This is your moment. A moment you may be feeling rather uneasy about. You have been selected to give a speech for (insert speech type here). It may be your company’s corporate meeting, your daughter’s wedding, a graduation dinner, a Boy Scout award presentation, Dad’s eulogy, the blessing for your annual Thanksgiving dinner, or just about a hundred other very important events that are seeking an excellent communicator – a person who can reach people with passionate thoughts, ideas, and a terrific speaking voice. The problem is…you are NOT an excellent communicator. You possess none of these skills. Your idea of a great communicator is watching a catcher at a baseball game signaling the pitcher to throw a curve-ball. Quite simply, you are not trained to speak well, and you have no idea how to go about preparing for your moment.
So, I humbly offer up help in the form of these five public speaking tips. But you say…thanks, but no thanks. Many others have published speaking tips that fell short. What makes your tips unique, and how will they impact my ability to build a memorable time in the spotlight. Sit up…pay attention and learn from a real speech professional who has seen and done it all. I am a blogger with experience at the lectern, as a Master Of Ceremonies, and as a longtime Radio/TV announcer. I’ve learned a trick or two…no, make that five, and I’m ready to share them with you. Let’s get started.
TIP #1 — COURAGE
How do so many people look so calm when they speak? Where do they find the courage to face that horde of humanity center stage? Well, first off…maybe they are as nervous as you. It’s quite true that performers like actors, musicians, TV performers and others…appear at ease. Not so. Most are crawling out of their skins with fright at the prospect of performing live or even on tape. They worry they will have a complete breakdown mid act and fall apart. And some people do fall apart.
Example #1: I once saw a CEO (that’s Chief Executive Officer) of a major corporation, melt down before my very eyes. The telltale signs were there. Labored breathing, stuttering delivery and finally total collapse. I mean she collapsed right there in front of me on the floor completely out of oxygen. When they pulled her to her feet, she adjusted her clothes, brushed aside her hair and had a seat. She looked better now, since her speech was over…prematurely.
Example#2: Many live stage performers develop what are called rituals before a performance. That may include, but not be limited to, having a shot of alcohol before going on stage, stuffing numerous lucky pieces into their pockets when speaking, or throwing up just before their entrance. Let’s just hope they don’t have a kissing scene. Former President Obama swears that all the lucky trinkets he carries in his pockets have been given to him by potential voters on the road. He believes they bring him luck, but I believe he believes…and that’s enough to gain the confidence he needs every day.
Example #3: Roy Orbison was a famous singer of the 60’s and 70’s. But Roy was scared to death to perform live. So, he shielded himself against fear by wearing dark glasses on stage so he could never see the audience. I always thought he had an eye problem. Nope, he was frightened he would fail. By the way, he never did, and was a legendary performer.
My advice for courage is simple. Do whatever you feel it takes to be comfortable on stage. Nothing is too extreme. Think positive thoughts with positive outcomes. Believe in yourself, and, when necessary, fake it until you make it. It’s not the end of the world if you falter. The end of the world is the end of the world.
TIP #2 — PREPARE
There is no excuse for being unprepared to speak at any occasion. None. Even if you are asked to say a few words at the last minute, gather yourself, stay calm and say what you feel in your heart…briefly. Remember, the one constant in speaking is that…less is more.
I am also, by nature, a due diligence person. That means, when hired to speak, I overcompensate my unease by making myself comfortable with the surroundings I will perform in. I like to, when possible, take a trip by car to the venue I will be working at. Now I know how to get there and will have one less thing to worry about. When I arrive, I visit the room I will speak in. I need to know where the audience will be sitting, where the lectern will be located and I need to gauge the size of the room. Then I stand at the podium for a few minutes and imagine my audience before me. If possible, I might even rehearse my words in that room. I’m looking for good vibes and a familiarity that comes with knowing where I’m going to be and how I’m getting there. The more I prepare, the better I will perform. This works for me and I believe it will work for you. But a few words of warning. Not everything can be thought out in advance. There are times when the unexpected happens.
Example: In the late 70’s a live Oscar telecast was underway on network TV from Los Angeles. The night was going smoothly…until co-host and actor David Niven retook the stage. As Mr. Niven began reading off the larger than life teleprompter to introduce actress Elizabeth Taylor, a naked man streaked behind him and directly in view of the camera, before being collared by security. Mr. Niven, a longtime brilliant actor and communicator, took a beat by pausing, and then let this immortal ad lib roll perfectly out of his mouth. “Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen. But isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?” Sometimes, preparation is just not enough.
