One of the most startling results of a survey is the one that identified public speaking as the number one fear of most people, way above dying. Really? Wow! People would rather meet their Maker than deliver something of value to other people?
Of course, it’s understandable that people fear to face a public audience. Who would want to make a fool out of themselves in front of other people? Would you? I wouldn’t! But that fear is mostly unfounded. Whether you’re invited to speak in an informal speaking engagement or a professional one, the last thing that your listeners want is for you to make a blunder. In a cruel alternate dimension, perhaps. At the very least, your listeners deserve to receive something of value to them in return for their time and attention. Perhaps you’re a visionary with a revolutionary idea to share. Maybe you’ve known the bride or groom since you were kids.
I would be lying to you if I say that I don’t feel nervous every now and then. That’s natural. That means that you care about the people who have taken their time (or who have paid money) just to hear you out. The trick is to use that nervousness, that edge, to your advantage. Of course, preparation is very important. Here are a few tricks that I’d like to share with you.
The quickest way to bore your listeners is to show a lack of interest or passion in your subject. I, for one, would find the nearest exit and get out of the venue. You see, knowledge can be your ticket to an invitation to a speaking engagement, but it’s passion, it’s enthusiasm that’ll get your listeners hooked.
Delivering a speech or talk is very much similar to acting. Surely, you won’t receive an Oscar or Golden Globe award from your performance. But the way I look at it, your listeners want to be enthralled by your performance, to feel, to think, to be swayed or even to be challenged.
I often take my cues off from actors. That is, I try to vary the rhythm, tone and volume of my voice, largely depending on what I’m trying to say. Use your body! Make gestures. If the people listening to you are interested in seeing a log, they’d go to the lumberyard. Another useful way to hook your audience is to look at their eyes. It is one of the quickest ways to enable a listener to become part of your storytelling.
Finally, add a personal touch to your talk. Humour often works in breaking the ice but some of us prefer to be viewed as leading ladies and not as some comic relief. Find out who your listeners would be and make the necessary adjustments.