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How do the best speakers do it? Among other things, they make it a point to entertain as well as inform. They deepen and expand the bond with their audiences through openness, sensitivity and humor. Successful speakers are also thoroughly prepared and comfortable with their material. They balance their talks by breaking them into parts that explain, entertain, convince and promote action.
Present Your Material With Style
Improve your speaking ability by maintaining a sense of humor and remembering that you have something to offer. No one expects you to know every fact and figure. If you appear confident, your audience will have confidence in you. Be brief, clear and to the point. Tailor your talk to your audience. Think of ways to refer to them during your speech or add interactive portions to give them a chance to participate. For example, one speaker addressing “Downsizing in the 90's” had all the participants stand, then sit down in stages if they knew someone who had been affected by firings, layoffs or takeovers. Eventually the entire group was seated.
Conquer Your “Stage Fright”
Although very few speakers ever get rid of their “butterflies” entirely, remember you feel more nervous than you look. As Dick Cavett said, “If you’re nervous, you look slightly nervous; if you feel totally out of control, you look troubled.” Stage fright is nature’s way of helping you be alert and ready to do your best. Don’t feel obligated to stop trembling. Instead, vent your nervousness. This may mean pacing, using gestures or, when all else fails, simply admitting it to your audience. Remember, your listeners don’t want you to fail. In fact, they will listen with empathy, participating in your feelings and ideas. Focus on your message. You can channel nervousness by focusing on what you’re saying, not on how you’re doing. And, of course, be prepared. Nothing makes you feel more confident than knowing your stuff. Move around the room rather than remain fixed behind a lectern, a technique that makes you seem accessible. You can also complement a speech with gestures, props and visual aids.
End Your Speech With Impact
The closing minutes of your talk are as important as your opening. Don’t let your conclusion take the audience by surprise. Use key phrases such as, “Before you leave, remember . . .” or “And in conclusion . . .” This ensures they’ll be listening to your final words. This is your chance to make a meaningful impact on the audience. Close with emotion and action. Try to instill in the audience a desire to act on your suggestions. Don’t linger. Your conclusion should last no more than one minute. If you drag out your speech for more than a minute after you’ve said, “In conclusion . . .” you’ll seriously compromise what you’ve accomplished up to that point.