Do you break out in a cold sweat at the mere thought of public speaking? Instead, would you face a spider-infested tightrope between two skyscrapers rather than give a speech before an expectant audience? Well, fear not! Mastering the art of public speaking is not only possible, but it can also be a fun and exciting adventure. With practice and tips, you can overcome stage fright and present with confidence and sincerity.
In this blog, we'll share practical insights on arranging an audience, building belief in your subject, and even drawing parallels between public speaking and building a campfire. Plus, we'll reveal what basketball players and public speakers have in common. So buckle up and get ready to become a master orator!
Along the way, you’ll learn:
- how arranging an audience is like building a campfire;
- why you can’t nail one tree’s branches to another tree’s trunk; and
- what basketball players have in joint with public speakers.
Overcoming Stage Fright: The Key is through Practice.
Remember how you learned to swim? Chances are you didn't hit the library and read a manual cover-to-cover before taking the plunge. Instead, you likely flailed around awkwardly, choking on water and coughing up a storm. But eventually, you got the hang of it. Well, the same goes for public speaking. There's no magic formula or quick fix. To become a skilled orator, you must dive in headfirst and start giving speeches. But what about that dreaded stage fright? Fear not, my friend!
The key is not to eliminate fear altogether but to learn how to master it. And there are three ways to do that: First, let yourself be absorbed by the subject of your speech so you're not overly self-conscious. Second, prepare, prepare, prepare! Know your material inside and out, and even memorize the first few sentences. And last but not least, expect success. Don't be overly confident, but maintain a humble, open attitude. Sure, your first few speeches may feel like you're drowning, but keep practising; soon enough, you'll swim with the best of them!
Use emphasis to vanquish monotony.
Imagine you’re a pianist. Whether you’re playing your own songs or someone else's compositions, there are countless ways to interpret the music. You could play slowly, softly, or loudly with wild flourishes or rigid uniformity. There are, in short, no hard-and-fast rules for how music should be played.
The same can be said of public speaking. There is no end to the number of ways to give a speech successfully, but first, you’ll need to master the speech-giving basics.
In speech, as in music, monotony is the enemy. Imagine trying to play a Bach concerto on a one-keyed piano. No determination or ingenuity could keep your monotone performance from being as dull as death. So how can you avoid monotony? Well, you’ve got to equip your public-speaking instrument with an array of new notes.
The first key (pun intended) to a dynamic speaker is emphasis. Emphasis is comparing and contrasting your speech’s central ideas; a primary way to do that is to stress essential words.
Consider, for example, the following sentences: “Destiny is not a matter of chance. It is a matter of choice.” What would be the most straightforward way to utter these sentences?
Well, rather than emphasize each word equally, you’d stress the word “destiny” since it’s the subject of the first sentence. Then you should highlight the word “not” to emphasize the negation. And “chance” certainly needs emphasis since you will juxtapose it with the following sentence’s central word, “choice.”
Now, emphasizing a word doesn’t necessarily mean saying it loudly. If you’ve been speaking at high volume, you might whisper the noteworthy word; if you’ve been speaking in a resonant tenor voice, you might rumble it forth in a deep bass.
Indeed, changing your pitch is the first of three techniques for stressing a speech’s central ideas. The second and third are changing your pace and pausing.
In everyday speech, people speak faster when relating exciting events and slower when delivering momentous facts. And they often incorporate pauses for dramatic effect.
So you may want to pause directly before or right after a meaningful word or phrase. Or you could rush through the first, less important part of a sentence and then slowly enunciate the crucial, concluding words.
Some of your instrument’s keys are now before you. How you play them is a decision you’ll have to make.
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An ability to arouse emotion in your listeners is the fulcrum of public speaking.
Imagine two speakers, each delivering anti-slavery speeches in pre-Emancipation Proclamation America. The first is a white politician, a man with a solid record of anti-slavery activism. The second is a black mother on the auction block, a woman who’s just watched her son get sold down the river.
Whose speech do you think would be more stirring?
Well, the jury isn’t out on this one. Many of American history’s most heartrending speeches were given by just such women – enslaved black mothers decrying the inhumanity of slavery. These women had no formal training in public speaking. But they possessed something that neither study nor practice can bestow: the force of feeling.
Feelings guide us through life. Why do we sleep in soft beds or drink cold water on a hot day? We don’t use logic and reason to make such decisions; they feel right.
