Do you know how to deliver a speech with maximum impact? Here's how to be clear and powerful when presenting your ideas.
"It's the thought that counts." In addition to gift-giving, that's a phrase that makes sense in public speaking as well.
But when it comes to effective speeches and presentations, you mustn't get too swept up into the rarified air of noble ideas. Delivery counts for something, too. In fact, your ability to personify your ideas helps bring them down from the clouds to where we can all grab hold of them. It's you that gives your talk a beating heart.
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And that means knowing (among other skills) two things: (1) how to make your ideas sound complete and well-formed, and (2) giving them sufficient punch so they hit home. I'll be talking about those twin skills in this article.
Making Your Ideas Flow Like a River
Both of these performance proficiencies depend upon how you breathe and vocalize what you're saying. If you speak in public, you need to be using diaphragmatic breathing. That means "belly breathing," in a way that gives you a sufficient reservoir of air so you can achieve what I call "the sound of leadership."
But reservoirs need something to fill them—and in this case, that's unobstructed breath. Here's the interesting thing: your ideas also need that free flow, to carry them from your head to the ears of listeners. Think of it in terms of physics if you like, because in a way it does involve the movement of something across space.
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Four bad speech habits disrupt this free flow of ideas, however: a) choppy delivery, or b) a voice that fades away before a thought is completed; c) dropping one's pitch in the middle of a thought, and d) "word bunching," or mashing words together so rapidly in a phrase that the meaning is lost. (Watch out for that last one in shop-talk that you and your team are familiar with but that is unfamiliar to listeners.)
The solution to these problems—like nearly everything in good public speaking—comes down to considering your listeners and their needs. So, if you happen to practice any of these speaking habits, concentrate more on getting the complete idea across to your audience. Focusing on that should allow you to "get to flow," and not interrupt yourself! And remember, a written sentence may contain two or three ideas; or it make take three or four sentences to get an idea across. It doesn't matter. Once you're intent on expressing the fullness of an idea, your vocal delivery (including your breath support) will help make that happen.
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How to Ride that River Home
Your other task, of course, is to invest your thought with maximum impact. Here, too, your breathing matters. And once again, it's that full reservoir of air that's needed.
Many of us breathe shallowly. That gets us by well enough for sitting at our desk or talking on the phone. But it's not good enough for public speaking. Here's why: in English, the most important word or phrase comes at the end of the utterance. (I don't say "at the end of the sentence," because sentences only now and then align with oral communication.)
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Do you understand why diaphragmatic breathing matters here too? It's because you need enough air left to "punch" that important word or phrase! For instance, consider if you say this:
"Sure, our product is successful. But we never wanted to just create another profitable item. We intended—and we still intend—to revolutionize this industry!"
I made that idea long enough that you could say it on one breath if you wanted to. It would have to be a GOOD breath, though, wouldn't it? If it were, you'd have enough left to punch up that crucial point at the end. You'll have created a strong river with uninterrupted flow to bring your idea home.
Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking training and overcoming speaking fear. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching and corporate group training worldwide. In 2022 for the ninth consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." His handbook for presenting in videoconferences, Speaking Virtually offers strategies and tools for developing virtual presence in online meetings. Contact Gary here.