How to improve your speeches

1. The audience will listen because I’m a subject matter expert and what I have to say is interesting.

It’s the number one mistake made by speakers. We all like to think that we know our stuff, and many people do. But that alone will not engage your audience. Albert Mehrebian the US Educational Psychologist’s research demonstrated that only 7% of your presentation’s impact will be your words. Only 7%… This is worrying for subject matter experts. You could prepare for weeks, select the best words and key messages, you could have the best introduction, middle section and ending than any speaker on the bill, but your impact could be negligible. A few year’s ago I became a school governor and as such, I was offered training sessions by my local Education Authority. The general standard of the 2 hour presentations was good. One evening, the guest speaker, a man who had worked in education all his life with a career that spanned being a headmaster, Ofsted inspector and a senior role in the Ministry of Education and Science; what this fellow didn’t know about the history of secondary education was not worth knowing. However, he ended every sentence with a pronounced hmmmmmmmmm. Imagine that 6 times per minute, for two hours…. I nearly lost the will to live.

Tip – Listen and react to feedback from your colleagues. I’m certain that over the course of this fellow’s long and distinguished career, many people must have mentioned his verbal mannerisms. If your company culture prohibits you from giving constructive feedback, seek professional help. Advice from consultants is more likely to be accepted because it is seen to be given objectively.

2. Speaking too fast.

Nervous and inexperienced speakers always remind me of the 100 metres sprint. They hear the gun, they’re out of the blocks fast and they can’t wait to get it over with. This is not unusual – it is the normal reaction to any potentially stressful situation. Let’s close our eyes, do it, and get it over with. It’s an uncomfotable experience. However, some speakers do not even devote themselves to such minimal preparation.

Tip – for each minute of your speech, spend ten minutes of preparation on it. Watch yourself on video and ask yourself if you’re delivering too fast.

3 Keep it short and simple and always leave them wanting more. The best way to maintain the attention of an audience is to start with a gripping opening, develop a maximum of three themes or key messages, and conclude with a message that pulls the introduction and key messages together with impact. An experienced speaker can make this look simple and seamless, but we’re looking at perhaps 0.001% of the population. We all need help developing this skill. If you speak for over 10 minutes it’s almost inevitable that the structure will suffer and you will lose your audience because you haven’t signposted your structure well enough. Tell them what you’ll tell them, tell them, and tell them what you’ve told them.

Tip – keep it short and simple and use your best material at the beginning and the end of your speech. Start and end with impact.

4. Maintaining eye-contact with your audience. For the new or inexperienced speaker, eye-contact is one of the hardest aspects of speaking. Eye contact does not come easily to the novice speaker. Indeed, in some cultures young people looking directly into the eyes of their elders is seen as a mark of disrespect. Concentrate on your audience’s needs. Remember that without audiences, we do not need speakers. Making eye-contact and engaging your audience is critical to success. It shows respect and demonstrates confidence. We listen and learn most from confident speakers. Life is a busy place, and when we invest time in a speaker, nobody likes to feel they have wasted their time.

Tip – if you find eye-contact difficult, try it out with friends and family in regular conversations. Impact is everything. It’ very difficult (almost rude) to disengage eye-contact with somebody when you’re having a pleasant chat. Bear that in mind when you’re making a speech and you’ll do very well.

5. Speaking in a dull and monotonous voice. Throughout our professional careers, how many times have we endured the monotonous speaker?

In my case rather too often. Tonal variety is what adds massive impact to your speech or presentation. Tonal variety adds colour and interest for your audience. These effective techniques help to keep your audience engaged and participating in your presentation. Mehrebian’s research demonstrated that 38% of what an audience remember is down to the effective use of tonal variety. A massive 55% relates T your body language. If you send a mixed message, don’ be surprised if the message is dropped. A key factor in any speech or presentation is simply this:

Tip – It’s not what you say. It’s the way that you say it.

Scenario 1: You’re trying to find the channel with the live football. Suddenly, your wife sitting in the opposite armchair says, ‘Do you love me?’ You continue flicking through the channels, you don’t look back at her and you eventually say the words, ‘Of course, I love you.’

Scenario 2: You’re trying to find the channel with the live football. Suddenly, your wife sitting in the opposite armchair says, ‘Do you love me?’

You stop flicking through the channels with the remote and put it down. You walk across the room and take your wife by the hand, gently and sincerely you look her in the eyes, caress her cheek and say, ‘Of course, I love you.’

Notice that the same words are used, but which do you think conveys the stronger message?

Copyright (c) 2007 Vincent Stevenson