All aspiring orators should take this fact to heart. Arousing the feelings of your listeners, if only for a moment, will do more to win them over than hours of ingenious, rational argument.
This truth is driven home by a little advertising experiment a New York watchmaker conducted. He launched two ad campaigns. The first emphasized a watch’s many attributes, from durability to functionality to design. The other detailed how owning it would bring pleasure and pride, as the campaign’s slogan summed up: “a watch to be proud of.”
It’ll come as no surprise that the second campaign did better than the first, selling twice as many watches.
So how can you infuse your speeches with feeling?
We won’t sugarcoat the matter: it takes work. Whenever you give a speech, you must fully enter into its subject. What does this mean, precisely?
Well, pretend you’re an actor, and you’re speaking through your character. No matter the cause you’re arguing for or the case you’re making, you must, in a certain sense, become it. Occupy it so thoroughly that you wear it like a costume so that it possesses you like a spirit.
Many actors forbid others to speak to them for hours before a performance. Try something similar. If you can transform yourself into your subject, then you’ll be sure to inspire both interest and emotion in your listeners.
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Gestures can be learned, but they must spring from real feeling.
What are you going to do about that tree? You know, the gnarled apple tree in your backyard with the stunted, leafless branches? Here’s a possible solution. You could dash to the garage, grab your chainsaw, saw off the branches of your neighbour’s towering oak tree, haul them to your yard and nail them gloriously to your tree’s trunk!
Ah, if only horticultural difficulties were so easily overcome.
You don’t need a green thumb to know that a tree’s outward appearance depends on its inward condition. But it takes a leap of the imagination to extend that truth to the art of gesture.
When giving a speech, your movements and gesticulations must emanate from the real emotions you experience when occupying your speech’s subject. Theatrical, affected gestures will look as ridiculous as oak branches nailed to an apple tree.
So gesture must be the spontaneous outgrowth of genuine feeling – but that doesn’t mean you can’t practice it.
Now, you can’t prepare each and every gesture that’s going to accompany your speech. Practical gestures must fit the occasion, emerging organically and spontaneously each time you give a speech. If you’ve ever watched a talented speaker provide the exact address twice, you’ll have noted that gesture changes from delivery to delivery.
But spontaneity doesn’t ensure quality. Indeed, organic gestures are often awkward. So, to make your movements effective, prepare for each speech by watching yourself in a mirror. Note gestures that seem awkward or unnecessary, and adjust accordingly.
Gesticulation is like pronunciation. The more you practice, the less you’ll have to think about it. Practice, practice, and your gestures will become effortless and natural, emerging spontaneously at the correct moments.
Furthermore, remember that too much movement tends to distract from a speaker’s message. Do your best to eliminate all unnecessary gestures.
Also, make sure your gestures accompany your message. It would be odd to say, “There he goes,” and then, after a one-second pause, point after a fleeing gentleman.
And remember, facial expression and posture are both a kind of gesture. Ensure that your posture and expression match your speech’s spirit!
Once you’ve practised, you can rely on your own good sense. Let the speech’s subject be your guide, and your gestures will soon be as powerful as your words.
A good voice requires good health.
What do you think basketball players have in common with public speakers? Sure, both ought to be comfortable in front of crowds – but there’s something else. They’ve both got to be in good cardiovascular condition!
Whether you’re running in for a slam dunk or trying to make yourself heard in a large auditorium, a strong pair of lungs can only help.
Good lungs are crucial to a resonant, powerful voice. Indeed, the author knew one successful orator who would practice his speeches while running, thus forcing himself to take deep breaths and improve his lung power.
But what if you’re not the athletic type? Well, here’s one easy exercise that will help your lungs and train you to breathe using your diaphragm, which is the best way to get the most air.
Stand with your hands on your waist. Now, keeping your hands in place, try to touch the fingers of one hand to the fingers of the other, thereby squeezing all air from your lungs. Inhale deeply into your stomach without raising your shoulders. Repeat.
But lung capacity isn’t the only criterion for a strong voice. Relaxation is equally important. If you want your voice to carry across a room, your throat must be open. There are some simple exercises that’ll train you to deal with unhelpful tension.
With your waist functioning as a pivot, move your torso around in horizontal circles. As you do so, relax your neck, letting your head fall forward. This will help your throat open and relax.
To increase your throat’s openness, pretend that you’re yawning. You’ll notice that, as you do, your throat naturally opens. Now, instead of concluding the yawn, try to speak. This should result in increased volume and richness of tone.
