Have you ever wondered what the idea is behind public speaking? I mean, aside from the fact that it's a way for one person to speak to many. There's no doubt of course that that's true. And that makes speaking in public a tool of monumental efficiency.
But there's a whole other dimension involved when you, a single performer, speak to people assembled to hear you. It's what I call "the oral arena." This is a special place—for some of us, it's a magical place—whose demands and rewards are unique.
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It's a place unlike all the other places you deal with in your job. The knowledge and experience that got you there aren't enough for you once you're in the arena. You need something more, a skill that's as important as all the others you possess.
It's your ability to perform what you know for the betterment of others. And let's be honest: praise, glory, and career success should also grow from this aspect of your job.
Make Your Topic Live in People's Hearts and Minds
You have the opportunity here to do a wondrous thing: to give life to dead material. In fact, that’s your task and your power as a speaker. You absolutely must find it in yourself to make this happen! Your data—and even the interesting stories you tell—have been compiled, arranged, and pasted into your notes or PowerPoint deck. They’ve been cut and dried and preserved like a butterfly between two panes of glass.
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When you tell that story, though, we should listen. Think of it as the difference between that butterfly on a museum wall, and flitting from flower to flower in a field as you watch.
The in-person quality of your talk and your distinctive way of delivering it gives it size and immediacy. Best of all, it invests what you say with the human dimension. Your topic will live in the minds and hearts of your listeners when you bring it to life in your voice and body. Just as the audience is the reason for your speech, you are the reason for the audience.
Turning Ideas and Data Into Blood
The Rev. Jana Childers in her book, Performing the Word shares this amazing thought, “Once the sermon has become ink, it can be difficult to turn it back into blood.”1 Performing the word, indeed. And how true it is that you must turn your own ideas and data ‘back into blood’ if you want your speech to have a beating heart!
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Obviously, you need strong performance skills to make this happen. But there's a simple thought that should help you greatly: the key to reaching people successfully is not what you think you’re conveying—it’s what the audience understands . . . and receives.
That comes down to what you show them and what they hear in your voice, i.e., through your nonverbal communication. You not only bring the speech to completion by speaking it.2 You actually don’t really know your text until you speak it, the same way you don’t understand your body as a communication tool until you begin to use it.
Talk about public speaking as the tool to make your ideas comes to life!
1 Jana Childers, Performing the Word: Preaching as Theatre (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 20.
2 Richard Ward, Speaking from the Heart: Preaching with Passion (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992), 77. Quoted in Childers, 48.
This article is excerpted from my book, Speak for Leadership: An Executive Speech Coach's Secrets for Developing Leadership Presence.
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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.