When I first started teaching and coaching Public Speaking I was super excited about the prospect of helping people become more authentic and powerful performers. Having a theatre directing background, I was passionate about bringing the techniques and tools we learned in shows and adapting it to professionals in other industries. Teaching Acting for Non-Actors was my dream.
The more I began working with clients the faster I realized that delivering a speech honestly and powerfully is actually not that complicated…in theory. There are only 3 main pillars that make up a strong presentation. Only 3…that doesn’t seem so overwhelming, right?
The catch is that the time it takes to master all 3 of these can be quite arduous and painful.
As a result, one of the first things we do in a coaching session is to break down what the 3 components are so that we can come up with an effective strategy to master them and create a performance that is sure to dazzle any audience.
Here are the 3 ingredients that when stirred and simmered make a delicious speech stew (do you like the bad food analogy?).
- Speaking Naturally: Creating a speech that flows logically and makes sense is no easy feat. Then when you add to it the fact that you have to present it in a way that is believable and conversational, it’s no wonder that people hate public speaking with a passion. In fact, more often than not you’ve probably sat through a boring presentation in which the speaker OVER-REHEARSED and comes off robotic and canned. How much do you hate that? In a lot of cases, the content is actually very pertinent and helpful but you just can’t get past the stiff melodramatic person in front with their large gestures and over-the-top speaking style that is the void of humanity.
To avoid “robot speaking syndrome” or “shmacting” as I like to call it, I suggest that after you’ve written your content practice speaking it out loud as if you are talking to one person that would greatly benefit from your material. If you were speaking to an individual would you “PROJECT” your voice like an over the top carnival barker? Or would you instead take your time, speak softly and clearly and constantly check in with them to see that they are understanding what you are saying? The trick to making your speeches conversational is to place the focus on the person you are speaking to. It is more important that they connect and relate to what you are saying than anything. Be mindful of who you’re talking to and adjust your tone and delivery to match the way they receive information. Let their needs, wants, problems, feedback, etc inform how you connect to them and how you deliver the content.
2. Eye Contact: Along those same lines if you don’t look at who you’re talking to they won’t know that you are trying to enlighten, educate, or entertain them. On the other hand have you ever seen overly intense and uncomfortable speakers force eye contact? They often stare with all their might at you for no reason. I’m not suggesting you do that. Instead, I invite you to connect with a few people in the room (does not have to be EVERYONE) perhaps just 3 or 4 people scattered throughout that make you feel comfortable. Connect with them at the beginning of your presentation and constantly check in with them throughout. This will elevate the conversational feel of your speech and create a focal point for you to always look back. Once you establish that connection with a few people, don’t just stare at one of them for too long. That will definitely make things awkward for that person. Instead, bounce around from each of the 3-4 people never staying on one of them for too long, but always checking in with them to see if they understand or if they have any questions.
This will help other members of the audience think that you are speaking directly to them. They won’t know that you are actually speaking to the really good looking person that is right in front of them.
When used freely, creating eye contact with your audience can definitely make it look like you are super confident and powerful (even if you are panicking on the inside).
3. Confidence: Perhaps the one that speakers think is the most difficult to attain and the very piece that is often missing from most speeches. How do you define confidence? Is it a feeling? A thought? A sense of self-worth, entitlement, or power? Or is it a form of arrogance?
I actually found it to simply be a belief that you can solve a problem. I often ask my students “is there something you are really good at?” “How long did it take you to get awesome at it? Is there something you suck at? What makes it so bad?”
In most cases, they say that the thing they are good they had a natural aptitude for and leveraged their innate talents to get really good at. So there was an implicit foundation from the get-go that incited the internal belief that they could master the task.
On the flip side, the thing they are not good at more often than not is something they never had a vision for in the first place or were taught how to do it. Someone that speaks Spanish fluently knows how to get around in a Spanish speaking country because they have tested their skills and used them in a multitude of scenarios and presumably lived to tell about it. As a result, they can see themselves figuring out how to get around even if they don’t know where they going. They have enough experience behind them that proved they could. In contrast, if you didn’t know Spanish you might be terrified to ask for directions in a Spanish speaking country because you lack the fundamental skills.
Not having any previous experience or natural aptitude for something doesn’t mean that you are dumb, or a loser. It just means that you lack the foundational tools to fix the problem.
In public speaking, people don’t feel confident because they aren’t used to having all eyes on them, or they aren’t sure that their content creation skills are as effective as they like them to be, or they don’t have hours of experience presenting in front of a large audience. The one thing you CAN do however is to become an expert on your topic. Know it from top to bottom. Learn everything you can about it so that if any questions or issues arise you will be able to solve the problem with certainty. That will give you the confidence to command the audience’s attention and help them with resolving their conflicts.
In addition, it might also help to take an improvisation class at your local comedy theatre. Improv is a super effective skill to learn because it forces you to come up with solutions on the spot and to get in the habit of not putting so much pressure on yourself to be perfect on stage. If that is too “intense” of a suggestion than find other ways to get stage time to hone your speaking craft.
In all cases, being a powerful speaker takes time, discipline, passion, and the ability to let go of your perfectionism and to genuinely trust your natural born gift of connecting with others. If you always place the focus on your listener and direct your attention and energy to solve their problem, they will love you for it! Speaking to them directly, making eye contact with them so they feel that you are all about them, and discovering that you are actually a subject matter expert and can solve problems in the moment will ensure that you have great success as a speaker! We ALL have it within us to CRUSH it! Go do it without self-judgement or sabotage!!!