Today’s article is all about public speaking and I have 10 practical tips to become an effective communicator. Public speaking, also called oratory or oration, has traditionally meant the act of speaking face to face to a live audience. But in my opinion, every time you try to make a point at work, at home, in front of people, you are public speaking. Hence, the importance of mastering the art of public speaking.
These tips are part of a communication training I am building, and I thought “Why not sharing something with the broader audience?”. And here we go!
1. Learn to introduce yourself without praising yourself
The first 30 seconds are crucial to foster great communication. Imagine what happens if you start praising yourself; it gets boring, doesn’t it? You do not want to do that.
If possible, you want someone else to introduce you because people tend to appreciate a third party perspective more than yours. If that is not possible, try to not be perceived as cocky.
Try something like: “I am not as arrogant as to think that everyone knows who the hell I am and what I have done in my life, so here is what I have been doing for the past five years”. Then you say whatever you want to say: I used to be a Manager, I am a frequents radio and television guest, I am an entrepreneur trying to make the world a better place, etc. Whatever you think will be helpful for the audience to think “Oh wow he/she seems to be an expert on the topic, let’s hear it”.
Whatever you say, do not rant for 10 minutes on how amazing you are. Show them how amazing you are, demonstrate it! Do not tell them how amazing you are.
2. Find your metaphorical voice
Any public speaking should start with the metaphorical voice, strongly connected with your Why and your Purpose. Why are you getting on stage in the first place? Never be afraid of speaking the truth!
The interesting thing is that when we lose the metaphorical voice, we lose the physical voice as well. If you do not have a strong metaphorical voice, a desire that goes beyond the simple public speaking, your physical voice, the energy that emanates from your body, will be weak!
It is easy to spot a speaker who is suppressing his/her metaphorical voice. They just stand there, they do not use their body and the space; they speak, they enunciate sentences, but no one can really connect with them. In a nutshell, it seems that the speaker is not alive.
On the contrary, when you are excited to speak the truth, when you are purposeful, the audience will feel your energy and positive vibes, and connect with you at a deeper level.
Important: People remember how you make them feel, not what you tell them. Therefore, make sure you leave them with good energy!
3. Do not be vanilla!
Who are vanilla speakers? Vanilla speakers are afraid of taking a stand. They try to please every listener and they end up pleasing none. To the eyes of the audience, if you say “This is true, but this is also true, oh yeah that’s a good point, etc.” it looks like you haven’t got any opinion!
Therefore, remember: strong opinions are the most entertaining. Of course, you can change your opinion over time. I did some public speaking in 2015 and when I listen to myself I notice that my opinion changed overtime. In 2020 and in 2030 you will have different opinions, but this is not a problem as changing your mind is a sign of intelligence.
However, do not change your mind while you deliver your speech! Take a stand and explain why, with the information you have at the moment, you think that is the most accurate analysis.
4. Do not use slides whenever possible
Our imagination is expansive, while slides and pictures are reductive. For instance, let’s say that I show you a picture of my grandmother and then I start talking about her; anytime I reference her, you will have this picture in mind!
On the contrary, let's say I describe her to you. You will imagine what my grandma looks like, you will make your own mind and connect it with images of old ladies and spark your imagination! My story becomes part of your story, and this is incredibly powerful because you will remember it!
Effective communication is like getting in people's heads, it is magical.
5. Learn to become a powerful storyteller
Being a storyteller gives you a powerful position to share your message. The reason why storytelling is vital is, firstly, that you want to be a memorable engaging speaker and people remember what they feel.
If you are vanilla and sit on the fence, people will not remember what you said. You will be one of the speakers and no one wants that! But if you ask anyone at speaking events “What was your favourite part?” 90% will tell you “Oh the story!”, because it gave them emotions.
Why are stories that powerful? Human brains are wired to make narratives. Millions of years ago, when writing did not exist yet, our ancestors would gather around the fire and tell stories. These stories carried precious teachings and this is how us humans learned and kept our culture alive.
Whenever you tell a story, your brain goes “Hey! This is important, I need to listen to this”.
6. Learn to overcome stage anxiety
I will let you in a little secret: everyone has stage anxiety! Even the best speakers!
I was live on the national radio a few days ago and of course I was a bit anxious because you never know exactly what is going to happen. I once took part to a diplomatic, multilateral negotiation in China as Italian delegate for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and you never know what might happen when you are live! This is the story of every stage performer. A music artist has stage anxiety, everyone has stage anxiety.
How do you overcome it?
Find your inner voice: Why are you speaking and why are you so passionate about it?
