Public Speaking Articles

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  • Becoming-Larger-Than-Life



Don't Fear the Pause If you listen to experienced speakers, it's easy to see some real differences in how they step through their presentation than maybe how you go about giving a talk when you are called upon to speak in public. But it is a good exercise to use every opportunity to listen to different public speakers and learn from them. From speakers who are not effective, study why they are and learn how to correct those problems in your presentation. For speakers who are very good, learn what they do that works and copy their methods without shame. It's all part of learning from each other. One thing that jumps out when an experienced public speaker is holding an audience in the palm of his hand is that he is totally relaxed up there. That is a calculated relaxation. In fact most of the methods he uses such as his use of hands, the vocal range of his voice, where he looks and how he moves are all carefully planned and part of that presentation and who that speaker is. And all of those things come with time and practice. So if you need a few times in front of a group, or a few dozen times before you can begin to get that relaxed, be generous with yourself and allow that public speaking is the kind of thing that you can read about all day long but you don’t get good at it until you get good at it. One thing that very often jumps out in a speaker who is at ease with his style is that for most of us the idea of a pause is terrifying. But notice smooth speakers often will pause and allow that moment of quiet in a presentation to just hang there. When that pause happens for that other speaker, you may have felt as terrified as if it was happening to you. But not to worry. As you noticed, that skilled speaker uses pauses to create interest and isn't afraid to let his presentation stop for a moment either intentionally or to check notes or make some other adjustment. The pause is actually a very powerful communications tool that if you can master it, you can use it to make points, add drama or just wake up an audience that may have begun to doze off on you. That is because as you speak along, if your presentation is somewhat long, it is easy for people to be lulled into an unintentional trance of sorts. The mind can wander and that is the condition people get into when they doze off as you speak. They track to the continuous sound of your voice and the melodic tempo that you naturally fall into when you speak in public. When you begin to use pauses and changes to the tempo of your presentation, you break that natural rhythm of your talk. The pause will jar the audience back to you and they will suddenly be attentive with that "what did I miss" look on their faces. That is a real tool to you to help your audience stay focused and to use particularly when you are approaching a point that is an important part of what you have to say. Most of us when we are just starting out in public speaking fear the pause in our presentation in the worst way. That moment when you are not speaking and that audience is looking at you and nothing is happening can feel like you are falling to your death. But in truth, all you have done is focus the concentration of the group on you and on your talk. So don't fear the pause. If used with caution and sparingly, it can be a powerful communications tool to help you make your point.

Effectively Using PowerPoint The software application PowerPoint has been a revolution in public speaking particularly in the business world. PowerPoint is easy to use, available with almost every implementation of the Microsoft Office suite and it's reliable. If you can use Microsoft Word, you probably have the skills to put together an effective presentation using PowerPoint. But just like anything else, there is a right way and wrong way to give a talk using PowerPoint as a speaking tool. If you have ever sat in on a presentation where the speaker used PowerPoint unwisely, you know that the tool can become as much of a curse as a blessing to a public speaker. So it's good to have some guidelines on how to use PowerPoint to help your presentation and not hurt it. Knowing in advance some of the problems that can disturb your talk if you use PowerPoint unwisely can help you in the design of your slides. For one thing, it’s a good idea not to put too much text on a PowerPoint slide. If you put a long paragraph of information up on the screen, you will see people squinting to try to read it all. And even if the section of your talk refers to that text, you put your audience in the position of trying to read that text or listen to you. And either way they go, part of your message will be lost on them as they try to keep up. PowerPoint comes with some really fun special effects like fonts and special effects like fade in or other ways text can be revealed on each slide. Avoid the temptation to get too cute with these effects. It's always nice to have a little humor in your presentation but if your slides are overly "cutesy", it reduces the credibility of your talk. Also if every slide uses a different special effect, color scheme or font, not only is that distracting to the audience, it makes you look like you just discovered PowerPoint and had to play with all of the toys it has. So establish some consistency in how each slide will look or behave and stick with it through every slide. Another great device that PowerPoint offers is to allow the software to change slides for you on a timed progression. In that way, PowerPoint can change the slide every two minutes allowing you just the amount of time you want between slides. While this is also very slick, it is a dangerous toy to use because it can cause you to stumble while doing your talk. You have to have you talk planned to a high level of precision to carry off that kind of talk and if you pause too much, have a question pop up or any other disturbance in your script, PowerPoint will move on when you do not. So use this feature with caution. Above all, do not turn your back on the audience to read a PowerPoint slide to them. This is the number one most common mistake people do when speaking using PowerPoint. Turning your back on your audience is always a bad idea. So if you must discuss what is on the slide, do so facing the audience. But to turn your back and then read a slide to them is insulting and boring to your audience. It is far better not to have the text information on the slide but just a series of bullet items that are ticklers for the presentation you are giving. This approach assures that PowerPoint remains a tool that you are using not a tool that is using you. And that makes you the boss of PowerPoint which is the way it should be.

