Ladies and gentlemen (and Ted), what you’re about to read is gold, pure GOLD, I tell you. If you’ve ever been at all nervous about speaking in public, your anxiety will be significantly lessened after reading this post. In fact, some of you may even be EXCITED about speaking after you read this post.
That’s because I’m about to share with you my personal secrets for speaking in public. Did you know that I’m one of those people that GEEKS OUT at the thought of speaking in front of an audience? And people seem to enjoy it on the regular? Well, today I’m going to share my top 5 secrets to public speaking. This is the stuff they don’t tell you in Toastmasters, my secrets gleaned from the theater and improvisation stage, and the tips and tricks one can only learn by speaking to audience of 17 year old high school kids in 7 a.m. English class (yep, been there, done that).
1. Your audience is on your side. Period.—Forget this nonsense about how you have to “win your audience”. You’ve already won your audience, because no audience wants its speaker to fail. Think of when it’s you with your butt in the seat. Are you sitting there thinking, “I really hope this is going to be boring and awful”? No, you’re sitting there WITH HOPE. You’re PULLING for your speaker to entertain you, to enlighten you, to inform you, to change you.
Now imagine you’re a speaker who understands that your biggest cheerleader isn’t your mom, your boyfriend or your boss...it’s the crowd of people you’re about to speak to. It changes things a bit, doesn’t it? For me, it gives me an incredible rush, and makes me want to make my cheerleaders proud. Forget all that noise about keeping them on your side for now...just remember that when you walk on that stage, there’s a whole shit-ton of people that cannot wait to hear what you have to say.
2. Stage time runs in double time—Ever hear someone compliment a speaker or actor by saying, “He/she has great timing?” What is timing, exactly? To me, timing is the art of converting stage time to real time. WTF is "stage time"? Well, if you’ve ever been on stage, you’ll notice a very weird phenomenon: Everything on stage goes faster in time. You think you’re speaking normally, but you find out later that you were speaking at Warp Speed 9. You thought you had paused in the appropriate spots, but when you re-watch yourself on video, it’s like you skipped over those key moments.
So how do you develop better timing? Well, at it's very basic level, I tell new speakers to speak as though they are brain damaged (really) and to hear themselves slowly speak just one word at a time. When you hear yourself speaking that way--and yes, it will sound totally off and weird to you!--it’ll be just the right speed for your audience.
3. There is no wrong answer when it comes to being yourself--I’ve often noticed that speakers feel like they might give the “wrong” speech, say the “wrong” thing, or somehow give the “wrong” example. Listen, kids, there is no wrong when you’re being your real, authentic self on stage. Is it possible that your particular speech doesn’t fit your particular audience? Sure, but that doesn’t mean your speech won’t be right for another audience. Be who you are...that is always the right answer.
In my Toastmaster’s group, there are two speakers in particular that I just love to watch. Neither one employs any of the bells and whistles that your typical “good” speakers employ. In fact, one guy habitually puts his hands in his pockets, and the other guy is an “um” and “ah” machine. But both speakers are so in tune with who they are, the audience doesn’t give two shits that they’re not employing “levels,” prolonged eye contact, or loads of vocal variety. Be you. That’s what an audience wants most of all.
4. Never underestimate the power of individual connection--An audience is a collective, yes, but never underestimate the power of making a connection with just one person within your audience. When I spoke to high school kids, I’d often try to joke with at least one student one-on-one during my presentation. I also liked to go up and down the aisles and lightly touch the desks as I passed. These were all little tricks I used to show my (very, very tough) audience that I cared about them, and that I wanted to connect them in a sincere way to what I was saying...even if it was just another lecture about resumes.
5. Relax, have fun, it’ll be over in a minute--Remember that thing about the audience being on your side and time going in double speed on the stage? So really, relax and have fun, enjoy your audience for the few minutes you have ‘em. It’s the one time in life that you get to share this particular experience...every time you speak is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity, so make the most of it.
Are you a speaker? What are your personal tips and tricks for speaking? Or, are you afraid to speak? Why?