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Ten Tips to Make Your Audience Sit Up

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The prospect of public speaking can be terrifying. Even delivering a simple presentation to friends and colleagues can be daunting. There are however, ten easy tips to becoming an effective and popular orator.
 
  1. Plan what to say.  This is essential. Remember the six Ps. Proper planning and preparation prevents poor performance. Your presentation should have a beginning (introducing your reason for speaking) a middle (backing up your contention with evidence) and an end (always conclude on an optimistic note.)
  2. Keep it simple. You need to know your subject and pass that knowledge on in an effective and perhaps, persuasive manner. Writing and editing a script (planning) will remove all superfluous wording and keep things objective. Too much peripheral information encourages rambling and complicated sentence structure can be very difficult to remember. You can save all that extra knowledge you have for questions and answers at the end.
  3. Rehearsal. You have crafted your script, now you need to learn—preferably verbatim. (You may wish to edit it further at this point.) This requires time and effort, but it’s well worth the investment. Audiences dislike any lack of engagement and you cannot maintain eye contact with them if you are reading from a board or a script. If you cannot learn every word, then condense your script into an aide memoire which contains only headings and key words or phrases to keep you on track. You can glance at this and carry on without retreating into the security of your script and looking away—which often encourages mumbling. Most crucially, you can now identify how long your presentation will take and tailor it accordingly.
  4. Stand up and engage. You need to rehearse this too. Don’t hide behind a desk or a podium. Get out there and confide with your audience. Stand up straight, keep your feet still and with your elbows bent, hold your hands comfortably in front of your waist with your fingers lightly “steepled”. (Avoid tensing up and pressing your palms together thereby going into “prayer” mode.) Speakers who pace around interspersing every other word with “Er” or “Um” distract their audiences’ attention. Let the amateur dramatist in you play beforehand and use a mirror to practice what facial expressions or hand movements you might employ to add emphasis to your words.  Doing all of this before the event will give you confidence in yourself, come the day.
  5. Relax. You have planned, revised and rehearsed the delivery of your script. You have your aide memoire for last minute revision and backup. Now, relax. It will all be fine. Incredibly, some of the most experienced politicians and actors still suffer from stage fright before every appearance, so it’s not uncommon to feel nervous. Practice deep breathing and just imagine who might say what, when they congratulate you afterwards—as they surely will.
  6. Look the part. Dress as appropriate, but wear nothing loud, unclean or controversial that is likely to distract your listeners. Don’t rush out. Take your time. Walk calmly, with your head up and smile pleasantly. Audiences warm to a friendly approach. Take a moment to look around at their faces and connect with them. Most will return the compliment and it will give you a chance to settle any nerves.
  7. Use your voice well. So many speakers race away, confuse themselves and mumble. Make a mental effort to slow down and without shouting—speak up! Projecting your voice stirs the brain cells. It will give you confidence and let your audience know that you deserve their full attention. Always try to enunciate clearly. Again, practicing your delivery beforehand will enable you to get your lips, tongue and teeth around any tricky words and can impress your listeners. That said, be yourself. So long as it is intelligible, a regional accent is often quite attractive. Using it confidently can add further interest and inspire trust.
  8. Be inclusive. Staying engaged with your audience as opposed to speaking with your back turned or your head down has already been covered; now you must avoid focusing solely on friendly faces. Your gaze must be all inclusive. Let it sweep back and forth and all around – including anyone sitting beside you.
  9. Watch your timing. If you’re flushed with success and about to conclude with a few questions and answers, watch the time. If there’s no clock behind the audience, then place a watch beside your aide memoire. Don’t look at your wristwatch or you will appear impatient and insincere. All of your hard work can be undone if you become involved in a lengthy debate with one or more listeners and hold everyone else back. Maintain control, keep things relevant and invite anyone who needs further answers to see you afterwards.
  10. Practice. Remember the old adage that Practice makes perfect. If talking to yourself in front of a mirror seems weird to begin with, its purpose is to alleviate any feelings of self consciousness that might spoil your performance later. It won’t seem so strange once you’ve learnt what a useful little trick it is. The more that you challenge yourself to address groups of people, the more you will grow in confidence and the more polished and spontaneous your style of delivery will become. There are many opportunities for volunteer speakers; all you have to do is look for them and remember the following doctrine. Stand up, speak up and shut up.

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