The goal of successful public speaking
is to communicate
Sounds simple enough, right? But locked within these “simple” terms are the skills one must acquire for successful public address. The goal is not to become a dazzling orator. It is to gain comfort and confidence at the podium.
At its most basic level, communication is the exchange of information between two or more people. The trick is how to make that exchange happen.
First, you must identify your message, your thesis, that all-important takeaway – what you want your audience to think or do. If this idea is not absolutely fixed in your mind, it never will be in your listeners’.
Next, is how to get that message across clearly. That means wrangling with the content of your talk until nothing remains but information that supports your core goal. Digression is for jazz musicians. The more you go off course, the more you muddy your message. Each word must count.
Finally, you must be able to deliver this message effectively. This is where the physical component enters – how to comport yourself, where to look, how to stand, whether or not to move around, what to do with your hands, how to handle props – and most important: how to breathe. Proper breathing, like all these other components, is a learned skill.
And, for those of you who quake in your boots at the mere thought of giving a presentation, so is managing your anxiety. (Or, as I like to think of it, “The most important thing they forgot to teach me in business, med, engineering, etc. school.”) The goal is not to eliminate your fear; it is to develop a plan to manage it.
FACT: PUBLIC SPEAKING IS A SKILL. A LEARNED SKILL.
One of the first things I ask my public speaking clients is for them to tell me about their speech training. There’s usually a pause. They may tilt their heads this way and that like a Golden Retriever, mull the thought over, and then give me a blank look. Training?
Aside from the exceptionally gifted, most of us require instruction to learn how to do the things we do. It’s much easier to learn a skill when someone who knows what they’re doing shows us. That’s why we have coaches and editors and teachers and mentors. And yet, for some reason, it seems we all are expected to just know how to put together a presentation, an annual report, a sales pitch, a eulogy, a toast, and then how to rehearse and deliver it with ease and confidence – all by instinct or intuition. No wonder so many people are nervous wrecks when it comes to public speaking. (I feel the same way every time I’m asked to play a harp solo. Oh wait, I don’t play the harp.)
Just like any other discipline, mastering the art of public speaking takes time. It requires study and practice practice practice. I have been involved with it in one form or another for nearly 40 years – as a student, competitor, coach, university lecturer, slam poet, speaker, author and performer – and I’m still learning. But there are also simple remedies. I once had a client who told me she delivered her presentations sitting down. “Try standing” was an easy fix. I had another – a former journalist – who consistently ran overtime. “Periods and paragraphs,” I told him. “When you finish a thought, stop.” Simple? Yes, but it was an editorial directive he understood.
How and where you stand, where you look, what you do with your hands, how you hold your head – simple tweaks such as these can make a momentous difference in one’s delivery, and yet without the right instruction and direction, how are you supposed to know what to do?
THAT'S WHERE I COME IN.
I can tailor a program to your individual needs. If you want an objective eye on a big presentation, I can provide an informed critique. Need help getting your thoughts organized? I can show you how to break them out into a clearly structured outline. Want to get rid of that I’d-rather-have-a-Dumpster-fall-on-me-than-give-this-speech feeling? Well, I can’t make all your anxiety go away, but I can give you a plan to manage it and make that nervous energy work for you.
I am happy to work one-on-one, or with small or large groups. Please contact me for rates and a menu of services. At the risk of sounding like I’m offering you a set of Ginsu knives, satisfaction is guaranteed.
I've done informal public speaking throughout the course of my adult life, but when I was invited to speak before a larger audience of people I'd never met before, I got smart and hired a coach: Elizabeth Peavey. She helped me take a good story and craft it into a motivating, inspiring, witty, interesting speech (so my audience told me afterwards).... which led to another invitation to speak at a professional conference. In working with Elizabeth I learned a lot, gained confidence and had fun. Even if you're a natural at the podium, another set of ears and eyes never hurts. She's a pro. – Mickie O’Day, painter and cycling advocate