Vocal carrying power is not only achieved through volume; it’s also a matter of placement. People at the back of a theater will have no trouble hearing the crackle of a piece of paper being crumpled on stage, though it’s by no means a thunderous sound. You can make even a whisper audible to all if you place your voice correctly.
The way to do this is to pitch it forward.
Practice this by holding your hand before your face and forcefully saying words such as “crash,” “dash,” “whirl” and “buzz.” Do this until you can literally feel the tones hitting your hand.
Arrange your audience to increase the influence of your speech.
Ah, fresh air! Chirping crickets! The star-strewn night sky! You’re camping, and all you need now is to start a fire and get some hot dogs roasting. You collect some nice dry sticks, cast them about randomly, light a match and apply it to the nearest bit of kindling.
If you have any camping know-how, you’ll have noticed a critical flaw in this fire-making choreography. Your stick arrangement is all wrong. If you want to achieve a hearty blaze, you’ll need to place your sticks in a pile so the flame can pass from one to the next.
A speaker is a match, and her speech’s influence is the flame. If she wanted to ignite the hearts and minds of her listeners, how would she want to arrange her audience?
Setting metaphors aside for a moment, let’s look at why situating audience members close together can increase the influence of your speech.
If you arrange the audience so it’s clustered in a dense mass, you may transform it into a crowd. As the nineteenth-century social thinker John Ruskin once noted, a group is nothing but a peaceful mob, and mobs are prone to “think by infection.” In other words, if you can transform your audience into a crowd, your opinion will catch “like a cold.”
In addition to this first crowd-creating strategy, you can unite individual listeners by rallying them around shared concerns. Appeal to their needs and fears, their aspirations and feelings. Once they individually perceive that their fellow audience members share their preoccupations, they’ll congeal into a crowd.
But maybe you doubt that crowds are genuinely prone to such mental contagion. Have you ever gone to a concert and had this experience – the music ceases, and someone starts clapping? Then, within seconds, everyone erupts into full-blown applause, even though the silence was just a break between movements.
Or let’s take a leaf from history’s book: many autocratic governments, such as the Soviets, recognized the potency of crowd mentality and banned citizens from congregating in public spaces.
Why? Fear of contagion.
These governments worried that anti-authoritarian sentiment would catch and spread like sickness.
Once you’ve honed the ability to create a crowd, your public message will begin to spread like – to rekindle our metaphor – wildfire.
Strengthen your power of argumentation by testing your arguments.
A king skilled at building impregnable castles could not topple his enemies' fortifications, revealing the importance of both building and demolishing arguments. To be an effective speaker, one must be able to do both.
The author provides a list of helpful questions to test any argument, including whether the question under discussion is stated in clear and fair terms, whether the evidence comes from impartial and reliable experts and facts, whether the reasoning supports the conclusion being offered, and whether all pieces of evidence harmonize with each other.
It's also important to direct these questions at opponents' arguments to be a double threat.
Use the imagination to your public-speaking advantage.
Effective speeches require more than just a logical argument; they need the imagination to engage the audience. Using figurative language can help bring your message to life, like weaving a story of a drunkard's destructive behaviour to illustrate the dangers of alcoholism.
Another way to harness the power of imagination is to mentally visualize your speech before delivering it. This includes imagining the audience and their potential reactions, which can help reduce anxiety and prepare for possible mishaps.
By picturing the address in images, you'll be less likely to forget important points and more likely to make a compelling delivery. Don't forget that public speakers are like poets; imagery can help elevate a speech to new heights.
Becoming a successful public speaker requires a lot of practice, but specific techniques can help you deliver powerful and engaging speeches. To avoid sounding monotonous, emphasise effectively and let your gestures reflect your emotions. Instead of simply addressing an audience, turn them into a crowd by engaging them and encouraging participation. Taking care of your cardiovascular health can also improve the quality of your voice. Testing your arguments and anticipating counterarguments is essential to strengthen your case. Finally, imagery can help you prepare and construct your speeches, making them more memorable and impactful.
Build your vocabulary.
Your speeches will be considerably more effective if you have a large vocabulary. A strong command of language is the only way to communicate ideas forcefully. Now, if you truly want to broaden your vocab, you must use new words. So next time you pick up a copy of Montaigne’s essays or Wordsworth’s poetry, note some unfamiliar words. And then – this is the crucial part – incorporate them into your next speech.
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