“A good speech should be like a woman's skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest”
Public speaking is the number one fear, that is before death, divorce and any other tragedy you can conjure up ....... I highly recommend Toastmasters International. It goes hand in hand with lifelong learning, surrounding yourself with positive people and the perfect environment for perfecting the craft.
As a member, I became Membership VP, Club President then on to Area Governor (helping others and reinforcing my own skills). I've witnessed someone who joined our club go onward and upward to being a professional speaker. There are many groups out there that you can choose from to suit your own personal circumstances. For me, it was important to be in a professional setting and a strong mix of people with benchmark speakers to aspire to become as good as. Therefore, I ended up joining the oldest club in Calgary that met at our Chamber of Commerce weekly during lunch time. It developed being able to speak in front of an intimate audience while they were dining (that is a very different challenge).
We ran our meetings very tightly because we only had an hour. Some of the best friendships evolved from our group. I stretched outside my comfort zone by participating in contests and as Area Governor hosting them. It's amazing how you learn how to run a proper meeting or give constructive feedback. You can find groups that meet in the evenings or weekends that are more social and much longer ... keeping in mind, you are surrounding yourself with people who are learning to talk - sometimes the challenge is to have them shut up - that is why we had a timer :o)
There are countless tips on mastering public speaking and the aforementioned valuable Toastmasters International. However, I have a few of my own:
- The content of your speech is just as important as your delivery: take the time to research and then write;
- I would write my speech in Microsoft Word: applying a very large font with double spacing using the rule of thumb that if you have a five minute speech, at a comfortable pace, it amounts to three pages;
- Edit, edit and then edit again: Read the draft out loud after your initial proof read to test the rhythm and flow.
- Practice reading it out loud again: practice does make perfect
- Use a timer: practice reading it out loud at a normal pace to get an idea of the length of your speech
- Edit again if it doesn't feel natural to you: you will deliver a speech more effectively if it is a topic you are passionate about or an authority on making it easier and flow nicely
- Speak in front of a mirror: grimaces and facial expressions can detract from the power of your speech if underscored by frowns, etc.
- Smile when you speak: yes, it conveys confidence and sends the message that you are enjoying yourself and your audience will catch on and some smile back
- Use pauses to make emphasis: Effectively pausing, taking a deep breath down into your stomach ensures that you are not going to run out of breath and start panting; if it is a serious topic, a pause is like underscoring your point.
- Use eye contact: as you've gained familiarity of your speech by practice, you will have the confidence to lift your eyes and make contact; contrary to popular belief have your eyes travel to different people in the audience, smile at them or pause when looking at them
- Use hand gestures: Hand gestures are another way of emphasizing your speech and drawing your audience in
- Monitor body language: Don't be stiff and marginally turn your body as you are making eye contact
- Be inclusive: Travel around the room or across the table with your eyes, hand gestures and body language
- It is OK to hang on to your written speech: I used to clutch mine like I was hanging on for dear life; it was my anchor for nerves, a reminder and safety net if there was a distraction you can recoup without hesitation or losing momentum
- Know your room and set up before you start speaking: Having a lectern or podium is a nice to have, in some cases something to hang on for dear life if fear starts to settle in, it is also convenient for placing your written speech pages to slide the pages gracefully as you move along
- Cue cards are fine if that works for you: However, how you use them is what can boost or detract from your speech; be smooth about it and avoid jerky hand movements that can travel to your body and eyes
- Nobody is naked: you are confident, you've researched and crafted a speech you are an authority of so nobody has to look silly for you to carry it off
- Traveling around the room: sometimes space is limited so if you're counting on including movement, that is all part of knowing the room layout and adjusting if it is squeezed quarters; it isn't necessary unless it is needed for gestures to emphasis points; some consider it a way to generate energy
- Generate energy: by the tone of your voice, fluctuating in tone when you are making key points, hand gestures, body language and facial expressions can communicate your confidence and involve your audience
- Don't read a speech: nothing murders a well prepared speech more than speaking in monitone and droning on and on; if you have rehearsed, practiced, adjusted eye contact and hand gestures you can be animated;
- Ask for feedback: you will learn by feedback; people are more willing to provide constructive, helpful advice if they can sense the level of sincerity you have when you ask for it
- Continue learning by being around other stronger speakers: register in Toastmasters International and attend meetings that suit your personal style and schedule - there are hundreds of groups in your city and very often in rural communities (you'd be surprised).
- Reach beyond your comfort zone: increase the audience size, the venue, surroundings, audience type, enter speaking contests to build your confidence.
- Toastmasters International is not typically expensive to join unless you chose a club that hosts luncheons or served dinners; there are brown bag clubs, clubs that meet at venues that are offered as PR by restaurants, hotels, at little to no fees because it shows their goodwill and support in the community. You usually just have to pay for annual fees and small monthly dues for your club to survive
- Keep moving your milestones: Toastmasters offers multiple prepackaged material that strong clubs tend to have for its members or can be accessed and paid for from their website www.toastmasters.org ; they offer a platform of understanding as to where you are in your development from your "Icebreaker" to CTM (Competent Toastmaster), ATM (Accomplished Toastmaster), CL (Certified Leader)
- Dale Carnegie is the founder of Toastmasters International, his books are still in massive print today (one of my favorite being: "How to Win Friends and Influence People) and has a world wide organization that offers the power course to public speaking at a heftier cost than Toastmasters but in a shorter period of time, often over the extent of days or spread out over weeks
- Reach beyond your comfort zone: increase the audience size, the venue, surroundings, audience type, enter speaking contests to build your confidence
- Become a leader: By becoming involved in club, you improve your leadership skills, hosting a meeting, chairing a meeting or being nominated or voted (annually) on the club executive
- Volunteer for the different roles: you can chair to practice hosting effective, tight meetings, speak off the cuff with no advance notice or preparation, provide constructive feedback which you are even graded on
- Video tape if you can so that you can observe yourself and overcome some of your own personalized gestures, jerky movements, audience receptiveness
- Practice does make perfect: you better believe it!
Regardless, just get out and do it!
“It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu Speech."