Public speaking is necessary if we want to market books and expand our platform. Last time, I shared five tools to prepare a well-crafted speech. Today, I want to discuss some do’s and do not’s of powerful speech delivery. After all, practice doesn’t make perfect if we’re not intentional about the presentation. There are two primary aspects of speech delivery: visual—what the listeners see; and auditory—what the listeners hear.
Aristotle once said that a speaker’s personality is his most powerful means of persuasion. Audiences judge the personality of speakers by the way they look and behave as soon as they approach the podium. An awkward stride, adjusting clothes, and acting flustered makes for a bad first impression. Remember, we’re being watched from the moment we’re introduced until we sit down.
Anything that causes the audience to think more about the speaker’s mannerisms than the message must be avoided. Here are a few visual and auditory distractions: scratching one’s nose, frowning, shifting from one foot to the other, brushing back a lock of hair, licking dry lips, pacing back and forth for no apparent reason, clearing the throat, using repetitious words like “uh” and “um,” shallow breathing or squeaky inflection due to nerves. If we video ourselves or have someone critique us during rehearsal, we can become aware of our weak spots.
Listeners should feel the speaker is imparting ideas to them personally. That’s why it’s important to make eye contact with members of the audience rather than gazing at the floor, window, or ceiling. Scan the entire room and everyone’s face instead of staring at one side of the room or a particular row. Eye contact also helps the speaker remain alert and adjust a speech according to the listeners’ reactions. For example, if I see a question mark on someone’s face, I can clarify. If the audience smiles and nods, I know they’re relating to me. If some of my listeners are glassy-eyed, I change my volume and pacing to increase their attention.
Whether a speaker is using index cards, an outline, or a written manuscript, the key point is to memorize the pattern of ideas we want to convey and present the material so it doesn’t sound monotonous or stilted. Don’t assume this automatically comes with adrenaline on the day of delivery. A speaker needs to practice vitality and enthusiasm ahead of time and leave room for spontaneity. A speaker has three tools to assist in animation: face, voice, and body.
Avoid having an inexpressive, deadpan face. Unless we’re a politician describing the state of affairs, we need to use our face—eyes, brows, and lips—to convey the mood of our speech and show our feelings on the subject.
There are many components when it comes to our speaking voice. Very briefly, we need to analyze and rehearse the tone of our voice so it adequately reflects the tone of the speech. Is it somber or amusing? Does the tone vary within the speech? We also have to think about the inflection of our voice. A high-pitched voice like Minnie Mouse is often the result of nerves. Breathe deeply from the diaphragm and remember to slow down. What about diction? The audience needs to understand our words. Pacing—how fast we talk—is important. We don’t want to sound like a racing motor that never stops. Or, like a pendulum with evenly spaced pauses. Don’t rely on the microphone for volume. Sometimes a whisper has more impact than raising one’s voice. Pause before transitioning from one point to another, or stating a key point in order to draw attention. Marginal notes can be used as signposts to remind us how to vary our voice while we’re speaking.
People are visual creatures so let’s give them something to look at while we’re speaking. And I don’t mean Powerpoint! A speaker doesn’t want to shift nervously back and forth, but neither should we stand stiffly behind the podium. So use multiple gestures, which include a speaker’s hands, arms, head, and torso. Think of the varied meanings that accompany an action: a head tilted back or inclined forward. Slumped shoulders and a caved-in chest versus an expanded chest with shoulders pulled back. Hand gestures like an open palm, a clenched fist, a pointing index finger, or an upward and downward stroke of the hand can emphasize a word, a location, the height and breadth of an object, a mood.
Many a speech to inspire has for its main purpose, the stirring of emotions. By incorporating the above do’s and do not’s, we can present a polished speech that packs a punch. Thankfully, we don’t have to be perfect. God used Moses and the Apostle Paul to move people’s hearts when they complained they weren’t great orators. So pray the Holy Spirit makes Himself known in your presentations.
What do you struggle with the most when giving a speech or presentation?