a substantial gap between where you are now and the level you can reach. It's true for you, for me, and for all of us. If you've never devoted yourself to true performance-grade public speaking, consider making that one of your aspirations for the coming year.
Below are five ways you can speak with maximum impact, influence, and inspiration in the "races" you'll be running this year.
Do you speak with the voice of leadership? Leadership is performance—and nowhere is this more true than in public speaking. Whether you interact with employees, customers, boards, or other stakeholders, your credibility and authority are on the line. Do you know how to speak with the highest level of impact and influence? Discover Voices of Leadership for those who need to be the top performers in your company or team.
1. Change Your Mindset About Public Speaking
Is there anything more powerful than changing your point of view toward something you thought you were familiar with? As the first of my five tools, this one can benefit you immediately, even before you work on your skills. To start, accept that your speech or presentation isn't as important as you think it is. The event, whether it's a team meeting or conference keynote, is just one tile in the mosaic of your life and career. It's easy to forget that in a high-stress or high-profile situation. But almost no one is fired or sees their career prospects evaporate because of a single presentation.
You may need to change your perspective in another way (especially if you need to learn how to overcome fear of public speaking). The performance spotlight can fool you into thinking you're the center of it all. You're not. It's your audience that holds that position. If you make listeners' needs your entire focus, you'll be more likely to satisfy those needs, while also tamping down your extreme self-awareness. Need a leg up on making that happen? Learn why you should conduct an audience analysis for business presentations.
2. Don't Deliver Information—Paint Word Pictures
This is the Visual Age. Audiences have been trained by television, the Internet, smartphones, tablets, Apple watches, digital billboards, and other persuaders that do their work visually. It's nonstop visual input that strongly affects people's thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
When it comes to leadership communication, you need to tap into this force and make it work for you. You should take advantage of the available tools, 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 listeners' minds that elicit strong emotional responses. Speaking like this also boosts an audience's retention of your message.
Consider the following two versions of a famous speech. One of them is the actual speech, which uses powerful visual imagery. The other, the first sample below, is a re-written example I created 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.”
Can you guess why Winston Churchill was the prime minister of England and I'll never be president? My speech is informative enough. But it's flabby. Churchill's version not only has more muscle; but by speaking of "our island" and the beaches, streets, and landing grounds, he makes 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 Body Language of Performance
Do you speak from the neck up? Many presenters do. King Content creates talking heads, so that the audience is just along for the ride. But that's not how the public speaking arena operates. The essence of performance is you connecting with an audience—and that very much includes how you interpret and deliver information.
Which brings us to body language: the essential tool you use to physically express your message. You're not a brain broadcasting data, but a human being with a body performing in space. The nonverbal aspects of your performance are extraordinarily powerful in gaining an audience's attentiveness and engagement.
So discover the 5 key body language techniques of public speaking. When you do, you'll understand why movement and gestures are only the tip of the iceberg. To attain true leadership in spoken performance, you'll need to learn how the actor's art can empower your public speaking. These are key performance techniques you need to acquire to stand out from the competition.
4. Learn How to Pace Your Speeches for Drama
To get audiences to genuinely like hearing you speak, you have to make things easy and pleasurable for them. Imagine two scenarios, with an audience member literally in the driver's seat, to understand why you need to pace your presentations for engagement and enjoyment.
The first audience-member-as-driver is stopped at a railroad crossing while a train passes by. Car after identical car slides past at exactly the same speed, with no variety whatsoever. In Scenario Two, the driver negotiates his or her way through city traffic. There are stretches of open road mixed with stop signs, traffic lights, left- and right-turns, crosswalks, curves, etc. The environment is dynamic and ever-changing, and the driver must stay engaged and attentive, and profits by doing so.
Are you a speaker who maintains a freight train's pace as you speak? That is, does every segment of your talk look and sound the same? Audiences can only take in so much data before reaching information overload—we all need to hit the refresh button now and then. 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 should affect your pace: for instance, the transitions between main points. Use internal summaries (to sum up what you've just been speaking about), and internal previews (to relate what you're about to discuss). Especially, become aware of the need to deliver "bite-sized pieces" for listeners to mentally digest before you do on. Another metaphor: each section of your talk is a pearl, whole and complete; and when strung together these segments form the beautiful pearl necklace that is your talk. Trust silence between these segments to make each live on its own.
5. Discover the Art of the Conversation
Gone are the days of rhetorical public speaking and a larger-than-life speaking persona. It's all conversational now—and the pace is accelerating. Compare any of John F. Kennedy's speeches with 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 has a certain formality, which can make you much stiffer than you are when chatting with familiy and friends. This is a problem, since you're always at your best as 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 aim for conversationality even in your most formal speeches. Be 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 mannerisms will take on the authenticity that is the real you—a prerequisite for securing an audience's trust and admiration.
Ready now to use these 5 tools of performance-based public speaking for your upcoming year of leadership?
This article was originally published in an earlier version.
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