TIP #3 — PUNCTUAL
I pride myself on always being on time. To me, being on time means arriving for any appointment at least 10-15 minutes early. Speeches, however, are special and you should not treat them as ordinary. Always arrive at least 1 hour before your speech presentation. If you need more time…get there even earlier. Be the first on the scene. The first person has a distinct advantage over everyone else just by being first. You know the layout, the room, the vibe in the building. You meet people as they arrive and can get to know your audience before they even know who you are. This element of surprise always pays dividends. For when you stride up to make your speech, at least half the room has already talked to you. You have bonded with them and now your room is a friendly place. What a great advantage that is. The opposite can be said for the guy or lady who is always late, always apologizing, always not punctual. Being late is not a good personality trait for a winner.
Example: Was it cool when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio arrived 80 minutes late at the Vatican — the Vatican! — to deliver a speech about climate change? (Or all the other times he was seriously behind schedule?) Was it all fine and good that time Nicki Minaj crept in late to a live broadcast of American Idol? Putting the word late in front of your name usually means you are dead. In many ways, that also applies to people who are still breathing.
TIP #4 — TECHNOLOGY
So, what do I mean when I say you need technology to make an excellent speech presentation? Some speakers work often and understand the technology of our time. Others are not quite as familiar with how things work within the confines of the room you are speaking in. That’s where time spent with an audio technician can be very important.
Who is the audio technician? He’s the bored guy sitting/sleeping in the rear of the room in front of numerous audio boards/remote cameras. He arrives early and spends his days listening to a myriad of speakers attempt to inspire the masses. He pays little attention to the talk and less to the quality of sound. That’s why you need to meet him, learn his name, and praise him when necessary. He is the guy who will rescue you when the heating/cooling system in the room goes haywire. He will strap a lavalier microphone to your body before the event for good sound reproduction. He also controls the robotic cameras that may be video recording your talk. And he hooks up the computer laptop to help you prepare for your power point presentation. He may seem unimportant, but he is the most important guy in the room. He can make you look good…even better than you already would. And he can fix any problems that may come your way with computer, power point, or microphone issues…even an overheated or freezing room. Treat him well.
Example: There is nothing worse than a speech that can’t be heard or seen, a malfunctioning power point or an AC unit that is freezing up so badly, the guests head out the door.
TIP #5 — WORD
“It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away”. So go the words of a classic Bee Gees song from the late 1970s.
When it comes to winning the hearts and minds of a person up close and personal, or from a distance as a public speaker, the rules are the same. Your lyrics are the key ingredient. Words matter. What you say or don’t say…matters. Why do certain speakers score big audience points by demonstrating an amazing ability to be incredible wordsmiths? They know how to write cogent thoughts in memorable sentences. They understand that people want…no need… inspiration. Inspiration comes in many speech forms. Bonding leads to inspiration. Be that speaker everyone would love to have lunch with after your talk. Inspire by speaking persuasive words…but to only one specific person in the room. The great speakers, announcers, & hosts understand that you can’t address thousands all at once. You address them as if you are having a personal one on one conversation.
Back in my Radio DJ days, we were schooled on the demographics of our listening audience. When we spoke on the air…it was never to 10,000 individuals. We knew our target audience was one female aged 35-44 with 3 children. She drove an SUV and loved to get her coffee at Starbucks. Whatever your audience demo is…imagine just that one person who exemplifies your total crowd, and then, talk to them alone.
Example: Fred Rogers of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, always addressed his audience like that…talking to one specific child he had in his mind. He would intone in his sweet, calming voice. “You are very special…you are unique…there is no one else in the world quite like you. I like you just the way you are.” Children and adults alike still feel, years after his death, that he was talking only to them alone, each time they visited his show. They will carry wonderful memories of him throughout their lifetimes.
Inspire with your words, your ability to offer funny jokes, to tell self-deprecating stories, and to lead by showing you really care about their problems and can offer viable solutions. Mostly, be their friend, confidante and admirer…at least for a few minutes. Words are easy to say…but should be said only when measured carefully. Keep your measuring cup handy and don’t sprinkle too much salt or sugar. Finally, get to the point. Never ramble or bore. Motivate, excite, encourage, and spark interest in the dreamers sitting there before you. Only then can you be sure you have really succeeded in communicating well.