Monday, 23 June 2014

Public Speaking - A Lot Easier Than You Think!

It's a well-known theory that people consider public speaking to be their number one fear.  Death is often listed as the second-ranked fear, leading to Jerry Seinfeld's observation that people at a funeral home would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy!

That being said, public speaking is really nothing to be feared.  Unless people have paid $100 to hear you speak or if you're making a speech that will seal a $10 million deal or bring peace between nations, you have little reason to fear any public speaking opportunity that you are offered.

Remember, all talking is public!  If you are conversing with your spouse or family, telling a story by the watercooler or talking about your latest trip with friends at a restaurant, you are engaged in public speaking.  They want to hear what you have to say.

I have had a few experiences with public speaking and several occasions might be defined as a bit more intense than normal.

Recently I shared the stage with Mark Saunders, Toronto's Chief of Police at a fundraising event for the Special Olympics.  The event took place at Police Headquarters in downtown Toronto in front of an audience of several hundred people.

It could have been nerve-wracking introducing the head of law-enforcement for a big city in front of a large crowd but I found it best to realize that the focus was on Chief Saunders.  The fact that he's extremely popular and a very nice person made my job much easier.  Always accentuate the positive.

This is a speech I gave at the Chinese Consulate with a few Chinese diplomats in the audience, including the Consul-General.

This is a speech at a Special Olympics Banquet where there were about 300 people in the audience and 10 dignitaries behind me, including local politicians and the Chief of Police!

There have been many books and articles about public speaking, but here are my personal tips and observations based on the previously mentioned speeches along with others..

1) You Won't Be Perfect But Who Cares?

Just about everyone stumbles during a speech or hesitates or temporarily loses a train of thought for a moment.  Unless you're delivering a prepared speech off of a teleprompter that you've already done 100 times, you will  have the occasional hiccup.  Look at President Obama during a press conference as opposed to a prepared speech.  There is a difference in smoothness!

2) You Are Not Singing Or Performing A Piano Recital

You can be off-key when you're singing but not when you're talking.  If you speak in your natural voice, you will be fine.  Nobody will say "Good speech but his voice was off.".   There are those who have extremely rich voices and those who have been coached for many years but they are usually professional speakers.

A piano recital requires that every note be perfect.  A speech can have a few missed notes but they won't be noticed if the message is clear.

3) The Audience Is On YOUR Side

Chances are that you won't be at a comedy club where people are waiting to heckle you.  The audience is there to learn something and perhaps pick up an interesting tidbit or two.  Most everyone has a fear of public speaking so they will wish you the best because they've either given speeches themselves or might do so in the future.

4) Your Speech Will Likely Not Be Remembered

We've all heard hundreds or thousands of speeches and presentations in our life.  How many do you recall that really stood out?  I'm pretty sure that my speech at the Chinese Consulate didn't have a huge impact on our relations with China.

Our nervous energy before a speech is likely the brain making things out to be a lot more earth-shattering than they actually are.  Unless you spontaneously combust on stage or shout "Fire!", people will likely remember the message more than your delivery.

5) People Will Be Looking At You, Not Staring At You

Everyone will be looking at you but better that than looking at the floor or behind them.  Keep in mind that they probably will be daydreaming for a portion of your speech.  Attention spans aren't long and minds will wander.  Don't worry about it.  Unless you're someone like Anthony Robbins, it's a fact of life!

If you are using visual aids such as a Powerpoint presentation, that makes it all the better as the focus will be off of you for a while.

Remember, it's normal to be a bit nervous before a speech.  Use that energy.  Focus on the message and you'll find that the audience will react positively.  This is your moment to shine.  Use it and have fun!

As Dale Carnegie said, "“There is only one excuse for a speaker's asking the attention of his audience: he must have either truth or entertainment for them.” 

Audiences come in all shapes and sizes!

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