Preparation and iteration: you shall present it in your sleep!
Understand neuroscience and how the brain is wired. You have heard me mention Amy Cuddy's TED Talk on power poses. Power poses reduce the cortisol levels, the stress hormone, before you get on stage, and increase performance hormones such as testosterone.
Do not run your presentation 15 minutes to an hour before you get on stage! This is a mistake we all made in school, when we read through the notes before the test started. When you rehearse your presentation just before an event, you are sending a message to your subconscious that you are not prepared. And this is dangerous!
The crazy thing is that, in most of the cases, you are prepared. But when you read it over and over you start feeling anxious, freak out and be even more nervous. Relaxation time is important before any important speaking engagement.
Therefore, what is the solution? Visualization. Rather than repeating the knowledge, visualise yourself on stage. Feel it. Imagine you standing in front of people and engaging the audience, imagine people asking questions and you knowing what to answer with confidence, because you are prepared and resourceful. Imagine everyone clapping their hands.
Visualise it, and then go get it!
7. There is no such thing as “being too prepared”
If someone asks you “Aren’t you afraid of being too prepared?” that is bullshit.
I do not believe you can ever be prepared enough when it comes to public speaking.
Simone Heng says that you need to be so prepared that you can wash the dishes while you rehearse your speech. This is how you sound natural! Unfortunately some people think that if they prepare less they will sound more natural, but that’s stupid! Lack of preparation kills so many speaking opportunities.
Of course, a speech should never seem artificial! You need to understand the right way of building it.
Most of the people I see write down the speech and then try to memorize it, but that’s the wrong way to go about it because the way we speak and the way we write are completely different!
If you want to be effective, you must write down the keywords, then register yourself on the phone, and finally get a transcription! In communication, I teach clients to “Rem tene, verba sequentur”. Grasp the subject, the words will follow, as Marcus Porcius Cato used to say. Educate yourself, and you will see that the right words come with ease.
If you write a speech and try memorizing it, you will fail at memorizing it because of how you speak. We write in a very formal way but we do not speak in the same way. And if you try to read it, then yes, you will sound like a robot! That will be artificial.
And of course, please remember: slides are there to aid the presentation; they are not there to be read! Some presenters just read whatever on the slides; if you have to read what is on the slides you have too much on the slides. You should have a few bullet points, the key things you want to remember (rem tene) in order to make sure you remember what you want to say next (verba sequentur).
8. Understand why, when you need to present, your mind goes blank
Sometimes it can happen that our mind goes blank right before the presentation, or in the middle of it. This happens because our body finds itself in a situation of stress and discomfort and the vagus nerve triggers the fight or flight mode.
Imagine this situation: you are a caveman and you are hunting. A saber-tooth tiger appears 10 meters from you. In that moment, would you remember what you ate for breakfast? Of course not!
Our body is designed to survive; when we had to run away, our body would cut off any energy that was not needed to survive, including our short-term memory!
This is why, by the way, people who experience a car accident or a traumatic situation cannot remember what happened.
The same process might happen from time to time when you go blank on stage. It is sad because of course we are not in danger, but our mind reads the situation as if we were in danger!
How to fix this? Make sure you relax, breathe, and get off this phase before the meeting or the presentation! Breathing and visualization are a huge help.
9. Use emotions and hooks to connect with the audience
Another powerful tool to connect with the audience is the use of emotions. Of course, never become so emotional that people cannot understand your message. Don’t start crying on stage if possible! The best thing would be for instance to have watery eyes but not to cry.
However, people fall in love with emotions and you want to use that to your advantage! If you cannot hold the tears, that’s ok.
It is best to feel some emotion than standing there unmoved.
Also, remember to use hooks to keep the attention alive! Did you know that the average human attention is 8 seconds? One second more than a goldfish? Due to this, when you public speak you will lose people; how do you get them back? Try to send hooks they can connect with. “As it happened in Game of Thrones” might be a good one since many people watched Game of Thrones! When you mention GoT people might be like “Oh wait what did he say about GoT?”.
10. Do not be afraid of being judged for your accent and your content
First of all, why shouldn't you rejoice because you are bilingual? That is incredible guys! I speak two languages fluently, Italian and English, French almost fluently, and also some Portuguese and Spanish. It’s a pride not being able to speak perfect English!
If you are worried to be judged for your appearance or your content, here is a big truth bomb: people are not actually interested in you! They are interested in what you are going to say and in the value you can provide as a speaker. They do not care about you, you are just a messenger!
As a speaker, you shall NEVER take things personally, because you are the conduit of the message.