Want to be sure you're a hit at an upcoming meeting or presentation? Here's what you should do at the last minute for a successful speech!
If you're like most speakers, you probably worry about getting the content of your speech or presentation right. Since your material constitutes the body of your topic, it's natural to be concerned that you don't leave out any essential information.
And that's fine—up to a point. In the planning stages, and even through your rehearsal period, it makes sense to keep "checking in" to be sure you're getting in all the key points of your talk.
Do you know the right versus wrong words to use when delivering content? Learn more in my free cheat sheet, "25 Words or Phrases to Avoid in Speeches and Presentations."
But kept up too long, concerning yourself with conveying exactly the right content can make you anxious. Worse, it can come between you and your primary purpose in a presentation: connecting with the audience and making something happen in the room.
It's exactly the same situation actors face as they're about to go on stage. So let's start there, regarding what you should do at the last minute to make your speech a hit.
Use Breathing for Effective Public Speaking
All of this is part and parcel of a question that, as a speech coach, I hear often: "What should I do just before I get up to speak?" And it's as an actor that I always feel I can best answer it. That answer contains two parts, one concerned with the body and the other with the mind.
Let's take the body first. And here, as in ultimately all things concerned with speaking, we need to start with breathing. Before you can consider anything having to do with a successful performance, that is, you need to get yourself centered and poised. (We’ll deal in a minute with what you should be thinking.)
Perhaps the most important element in any performance that embodies true stage presence is focus. And attaining strong focus starts with breathing—ask any master teaching meditation or martial arts. Actors in fact have a saying: "If you're on top of your breathing, you'll be on top of your performance. And if you're not, you won't." Your material will of course assist you in getting your message across; but it won't do anything to help with your poise, presence, and ability to connect with listeners. So stop the cramming concerning content and be sure you are practicing diaphragmatic breathing. And learn how to calm your nerves before speaking.
How to Connect with and Influence Any Audience
Now for the mental part of this powerful just-before-speaking regimen. For this, let's take a peak backstage on opening night at the theater:
You're standing in the wings, listening for your cue to make your entrance. Are you rehearsing your lines one last time to make sure you don't mess up in front of the audience? Well, do that, and you might just freeze in front of those hundreds of people! If you don't know your lines by now, you won't help yourself by frantically trying to capture them at this critical moment. What you should be thinking about, of course, is what your character was doing a moment ago, where he or she is coming from, and what your intentions are at this instant. That is what gives audiences a living, breathing person walking onstage, with motives and needs and desires.
Do you see how your speaking situation is exactly similar? You either know your content by now, or you don't—and you'll only harm your presentation by trying to remember it precisely at the last minute. Just like the actor, your concern needs to be on your listeners: exactly who are they, and what are their own motives and needs at this moment? Most important: how can you get through to them concerning what you'll be saying? Aim yourself in that direction, and truly, you'll fulfill your role as a speaker.
Interestingly, you won't lose one bit of the material you actually know well by now. And even if you do, you'll still be someone who is present and reaching the audience. Isn't that better than a speaker who is anxious about delivering perfect content?
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