by Katherine Reilly
Speeches, Lectures and Presentations. What do all of these have in common? Simply put – you have an audience.
Imagine yourself on a stage while being ‘examined’ by hundreds of eyes. The feelings are overwhelming to say the least. Many of my friends and colleagues ask me questions such as, “How do you do it? Don’t you have stage fright? What if you forget your lines?”
I’d be lying if I said that I never felt just a bit nervous when facing a large audience. During one of my speeches, I had the deputy mayor of Athens sitting next to me and representatives of the American University of Deree and the U.S. Embassy in the audience; all the while, my speech was being recorded.
How did it go, you might ask? At the end of it, I was surrounded by my audience who literally got up and embraced me. My heart was full of joy and relief, as I ‘got through’ to them. Now, if you’re wondering, that I might be a ‘natural’ at this, then you’re wrong. I’m just an ordinary girl like any other. Then why am I at ease when I’m on the stage?
The answer is simple. Proper preparation. Meticulous preparation and attention to detail can get you through anything. There’s a saying, ‘practice makes perfect’ and by following a few simple guidelines, you’ll start feeling more comfortable when you grab that mic and start talking.
Choose a topic that defines you. By asking yourself, ‘What would I like to share with others? What defines me as a human being? How can I emotionally connect with my audience?’ Then you’ve made the most important step in building your speech.
A speech is an expression of our heart and soul. You are sharing the greatest part of yourself with your audience. The audience in turn, wants to connect with you. By talking about a topic which matters a lot to you, stress levels reduce and you start acknowledging the people who are paying attention to you as friends and not simple listeners. They in turn, connect with you emotionally as their minds are also open to what you have to share with them.
Carefully gather information and conduct your research thoroughly. Imagine you are a student and must prepare yourself for an exam. You’ve kept notes during class, used internet sources and asked for your peers’ and teachers’ feedback. By accumulating all available information on a specific topic and then in turn studying it, you become a master at it. Confidence is at an all time high and you needn’t worry about your performance (at least not as much as taking a test unprepared).
After finding all the necessary information, organizing it in a particular structure and within a designated time limit, is the next step. Don’t worry about leaving out information due to time constraints. Knowledge is power and even if you don’t refer to everything you’ve learned or researched, you’ll be able to answer any questions you might be asked in the end.
Immediately grab your audience’s attention. A speech is like an essay. I repeatedly tell my students, ‘catch the readers attention from the start’. Use a rhetoric question or give them some information which will rock them off their chair. This is something I admit I enjoy doing. Trust me, by using an ‘attention grabber’ as we call it, you will intrigue their curiosity and will have already won them.
Most speeches are also accompanied by a Sway or PowerPoint presentation. This definitely adds color to the speech. Just be careful not to overdo it. This is a speech, not a presentation. The images used must be carefully selected to attract their interest especially in the beginning, while not distracting them from the speaker – which is you. Use a limited number of slides with key words, not whole sentences and especially not paragraphs which will capture the audience’s attention, making them ignore what you have to say and inevitably tiring them.
Rehearse and Memorize your script. Oh no! What about my script? What if I black out? Can’t I keep a few notes on me?
These are all interesting questions. You’re not giving a lecture, nor are you giving a presentation. You are trying to connect with your audience. The audience is your friend. When you’re talking to a friend, you never hold a script. Many people confuse the script of a speech with note-cards. So, what’s a note-card you might ask. It’s simply a small card with statistics that would be impossible to memorize, or a few words that can get you out of a difficult spot when you lose focus and can’t remember what’s next.
When possible, try to avoid their use though. Keeping eye contact with your crowd is the key to winning them. By avoiding eye contact, things become a bit impersonal and people lose interest in what you have to say.
Time your speech. THE most important part of your preparation. A speaker must repeatedly time himself and depending on the time given to him, must adjust it accordingly by removing or adding lines – without messing its cohesion.
Another thing most speakers must be aware of, is to speak at a normal pace. I repeat, speak – at – a – normal – pace. It’s only logical to be stressed when people are watching you. Our minds subconsciously want to get it over with and ‘speed up’ the process. This leads to a rather fast and sloppy speech with no time for the audience to connect with you.
Remember to take deep breaths and use your stomach to get the words out. Always pause after saying something important. Allow the information to sink in before talking about something else. If you reach the end of a sentence, just stop. That’s why there’s a period (full stop).
Another piece of advice when we might get stuck is to reorganize our thoughts for a few seconds. Pausing for 5-8 seconds is an insignificant period of time for our audience, but for a speaker, makes all the difference. No one will judge you.
Use hand gestures, facial expressions and your body to express yourself. A speech is not only given via words. It’s the whole package. Eye contact, hand gestures, making a few steps directing our attention to different members of the audience is the key to winning them.
Standing motionless like a statue means you’re not confident in what you have to say. Moving about on the other hand and overdoing it with meaningless motions is also a no-no. Striking a happy medium between the two is key to success. Only through practice can you achieve this. Try rehearsing in front of a mirror. Ask a friend to judge you and evaluate his feedback. Every little detail helps.
Before closing, I want you all to remember; we’re only human, we all make mistakes and we all get stressed. It’s up to us though to prepare ourselves beforehand and make sure that we did our best to win our audience. If we all understand this, then we have nothing to fear when we step foot on that stage and grab the mic.
Best of luck,