Public speaking is an intrinsic feature of work-life in the contemporary world. Whether it’s making power-point presentations to your team, sales pitches to prospective clients, or delivering the keynote address at a business seminar, public speaking is a critical communication skill.
It is also learned the ability, and while some people have an aptitude for it, the best public speakers invest a lot of time and energy honing their skills-sets. So whether you’re a novice or a seasoned pro, here are a series of steps you can take to help you prepare for your next public speaking engagement.
Preparation: The Long and The Short Of It Some of your preparation will take place in the days and weeks preceding the event and some of it you will find useful just before the event.
How and what to prepare in advance Content: At the heart of the whole exercise is the content that you will be communicating to your audience. Before you start creating the content, make sure you know who you’re tailoring it for. Who exactly is your audience? The way you would address high-school students is not necessarily how you would address a group of 50 and 60-year-old executives.
Once you know who your audience is, you can decide on the tone of the presentation. Will it be conversational or formal? Will it be interactive—with a lot of time for Q & A—or will you carry the entire weight of the presentation?
Delivery: Marshall McLuhan, the famous media theorist, once said, “The medium is the message”. In other words, how you convey something is as important as what you convey. Once you’ve written your speech—or even as you write it—practice delivering it. Long, wordy sentences are hard to communicate verbally and increase your chances of boring your audience. Keep your sentences—and their delivery—crisp and clear.
Practice: You are no doubt familiar with the expression “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration”. Having a flair for public speaking is great, but it takes practice—‘perspiration’—to become a consistently good public speaker.
Once you’ve written your speech, practice it in front of the mirror to see what you look like when you’re making it—do you look tense? Or stiff? Practice in front of others as well, and using their feedback, practice some more.
On the spot preparation On the day of the big event, and you might think that there’s nothing more you can do to prepare but there are still a few things you can do to calm your nerves.
Arrive early: Instead of arriving late and adding to any stress that you might already be feeling, come in early. Stroll around the auditorium or the room in which the event will take place; familiarise yourself with the stage/space and the seating arrangements. Get comfortable with the surroundings.
Warm-up: Athletes, actors, singers—performers of all stripes, in fact —make sure that they limber up before they appear in front of an audience. Practice some voice and speech exercises to make sure your vocal cords and facial muscles are pliant. If your voice and face are stiff, you can bet it’ll affect the quality of your speech delivery.
Have fun: you’ve prepared and practiced as much as you can. At this point the most important thing you can do is to just enjoy the experience, thus ensuring that your audience does too! Follow these simple steps and you will be set to deliver a successful speaking engagement.