Once, Joseph Chatfield, an English poet and humorist, said that an oratory is the power to talk people out of their sober and natural opinions. He was absolutely right about that. Being a public speaker is a hard job, which requires the highest level of self-control, wittiness and ability to persuade. For most of people it would take an act of Congress to deliver a speech, which brought me the idea to write this article. I am not going to provide you with step-by-step instructions or a plan to follow on how to deliver the perfect speech and avoid going down in flames. I will share with you instead the steps how to prepare yourself for it – for your first successful public speech.
Picture from the panel discussion we attended at Luleå
The first thing to do on your way towards day X is to get ready with the structure and the plan of your discourse. Yep, the plan. You need to put down, because if you can’t write your message in a sentence, you can’t say it in an hour. Start this toil from identifying the aim you are going to achieve on delivery. It will help understand your audience’s motivation, what they expect to hear from you, and, therefore, identify your speech keywords. Don’t grudge the time for preparation. Wayne Burgraff says it takes one hour of preparation for each minute of presentation time. It’s time to recall your school years and write an essay using the plan with the selected words, and learn it by heart. Just Kidding. Certainly, good memory is an important skill for a speaker, but something else is needed. Prepare the list of key points on separate cards to peep into them as you narrate. Please remember that you should be peeking , not to stare as if trying to figure out how to read “that”.
What next? Do you have a nice big mirror at home? It’s your friend #1 at this stage, because it is an acting time! Place yourself in front of the mirror with the cards in your hands and start speaking. If you wish to feel more comfortable acting on public, repeat the speech several times. It is a well-known fact that the information, which you deliver, is not as important as the way you present it. Remember what Marcus T. Cicero said: “A good orator is pointed and impassioned.” The last but not least point in work with the text is questions. Think of the ones your audience may ask during or in the end of your speech, and be ready to answer them. Don’t let them stalemate you.
Photo from the last training session during Junior Chamber International regional conference in Oulu. Photo by Aija Saari.
Step #3 is the women’s favorite one – the clothes. The main rule for your “speech outfit” is to make it comfortable. The thoughts about how tight the skirt or shoes are are not the best way to go. Some girls may say that they are comfortable in sheer blouse and short skirt and that is true. But come on, spare your audience, don’t distract their attention from your speech. Try to achieve a balance between the way you look and the topic you deliver. There are many etiquette rules on how to behave and look in public. The most popular and noticeable speakers’ mistake is buttoning the jacket Just in case you do not remember how to do that, here is the rule: if there are 2 buttons on it, the upper one should be buttoned up, if 3- the middle one.
Finally, you are standing nicely dressed for your speech delivery and holding the cards in your hands with a strange feeling inside. Your heart beat resembles the old grandfather’s cuckoo clock and the breath is like you’ve been been sprinting. You are really lucky if you have never had these feelings before acting. Strangely, glossophobia (phobia to deliver the public speeches) is one of the most widespread on the planet. It will affect your performance badly if you do not overcome it. I’d like to share one strategy, which helps. Of course it depends on the person, but still look through my advice and create your own strategy based on them.
At first, you need to identify the source of your fear to know what to fight with. It may be caused by different reasons such as poor preparation or the fear to make a mistake. Well, if to speak about preparation, it’s all in your hands and there should be no problem if you built your presentation following the steps above. If you are ready with the questions, which may appear, everything will go smoothly. The saying by Dale Carnegie has always helped me: “There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave”. Your audience has never seen the text of your speech and trust me they will never find out what you have planned.
If you are afraid to make mistake, trust me, it’s impossible to be perfect for everybody. By the way,there is always a chance to have a bad-tempered participant in a sour mood among your audience. You need to deal with it.
That was all about your thoughts and feelings, but the stress directly affects your physical state and the way you look. Your look and behavior are the perfect reflection of your emotional state. It is not a big deal to identify the nervous person. A cursory glance, a silent and faltering voice, odd gestures and shallow breathing can easily betray you. You need to take your body under control and go into your act. The body language is important, perhaps, the hands moves are the most crucial because they are active and visible. Let’s clarify what you need to do with your hands. The gestures are used to show the importance of the information, so don’t swing your arms, you are not a bird. The fussiness reflects your embarrassment, but, remember, the pockets are not a solution. It is a common mistake to put your hands in there as well as to hide them behind your back or hold some objects. Your body must show your confidence, thus the back must be straight, the head must be up and the movements should be natural. Don’t forget about the pauses, they are good helpers, as Mark Twain said: “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”
Now you are ready, take a deep breath, get the situation under control and rock! Good luck!