Great business speakers know how to engage and move audiences. If you want to join their ranks, follow these all-important rules of effective public speaking.
Pay attention to the best speeches and presentations in terms of business communication and you'll understand this fact:
Great speakers don't just speak—they perform. As an actor and speech coach concerned with public speaking training, that's something I always communicate to clients.
But here's the interesting thing: you can immediately put that knowledge to work. Whatever type of speaking you do—in business, academically, socially, for personal pleasure, or while demonstrating leadership communication skills—you're already performing. Sociologist Erving Goffman's 1956 book makes that very point, and right in the title: The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. We perform roles every day of our lives as we communicate with and influence others, and public speaking is no exception.
Want to achieve a dynamic speaking persona? You easily can, by following some tried and true performance techniques. Learn how to build credibility and earn trust. Discover how body language can support your message—and how you can unlock your natural talents for great performances. Download my free e-book, "12 Easy Ways to Achieve Presence and Charisma."
The Six Rules of Effective Public Speaking
Rule #1: Make the Audience the Center of Your Universe
You're not the focus of the event! Get that essential truth into your presentation DNA. Ultimately, every good speaker cares more about the audience than themselves. This can be a tough prescription to fill if you have speech anxiety, which tends to wrap you in a cocoon of anxiety and self-consciousness. But the good news is this: focusing fully on the audience lifts a tremendous burden from your shoulders in terms of worrying about your performance. To make your message new and exciting for you and your audience is the most wonderful thing that can happen to you as a speaker.
Rule #2: Focus on Relationships
If the audience is the center of your universe, you're already focused on the right task: establishing and maintaining a relationship with them. Your speech's content can never live on its own—if it could, why would there be a presentation? Three relationships are operating during a speech: between you and the audience; you and the content; and the audience and the content. In the first, you engage, interest and activate your listeners; in the second, you interpret your content for those listeners; and in the third, the audience relates to your content because you've pointed out why it matters to them. Pay attention to all three relationships.
Rule #3: Understand Your Purpose
Too many speakers confuse topic and purpose. For instance, I'll ask a client, "What's your purpose with this presentation?" And the response will be, "Well, I'm going to talk about—" "No," I say, "that's your topic . . . what's your purpose?" Then it becomes clear what I mean. Yes, the information is what you're there to talk about. But it definitely isn't what you're there to accomplish. Audiences hope to be better for the experience of listening to you—and that's exactly what you must try to make happen. Being clear on your purpose will help you gather exactly the right information to accomplish it.
Rule #4: Use Your Body
Your body is a powerful communication tool. You're not a brain in a bell jar communicating telepathically. Audiences need you to give physical expression to your message. That, of course, means understanding how to use body language as a speaker. Suggestions: Stand rather than sit if you have a choice (so you don't eliminate 50% of your physical presence). Come out from behind the lectern if possible. Make your gestures few in number and well defined. And discover an actor's secrets for commanding a stage.
Rule #5: Color Your Vocal Delivery
Your voice is the most flexible speaking tool you own apart from the brain itself. It's capable of a wide range of coloration and effects, from astonishment and incredulity to mockery and seduction, and a hundred other intentions. To speak without vocal variation means using a "mono" or single tone, from which we derive the word monotonous. If you're limited vocally, work with a speech coach to learn the vocal dynamics that will, quite simply, make you a more exciting speaker.
Rule #6: Boost Your Skills at Q & A
I call Q & A "the forgotten avenue of audience persuasion." Virtually anyone can give a reasonable presentation if they prepare and practice enough. But what happens when the questions, challenges, and push-back begin? The speaker who can handle that situation with style, knowledge, and a bit of self-deprecating humor, is the person who embodies presentation leadership. And while you're at it, brush up on my 7 "danger zones" of Q & A.
This article was originally published in 2014. It has been updated.
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