How can I improve my public speaking skills?

25 January 2012 -


Lindsay Williams says:

First and foremost: ditch the PowerPoint. From school to the boardroom, your audience will likely have seen someone reading a slide full of bullet points a hundred times, and will instantly switch off from your message. If you must use slides stick to pictures and data, and keep the words on the slide to an absolute minimum.

As with everything in business, preparation is key and the most difficult step is the first one: You need to identify and simplify your message. If your audience were to remember just one phrase the day after the speech, what would it be? Make that key phrase memorable and compelling. Using this phrase at the beginning and the end of your speech is a very effective formula, and certainly you should look to use it two or three times in your speech.

Once you have this key phrase you can begin to write the speech around it. If it is more than a couple of minutes give it a clear structure, e.g. the local, the national and international context of your subject. You should speak real people’s language, so ditch the jargon and business speak. Ban all highfalutin phrases: “leveraging our human resources” and “delivering end to end process solutions” need to be ruthlessly weeded out of your lexicon.

You may want to consider telling a story. Lots of academic work has been done on the effectiveness of story telling in business communication and there are plenty of approaches. At its simplest, a story has a beginning, middle and an end; and the audience should feel they want to know what happens next. Don’t try to make it funny – this should only ever come naturally – and do make it topical and relevant to the audience and event.

Once you have the whole speech planned out you need to rehearse aloud. Rehearse it all the way through several times, with a stopwatch. On the day, you must not read. After all that rehearsing, a few notes should be all you need to give you the confidence, leaving you free to look at your audience. It is essential to face forward and engage with the people you are talking to. When delivering your speech, try not to speak too fast, take pauses of breath and – most important – keep your energy up: public speaking should be a performance, rather than just a chat.

Lindsay Williams is managing director of media and presentation training company The Media Coach

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