Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Art of Public Speaking

"Presentation skills is one of the most important skills in the 21st century."  - Bill Gates. 

Imagine yourself standing in front of the mirror at midnight – panic struck eyes, fear hovering the face, and trembling limbs – a total wreck. 

Neither, a performance evaluation nor a board meeting. Still the adrenaline rush is so strong to keep you sleep deprived for few days now. What else could be the reason for such nervousness?
Astoundingly, these are “common” symptoms of a person preparing for a PUBLIC ADDRESS or a SPEECH.

PUBLIC SPEEKING – an art and skill we see and admire in many, my recent favourites being our PM Shri. Narendra Modi and the US President Mr. Barrack Obama, is a nightmare to a large number of us.

Our PM, Modiji’s speeches are feast to the ears. No wonder he captured world’s attention with his public speaking skill and all have seen him catapult to the present position which draws similarity, in strategy and execution, with yet another great speaker – Barrack Obama. Both brilliant with words.

Let me feel proud to share that one of the best speeches I have eared recently is that of Modiji’s address at the Capitol Hill at the joint session of the US Congress on 8th June this year. What a marvellous and breath-taking speech!! 8 standing ovations! 66 clapping intervals!! Truly spectacular!

The steps of Old State Capitol, Illinois on 10th February, 2008 along with the whole world, witnessed a spectacular exhibit of public speaking skills of Mr. Barack Obama, when he announced his candidature to run the presidential elections. His historic victory speech on being the 44th President- Elect, on 4th November, 2008 amazed billions around the globe, yet again. Not to mention, Mr. Obama connects well with his audience through his speeches. 
Both these honoured speakers gracefully inspire and influence the audience, which is quint essential trait for any good public speaker. One can learn quite a lot from these speakers. 

Today, we are in an era of rapid changes and high uncertainty and people look for clear directions and guidance. Whether forming new visions, or targeting an innovation to untried markets, or speaking to media, or addressing social functions or simply conducting business or team meetings, the ability to make effective speeches is mostly the crucial factor that decides success or failure.

The terms “hearing” and “listening”, though it may seem the same, have different meanings. Many a times, people only hear to speakers but don’t listen to what they speak. Making the talk interesting and participative can make the speeches more effective and result oriented.
There are, of course, natural speakers with inborn talent & aptitude for Public Speaking. But I strongly believe that good speakers are not always born – they can be trained as well. 
We all have latent skills. An awakening and perfecting these skills, along with the right perspective, a few Public Speaking tricks, and a couple of modulated punch lines will make the task less challenging.

Let me now share few simple tips that can help you be effective speakers. 

1. Define the Purpose: To create interest among your audience, you must offer a good reason to them to listen to you. Their time is valuable, which means that your speech should answer their one simple question: “What’s in it for me?"

2. Develop the speech: To make a great speech, you need to start by building on an appropriate outline that considers timing and the whats, whys, and hows of the speech. Keep both, the target audience and the objectives of the speech while developing the speech content.

3. Practice, Practice, Practice: Having a concrete outline and well prepared speech alone will not win the battle for you. The key is continuous rehearsals. Repeated speech practice and rehearsals help in identifying problematic areas and strategies to avoid any obvious mistakes from occurring. You can also join speaking clubs like Toastmasters, or volunteer to speak at local events, and practice at work. The more you speak, the better you will get at it.

4. Nervous to Natural: Be yourselves. Good audience can quickly identify if you are trying to imitate someone that you are not. Relax - your best self is your real self. Your audience is almost nervous as you are. Involve them as soon as possible to calm everyone's nerves.

5. Breath: Before you start uttering the first words, take a deep breath and look at the audience. Connect with their eyes, take in their energy and begin.

6. The magic of 3: The first 3 minutes of the speech is crucial, because during this time your audiences’ attention is naturally high. You have only one chance to make a first impression and you need to grab their attention, establish the rapport, and ensure they will buy-in immediately to what you are conveying.

7. Keep it Simple: Have a few key points listed and use numerous real-life examples for each one. Your audience is looking forward to learn something new from you. Understand that they are not waiting to test your knowledge.

8. Make all movements Purposeful: Moving around the hall, just for the sake of moving or to wash out your nervousness is annoying for the audience. There is no need to move all the time. Try standing planted from time to time. 

9. Check your Pace: People often speak too fast when they are nervous. Slow down. Take something to the podium with you that will serve as your reminder to slow down. Obama & Narendra Modi are masters in this and remember how effective it is.

10. Bring a Visual: Place something on the podium that makes you smile. It could be a picture of your family, a silly toy or a rock from the ocean. It might sound silly, but it really works!

11. Close it Right: A fine closing will make your audience feel good about what they've learned. Try to inspire them to Act and leave them with something that reminds them of you and your key message. Make sure to end your speech with a bang!

12. Take feedback: Ensure you request and get a feedback from your audience after the session. Also have an evaluator, a speaker, to monitor your performance for the day. Discuss a couple of points to improve and later implement those suggestions.

I am confident that anyone who practices the above simple techniques while making a public speech, can do a neat job. However, let me remind you that true success in any endeavor is the will and attitude to improve continually. This starts with a commitment to improve. Audience feedback and suggestions are the best source to evaluate your performance and its effectiveness. A word of caution here is not to take these feedback personally or self-criticizing and be defensive against them. Remember, there can be lessons to be learnt from even a crank, if you have the will and patience to listen!

We may not be able to stand in the shoes of Mr. Obama or Modiji at Public Speaking but sure we can make good speakers out of us – speakers who can inspire any audience!


Shamim Rafeek
Corporate Trainer | Motivational Speaker | Business Coach | Author