What are obstacles to you?
This was the question I asked the audience on Toastmasters night.
An obstacle can differ in meaning according to the individual.
Fear. Money. Expectations.
But, obstacles are chances; they are opportunities for you. They allow you to be greater than you were before.
I scan the room, addressing every single member with my eyes.
Obstacles are necessary. They make us great.
Silence. Then, the clapping began.
Above was a snippet of my table topic for Toastmasters night recently. It gave me the chance to practice my tools for public speaking.
The great thing is that these are tools are available to all of us. They all come under the usage of your voice and body language: essential elements to the public speaking formula.
If you want to rock the stage with your public speaking skills, remember these 7 key tools:
Silence is the answer.
Every speech has one thing in common: there are points to be made.
These could range from:
- Thoughts to consider
- New perspectives for understanding
- Questions that need to be answered.
As a speaker, you have a duty to inform your audience of the points being addressed while on stage. Silence is one of the best ways to achieve this.
Whenever you make a point and keep quiet for a moment, this is what you have sent to your listeners:
This is my point. Think about what I just said.
Silence is powerful. Having small pockets of silence after a certain sentence informs our listeners of their importance.
This is effective for questions as well. During a speech, when you ask a question to an audience:
Why do we need to address this? Cue silence.
This emphasizes our questions. You want your audience to not only listen, but think as well. These are your markers, your ways to interact with them:
This is my question. Can you answer it? Do you agree/disagree? What is the first thing that comes into your mind?
A moment of silence challenges your audience to think of the content they have just digested. It is similar to a conversation in that regard. We keep quiet to listen to others after all.
I tend to teach those around me about the power of silence in speaking: whether it be for power, listening, or to provoke the minds of others. We can stay silent to be humble, and keep quiet to stand our ground. In public speaking, the rules are the same.
Do not underestimate the quiet ones. Silence is a core part of public speaking.
The most powerful actions need not to be said, only experienced.
Intonation is powerful.
Have you ever been in a monotone conversation? Can you remember what was said?
It could be a talk with your least-favorite lecturer about an complex field. They could have no enthusiasm in their voice whatsoever. It can also be someone who has trouble speaking in large groups: their voices are small, and may not be taken seriously.
In public speaking, intonation is essential.
It is generally known that the most compelling words are best told by the most strongest and energetic of voices. These are the ones who say with conviction what they want to say, and it doesn’t matter if you agree with them or not. They are sure in their craft and opinion, and it leaves you with a good impression of them as an individual.
As a tool, the tone of our voice helps the audience recognize our intentions. It is a guide for the audience as they listen to what you say, to understand the purpose of each word.
We can categorize our words by intention, or statement types:
- Is it a question? Raise your tone at the end of the sentence.
- It’s a statement! Have a powerful ending to your sentence.
- It’s a fact. Tone is slightly raised, with great clarity.
- An observation, a justification and a conclusion: Keeping it varied to distinguish between each section.
Tone allows you, the speaker, to influence the focus of your audience. Through your tone, you can tell your audience which sentences are questions, statements or observations. Making each intention clear helps them understand you better. When you are understood better, you have greater accountability.
Monotone speeches have very little emotion injected into them. They are then regarded as negative in terms of provocation and provide little engagement. It is akin to white noise – a constant pitch or sound. Without any change in tone, it would be the same as riding a train: a constant hum, which would inevitably bore us as an audience.
Keep your tone varied. Show them how enthusiastic you are.
Vocabulary must be clear.
To be clear, is to be concise.To make things simple, is to make things easy to understand.To complicate things, is to show your inability to explain them.
This rings true for any audience. But, who is the right audience for you? Your vocabulary is the answer to that question.
Vocabulary is important when deciding what you want to say. It shows your ability to think from your audience’s perspective.
Understand that the audience is willing to comprehend your speech from the very beginning. Complicating things will make it difficult for them to do so. Vocabulary is one way to counteract this. Some questions to ask ourselves included:
- Who is present? Age group, demographic?
- What is their language ability?
- Do you tailor your words to your audience?
Is your audience full of specialists? Are they experts in their field? If the vocabulary in your speeches consist mainly of technical terms, this would be a good fit.
Is it the general public? Depending on the demographic, they may have different levels of understanding. Little value can be obtained if you stick to complicated concepts and the like.
As public speakers, we need to make sure our speeches cater to the right audience. One way is to include and implement a wide variety of vocabulary. Though having technical vocab in your speech is optional and may depend on who is attending, clear concise vocab will always work.
Think of the Feynmann technique. This is a technique to ensure we keep the right perspective. I like to explain this technique as the 15-year-old Rule.
It’s simple: Treat the audience like they are 15. It’s not an insult, don’t worry.
As the audience, I may not have much knowledge or understanding of what you’re talking about. With that in mind, I may have more questions after listening to your explanation. I may want you to elaborate more, but without the expertise that you have (as the speaker).
As the speaker, your job is to dumb your speech down an easy-to-understand level, to allow all audiences to receive your points. This creates clarity and maximizes effectiveness.
Clear wording has less noise. People do not have to think so hard to understand what you say. This means that your other techniques could also be amplified: silence and tone for example. It is easier to include tonal techniques to short, clear points as opposed to long-winded theories.
