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  • Posted on 13th Sep, 2022 09:17 AM

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Fear of got you in its grip? Try these tips, andbecome the talk of the town.

By Leann Anderson

If you need help improving your speaking ability, you haveseveral options. Scores of books and manuals are available to helpyou develop your speaking ability. Just visit the business orself-improvement section of your bookstore or library. One of myfavorites is Successful Presentations for Dummies (IDG BooksWorldwide) by Malcolm Kushner. It's easy to follow and veryhelpful.

If books aren't enough, consider joining an organizationsuch as Toastmasters International. This group has been around formore than 70 years, and millions of people have become"overnight" orators by following Toastmasters'methods and curriculum. To find the Toastmasters group nearest you,call (800) 993-7732.

Whatever method you choose to improve your speaking ability, thefollowing tips will help you give the best possible talk:

Give yourself plenty of time to prepare. Too many peoplewait until the last minute to work on their speeches, and oncethey've finished writing their rough drafts, they have no timeto edit and revise. As Mark Twain said, it usually takes about twoweeks to put together a good extemporaneous speech.

Organize your thoughts. A good speech is built on anintriguing introduction, a substantive body and a memorableconclusion. No matter what the topic, these three elements make fora clear and understandable format. If you use generalizedstatements, be sure to follow them with specific examples andfacts. Supporting your points with evidence, anecdotes and datastrengthens your message and reinforces your position as anexpert.

Be a ruthless editor. Most of us fall in love with ourown words, and presentations easily get too long and complicated.Eliminate anything that is not truly necessary to make your talkmore interesting. Technical explanations are usually wasted on anaudience that isn't already knowledgeable in your area; eventhen, they can put a group to sleep quicker than slides of yourlast vacation. Keep sentences simple, work from an outline ifpossible, highlight key points, and make sure the type is largeenough for you to read easily.

Know your audience. Knowing as much as possible aboutyour audience enables you to tailor your comments and message totheir needs. Once you know what the background, number, gender mix,level of experience and overall attitude of the audience is likelyto be, you can create examples specifically for them. Understandingyour audience helps you personalize your message, avoid sensitivetopics and appeal to the most important issues on their minds.

Use nerves to your advantage. A bit of nervousness getsyour adrenaline going and puts some extra punch in yourpresentation. But too much can sabotage your presentation. If stagefright paralyzes you, keep two things in mind: 1) The more youpractice, the more confident and relaxed you will be. Knowing yoursubject (which is not the same thing as memorizing your speech)allows you to focus on delivery. 2) Realize you are bringingsomething of value to the audience. Often speakers get nervousbecause they think the audience won't like them. The fact is,most audience members want you to succeed--they're pulling foryou because they know that if you're good, they'll benefit.Stop concentrating on "Will they like me?" and insteadfocus on "What will they gain from hearing me?"

Prepare and rehearse more than you think you need to. Nomatter how good you think you are, the reality is almost everyonecould use more rehearsal. Go through your presentation at least sixto eight times--first in front of an imaginary audience, then infront of a few people whose opinions and feedback you trust. Ifpossible, videotape yourself giving your talk. Then look at thetape--once with the sound on so you can hear yourself, and oncewith the sound off so you can watch yourself. Pick up on vocal andvisual weaknesses and strengths.

Do a voice check. Have someone help you assess your vocalquality and delivery. Is your pitch at a natural level? Do you useinflection to give variety to how you sound, or does the word"monotone" come to mind? Is your tone of voice friendly,warm and professional? Are your words well-enunciated and easy tounderstand (no mumbling or lazy diction like thinkin',talkin' or wantin')? Is your volume appropriate for theroom and your rate of speech comfortable--not too fast or slow? Isthere energy and life in your voice?

Do a body check. How do you look? Are you standing tallwith your feet about shoulder-width apart? Do you look like astatue, stiff and rigid? Do you slouch, fidget or bounce around? Orare you relaxed, composed and seemingly in control? Are you dressedcomfortably, in neat, well-fitting clothes, and impeccably groomed?Are your hands gesturing in ways that reinforce your message, orare they jammed in your pockets? Your hands should be naturally atyour sides or held comfortably at your waist. When you , doso upwardly and openly, and make sure the gesture is appropriatefor your talk. Keep your eye contact distributed throughout theroom.

Check out the site ahead of time. Arrive early so youhave time to prepare and relax. This also gives you time to checkout your equipment, the podium and microphone level, visual aids,the sound system and the lighting. Make sure a glass of water isnearby before you start your talk. Never just show up and wing it.Too often there are surprises that could sabotage yourpresentation.

Make the most of the podium. Don't hide behind it andread your script. We've all been bored by speakers who grip thepodium, lean intently over their pages and never look up. Step toone side of the podium for a while, then back to the center; later,step to the other side. Moving in front of the podium is also aneffective way to emphasize a point or relate more directly with theaudience.

Watch your language. Use "we" and"you" frequently to make your talk seem like more of adialogue. Don't talk down to your audience. Use stories andanecdotes to help get your message across. But never use off-coloror otherwise inappropriate jokes, stories or language.

Be creative. Inject your personality into the speech;have some fun with it. Make your gestures and facial expressions abit bolder than usual.

Anticipate questions, and think about your answers ahead oftime. Repeat questions before you answer for those in theaudience who may not have heard them.

Let the audience know where you're headed. The oldsaying "Tell them what you're going to tell them; tellthem; then tell them what you told them" applies here. Beforeyou start, briefly tell the audience the key points you'll becovering, then be sure to recap at the end of your talk.

Remember why you're doing this. The goal of publicspeaking is to give something of benefit to the audience, to shareinformation, to advance your company's position and, ifpossible, to entertain. So when it's your turn at the podium,pause a second, smile, look at someone in the audience you know,someone you met before the talk or someone who simply looksfriendly, and take a deep breath.

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