There is an episode of Seinfeld where Elaine starts dancing at an office party, leaving the room speechless. After the party, her co-workers get into the habit of ridiculing her because her dancing is stunningly awful (George calls it a “full body dry heave set to music”). She notices that something is amiss–people keep mocking her behind her back–and asks Jerry for an explanation. He’s reticent to tell her the truth, but after some prodding she queries, “Jerry, do I stink?” To which he replies, “All right, you’re beyond sink.”
“But I really enjoy enjoy dancing,” she says.
“And that’s not helpin’ either,” he concludes.
I start with this story because I love public speaking and do it quite a bit, but this describes how I feel about without while failing to say anything about whether or not I’m good at it. With that proviso, I provide you with the following public speaking tips!
- Don’t cross your legs or arms. As this TED Talk on Power Poses describes, your stance signals to you–and, in turn, to your audience–how confident you are, even if you are behind a podium. So stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, don’t wonder aimlessly around the stage (like I did in my awful TEDx Talk on Pragmatic Idealism), and enjoy!
- Speak so that it sounds like you are speaking slowly. I guarantee that no matter how slow it sounds to you, it’ll sound slightly fast or, ideally, normal to your audience.
- Don’t look like you don’t want to be up there. Most people dread public speaking and want to just get it over with, but the truth is that while the audience can’t usually tell if you are nervous, they do immediately pick up on the fact that you are miserable. I always try to start a talk with a smile and something along the lines of “Thank you for coming. I’m really glad / excited / happy / honored to be here!” Your attitude can either put the audience at ease or make them hunker down for a boring talk.
- Pausing is good. Just like with number two, it may seem like you are pausing forever, but pausing can create dramatic effect, give your listeners a chance to digest what you just said, and give yourself a chance to take a sip of water, change slides, or gather your thoughts. Don’t say “um” or “uh” during the pause–just take your time and get back to it!
- If you have something interesting to say, people will be interested to hear it. The more speeches you give, the more likely you are to come to enjoy the feeling of sharing something funny or dramatic and look forward to staring out at a rapt audience. It’s addicting.
- Practice. Take any opportunity to give a talk, be it in front of kindergartners, a staff meeting, or radio interview.
- Don’t wear flashy jewelry or earrings that jingle or anything that will distract from what you’re saying (for instance, make sure your fly isn’t open–people will focus on your crotch instead of your slides!).
- Don’t worry if people look bored. When I’m really inspired I’m fairly certain that it doesn’t show on my face; it’s nearly impossible to tell from the look on people’s faces whether they are being transported to new levels of understanding of the world or if they are on the verge of sleep. So don’t worry about it.
- Keep track of time. Have a timer on your PowerPoint slide or your phone and every once in a while glance down to make sure you are on track.
- Come prepared. I like to speak extemporaneously, but that’s because I come into each talk knowing who my audience is, what is expected of me, and confident in the material I’m presenting (I’ve spoken about Capital Good Fund hundreds of times). But if I’m speaking about something new, or if the speech is particularly important, I will rehearse multiple times.
- If you use slides, use them as little as possible. Don’t read your slides–people can read. Unless you are giving a scientific presentation that requires it, rely on your words and gestures instead of the bullet points and graphs.
- Don’t say things like “Sorry, I’m nervous,” or “I hope I’m not boring you.”
- Summarize what you are saying as you go, give people a sense of where you are going with effective transitions, and make sure that your most important points come across clearly. For instance, suppose you are talking about how Capital Good Fund is focused on customer service–It’s probably a good idea to highlight multiple examples of how you do that. In other words, don’t assume that the audience will draw the same conclusion as you have, so make your case and hammer home the point.
Public speaking is one of those things terrifies you until it electrifies you. There is nothing like using your words and gestures and ideas to move a captive audience. With practice, patience, and a little courage you’ll get better and better! Remember that what initially propelled Martin Luther King, Jr. to a position of influence was his public speaking ability, and his enduring legacy in the public consciousness is, for better or for worse, his I Have A Dream speech.
Do you have other tips? If so, please let me know in the comments section!
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