For technical explanations, you need to define the purpose of each one. Some explanations can be a necessity, especially for an audience full of experts. As a public speaker, you need to define the following:
- What is the point of your explanation? Is it to have an idea of the situation being described?
- What can I, the audience, benefit from your explanation? Is this knowledge I can apply to my daily routine, for example?
- What are the main takeaways from using technical terms in my speech? Awareness? New perspective? A fun fact?
- How long is the explanation? Will it take a lot of time? Could I get bored as an audience member?
Clear vocab trumps all. Technical vocab is mainly used for specific audiences.
Make sure you use words with clear intended purposes.
Slides are not always important.
How important are slides in your public speech?
Is there something that you need to show, or is there something very difficult to describe without a visual aid? An example would be ideas found in a field or a diagram that is very complex to explain.
Note: slides are a compliment. There is no defined context for them unless you, the speaker, are present to explain them for greater clarity. The presentation is not a primary source of information: you are the primary. Audience members can refer to the slides to stay on the topic, but they will refer to you as the expert.
There are cases where slides are beneficial or a necessity. But, you must be careful: make sure that there is a limit to detail concerning content on your slides. If you have too much, it may be daunting.
If your slides are too effective, why are you speaking?
The point of you, the expert, being there diminishes. If your slides can talk for you, then it is not a public speaking event anymore.
It can happen. Some people are visual learners as opposed to aural. They may ask to have a copy of the slides and leave it at that. You want to minimalize the chances of your audience losing their attention span, and resorting to other ways to learn the same content.
There are methods to mitigate this: speakers can benefit from ebooks or document links provided at the end of the talk as a refresher. This maintains you as the primary source of information during the public speech and serves to help your marketing/sales funnel if you have one. Very useful for an aspiring public speaker indeed.
In essence, most presentations can be done without slides. If slides are unavoidable however, try to avoid going more than 6 lines each slide. There is only so much information you can take from one slide, and trying to fill it up dense information can be detrimental to your audience.
6 is only a guideline, some advocate for 4 while others for 8.
In terms of what goes on the sides, this is the magic formula for it:
Pictures > Numbers > Words
A Picture tells a thousand words. Diagrams include much more.
Numbers help emphasize facts that are important to the audience. You can complement your mention of a number by having it presented visually, to further emphasize its importance.
All in all, don’t make the slides control you. You are the one walking on stage and giving the talk, not the projector behind you.
Eye contact is a must.
Maintaining eye contact maintains power.
This is seen in everyday conversation. Timid individuals, or those from higher-context cultures, for example, tend to not focus on eye contact as a form of non-verbal communication.
Power is everything in a public speech. For those who are not so confident in public speaking, the ability to go on stage in the first place already gives a first impression. Maintaining that power requires you to hold your ground. One of the ways to do that is eye contact.
On the stage, if you make it clear that you are giving eye contact to your audience, this reaffirms your personal space on the stage. When you maintain this, these are the messages communicated:
- This is directed at you and is therefore relevant to you.
- I am the one on the stage, believe my word.
- I am giving you my full attention. Listen to me.
It also helps to maintain your eye contact across a large audience by scanning across the room.
In your path to public speaking, there will be tons of people who want to hear what you say. You cannot neglect your audience, regardless of where they are in the hall.
Make them feel wanted with your eyes, and they will listen to what you say.
You do not have to look directly into their eyes all the time: for large events, the act of it also works. Looking in their general direction shows that you are making an effort to create eye contact. This is done through your body language, and it does show weakness if you refuse to look your audience members in the eye.
Maintaining eye contact (or ‘faking’ it), is a good way to show power when speaking. Use it often.
Pace sets the structure.
Set the pace for everything that you do.
Do you have a time limit for your speeches? A limited amount of slides to hold your content?
For the listening audience, they are there to learn and think. To achieve these two key objectives, having a structure in place is essential. Some may explain the outline of their presentation before starting, while others go straight into it.
Your pace defines structure. Generally, there is little value in telling your audience what they are about to see, as opposed to showing them said content. Instead, you can dive straight into the content and control your speed, to control the learning pace of everyone listening to you.
- Slowing down during a specific explanation informs your audience of its importance. It could be a point, or data, or a diagram. Whatever it is, it tells your audience that they must listen.
- Maintain a constant pace throughout a section of your presentation and people will assume that it is a standard explanation. It may be up to them to take notes, listen or ignore.
- Having a variety of speeds in a section helps with identifying different statement types. Important points can be stated slowly, but clearly (with proper tone!). Explanations after that add detail to reinforce the point, but it is complementary and can be mentioned at a regular pace.
Control the pace, and you will control your stage.
If you are just blazing through your speech, you are letting the talk overwhelm you as an individual. That can result in mistakes or blunders, which are of little value to your audience. You have a responsibility to avoid this, and pace is one of the ways to do so.
Remember that the stage is yours, so the pace is yours to manage.
The stage is a wild animal: You control it, not the other way round.
Always practice, become better.
Reading advice helps, but nothing beats practice.
Nothing beats going in front of a bear and checking your different aspects and apply them.
Nothing beats being in front of an audience and seeing your feedback in real time.
Nothing beats struggling under an intense environment.
Nothing beats being in the field.
Always practice, and you will always improve. Just remember to make it a habit!