Give Them a Bit of You There is a good reason that public speaking is a superior method of presenting material to a group than just faxing your text over and letting them read it. Yes, part of that reason is that by stepping through the talk, you can make sure they "get it". But the most important reason has to do not with the subject, not with the presentation style and not even with how good the donuts were before talk. The reason public speaking is so effective is that the audience gets the material presented in a very personal way by the one person who can do that - you. When people walk away from your talk, they will remember one thing as their primary memory and another level as secondary. The secondary memory will be your subject matter. But the most potent memory they will carry with them will be that of you as a speaker. Public speaking is actually a very personal thing to your audience. That is because while to you, you are speaking one to many, to each audience member, you are talking to him or her directly. That bond is unspoken but strong. And it is even stronger when you address the same crowd regularly. This may seem like an awesome responsibility but buried in this little fact about public speaking is a secret to make your presentations more effective. Instead of shying away from the fact that people will feel like they know you after you address them in a public, embrace that fact of life about speaking in public and use it to your advantage. The way to grab a hold on this powerful psychological principle is simply to give them more of you in every aspect of your talk. You can start with your introduction. Its easy to tell some joke you heard on the late night talk shows and then go right into your talk. But if you take a moment and speak to them person to person, you will create a stronger bond with them which will result in better results from your presentation. Take some time and reveal a little bit about yourself to this group. Public speaking can be a very cathartic event because when you open up to a group of people about your feelings and your past, they embrace you emotionally and that presentation becomes personal to them. But don’t stop adding the personal touch with the introduction. Continue to look for ways to make the presentation personal throughout the talk. You no doubt know the power of illustrations, stories and humor in any presentation. Well instead of using abstract or canned stories or jokes, personalize this aspect of your talk. Don’t just "tell a joke". Instead think of a personal story that has a humorous component to it and use that to illustrate the point. By using humor that makes fun of you, not only will the laughter be more genuine, it will ingratiate you to the crowd and create that connection between the personal speaker/audience bond to your subject matter. The same is true of illustrations. Now there have been cases where speakers made up a personal story to fit the talk so that is done. And because it has the same effect, you could put that under the category of "acting" and not feel to badly about it. But if you use a real story from your own life, your childhood or your love life, that will ring true during your talk and be more believable to your audience. Don’t be intimidated by putting some of your own heart and life into your public speaking. The investment of giving people a little more of you will result in a higher level of concentration and responses to your call to action. And the audience will emotionally bond to you in such a way that you will almost certainly be asked back to speak again and again.

How to Write a Speech You cannot excel at public speaking without a good speech. If you are asked to give a speech or its required for work or school, you know that when you stand up there to give that presentation, you are going to have to have a well organized outline and content to get through it and impress those listening. Sometimes the fear of an upcoming speaking engagement comes from that writers block that happens when you have to write a good speech. Writing a speech is not exactly like writing a term paper or a report. The reason is simple. What you actually "write" is not intended to be read. It will be heard. You don’t have to worry about good spelling or the other conventions of writing a paper because it might never see the light of day. If you are new to writing speeches, it might be best to write it out like a paper so you can hear it being said in your head. But many times experienced speakers write a speech in the form of an outline based on a defined structure and then they hang the detail off of the structure. The detail is the content and the substance of the speech which makes up why your speech has value. It can include quotations, facts, historical references, scientific statistics, whatever you need to support the theme of your speech. Now how you organize your speech may be determined by what kind of speech it is. And what kind of speech it is can be defined by what you hope to achieve. So a speech might be designed to convince, to sell, to entertain or to inform. Many times a speech can be a combination of these forms. But you should define what your expected outcome so you know if you have achieved your goal by the time the composition of the speech is done. Having that overriding goal well in mind helps in how you organize your speech. The skeleton of a good speech is similar to a paper. But lay out each section and allocate your time accordingly even before you write the speech. The components are the introduction, the opener, the personal introduction, the statement of the "problem", three to five points of the body of the speech, the summary and the closer or the call for action again depending on the purpose of the speech. For the opener, its good to use something that brings the audience to you. Its good to greet them warmly and seek a greeting in response. Some anecdote about the hall or the weather even can get the talk off on the right foot. Then go into your personal information but making sure what you tell relates to why you are the one here giving this talk. Keep every aspect of the presentation relevant to the central theme. The problem statement can be phrased as a question. A good speech is like a good story because you must create a problem and then solve it. If you are going to discuss tricks for using Microsoft PowerPoint, start out talking about problems using the software with illustrations about catastrophes that have been caused by that lack of understanding. As much as possible keep the problem relevant your listeners. Then move directly from there to presenting the body of your work in an organized way. Make sure you have three to five solid points. Tell them what they are, tell them the points and then tell them what you just said. That cements your presentation in their minds. The conclusion is often a summary of what was just said. Its good to close with humor as well. But you may also use the final summary of your talk for any call to action you may have in mind for this audience. If they enjoyed your speech, they want to know what you want them to do, even if they are not going to go do that. It just gives a nice ending to the discussion. Thank them for their time and close. But stick around because if it was a good talk, you will have questions or people who will want to talk to you about things they thought about afterward. And if that happens, you know for certain then that you did a good job.


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