Need inspiration to speak as a leader? The following twelve skills or approaches will help. They're adapted from my book "How to Give a Speech," and are specifically concerned with helping you achieve those twin essentials of leaders: presence and charisma.
1. Use Diaphragmatic Breathing. Did you know that the first dictionary definition of “inspiration” has to do with breathing? So taking in air and being creative are part of the same process! Breathing sufficiently also slows your heart rate and bathes your brain cells in oxygen. And you certainly need a well oxygenated brain when you're presenting. So get in the habit of “belly breathing,” i.e., breathing with the help of your diaphragm, rather than just the upper part of your lungs. Here's how to speak with skill and confidence using this simple breathing technique.
2. Command Space. Most speakers focus on their content and their own nervousness. But powerful speakers have a grasp of nonverbal communication. They understand that physical presence affects credibility and believability. And so they learn how to “command space.” You should, too. The more comfortable you appear to be, the more audiences will respond positively. Stand, move, and gesture strongly, not tentatively, and feel the power in the room shift your way.
3. Tap Into Your Natural Talents. To audiences, the message and the messenger are the same. So be aware of the impressions you're broadcasting. After all, each of us is a natural performer, giving many "performances" each day based on our situation and surroundings. By acknowledging that a speech is simply one of the many performances you give every day of your life, you can embrace each such opportunity instead of fearing it. When you're at ease with this type of performing, your natural talents will shine forth.
4. Show Audiences Your Goodwill. Do you give audiences the impression that you’re speaking for their benefit? That’s what “goodwill” means—and it’s a necessary quality for speaking success. The next time you attend a presentation, pay attention to this aspect of the performance. Does the speaker make eye contact? Is he or she delivering a monologue, or is the audience asked questions? Try hard to establish rapport with your audience. You'll have a "conversation" everyone can enjoy.
5. Reveal Your True Self. Speaking in public absolutely reveals to an audience who you really are. Even as a former actor, I would have to work ferociously hard to hide my true nature when I give presentations. And if I did, all of my focus would be pointed inward. Since there's no way to hide yourself when you speak, don't even try. Throw away the "excellent speaker" mask. And become comfortable remaining vulnerable. It's the only way both you and your audience will remain open to influence. To learn more about establishing trust, read my article, "4 Easy Ways to Become a More Charismatic Speaker."
6. Have A Dialogue With Your Listeners. A speech or presentation can easily seem like a one-way street: you send, your audience receives, and that’s it. Yet in good speeches information passes back and forth continuously (verbal on your part, nonverbal on the audience's). Here's how to be natural and have a dialogue with your listeners: In your next conversation on a topic you care about, pay attention to how you express yourself vocally and physically. Now, bring that voice and those gestures into your public speaking.
7. Consciously Use Emotion. Being a credible speaker means remaining businesslike and banishing emotions, right? Rubbish! When was the last time you made a critical decision based solely on reason, leaving emotions out of it? As human beings, we often make decisions emotionally—from the gut—and only afterwards justify them with rational arguments. To persuade, motivate, and inspire your audiences, use emotional language.
8. Move! Think about how you occupy space when you speak. Do you “take” the space that’s allotted to you as a speaker, or do you try to minimize your physical presence? There's simply no reason to morph into a statue when you speak in public. Movement combined with gestures amplifies what you're saying. And don’t be afraid to come out from behind the lectern. Movement is interesting for an audience, helps you look authoritative, and feeds your own self-confidence. Read my previous article to learn more about the self-image you're broadcasting.
9. Use Effective Body Language. Studies have shown that how you look and sound plays a central role in the message that’s received by your listeners. It makes sense, then, that you spend less time on the content of your presentation and more time on how you hold yourself, move and sound as you speak (all essential aspects of body language). Tools to help you include a mirror, friends, and a video camera. Seeing and hearing yourself as others do is a crucial step in improving your ability to influence. Here are the 5 key body language techniques of public speaking.
10. Assume a Power Stance. Speaking of body language, learn how to "ground yourself" by assuming a strong stance when you stand in front of others. (That usually means standing with your feet at shoulder-width.) Now you look like a strong and steadfast presenter of your ideas. From that thought, audiences gain greater confidence in you and everything you represent.
11. Build Credibility and Rapport. You may be the world’s foremost authority. Yet you'll still be measured by your public speaking abilities. Bolster your credibility through three tools: COMPETENCE: Advertise your competence by mentioning your expertise and knowing your talking points cold. RAPPORT: Find a way to identify with your audience’s values and experiences, and mention the connection. DELIVERY: Deliver your speeches with conviction. You’ll be “delivering” the goods that validate your audience's positive regard and diminish their negative opinions.
12. Use Your Best Visual Aid: You! There's no doubt that visuals are seductive in public speaking. But you are the one visual that’s always front and center. You’re also the only visual that can adapt as need be, thinking on your feet and changing your presentation in response to audience input. So spend the time you think is necessary to put together the visual components of your talk. But also give some serious thought to how you’ll come across as the "visual persuader" in your presentation. And to become extraordinarly present when you speak, read my article "Leadership Skills: 10 Ways to Stay Fully Focused when Speaking."