As 2018 draws to a close, many people turn their minds to the year to come and what they hope to achieve. And with those thoughts come resolutions.
If you are inclined to make New Year’s resolutions, and if you want to improve your public speaking skills, why not make a public speaking resolution or two for 2019? Here are five good ones.
1) I will arrive at least one hour before I am scheduled to speak.
Do you tend to show up at the last minute for a speaking engagement? If so, make 2019 the year in which you break the habit.
Arriving at the last minute is risky and unprofessional. Arriving early, on the other hand, yields several benefits that can only help you with your talk.
2) I will seek out speaking situations that make me particularly uncomfortable
Every speaker gets nervous from time to time. If someone tells you that they never get nervous, just remember what Mark Twain said:
There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.
Being nervous is completely natural — I am always a bit nervous whenever I have to speak in public — but the level of nerves tends to differ depending on the situation. Having worked with thousands of people over the years, I have noticed that two factors, in particular, can affect a speaker’s nerves: the size of the audience and the extent to which the speaker knows the people in the audience. (Of course, these are not the only two, but they are the two that are mentioned most often by the people with whom I work.)
Some people like speaking to a small audience; some prefer a large audience. Some people like speaking to those whom they know; others prefer to speak to strangers. And then there are the combinations: small audiences of people you know; small audiences of strangers; large audiences of people you know; large audiences of strangers.
I wrote about this phenomenon, which I call the Public Speaking Fear Grid. Think about where on the grid you are comfortable and where you are uncomfortable. Once you know where you are, seek out opportunities to speak in those situations that make you uncomfortable. Because that is where you will find your greatest growth as a speaker.
And to help tackle those nerves, you will find great ideas here:
3) I will give a presentation without using slides
Without question, well-designed slides can boost the effectiveness of a presentation. Far too often, however, slides are poorly designed and are used the speaker as speaking notes. If this habit continues long enough, the slides become an indispensable crutch without which, the speaker is lost.
If you are going to use slides, spend some time learning how to design them well. Here’s a host of helpful articles to get you started.
Beyond that, why not give a presentation without slides? There’s no rule that says you need to have slides every time. You could use a flip chart or a white board. Or — and how’s this for a crazy idea — what about just talking to your audience?
If you can become comfortable speaking without slides, you will take a major step forward in terms of your speaking abilities. And never forget that technology can be a fickle thing. Sometimes the computer crashes or the file becomes corrupt and you have to sink or swim on your own. Why not get some practice before bad luck strikes?
4) I will analyze other people’s speeches and presentations
Without question, the best way to become a better speaker is to get on stage and speak. You learn so much more when you have skin in the game. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from others. In fact, analyzing the speeches of other speakers is a great way to pick up ideas of what to do — and not do — when you are on stage.
I want to stress that this is not about trying to be like another speaker because you can’t. You can only be yourself. As Oscar Wilde said, everyone else is already taken. But you can learn from others by observing what they do well and what they do poorly.
A key component of most of the corporate trainings that I do involves having participants give short presentations to the entire group. Each presentation is followed by an in-depth feedback session. The feedback doesn’t just come from me; each participant provides his or her own feedback because if you are in the audience, your opinion is just as valid as that of any other audience member.
Not only does the feedback help the speaker, it also gets the person who gives the feedback thinking about his or her own speaking. I have analyzed dozens of speeches that you can find here. But you can just as easily pick any speech or presentation (live or online). As you watch and listen, just ask yourself two questions:
- What is the speaker doing well?
- What could the speaker do better?
5) I will tell more stories
One of Aristotle’s pillars of rhetoric is pathos, or emotion. One of the most powerful ways to engage your audience on an emotional level is storytelling.
Stories have been around for millennia. They are such a fundamental part of who we are as human beings that psychologists say that our brains are wired for stories.
And yet, many people are afraid to tell stories because they think that they have to be “serious” people when they are on stage. Well, storytelling is a serious business. Stories are memorable and stories add meaning. Audiences are much more likely to remember the stories you tell than anything else you say. And if they remember the story, chances are that they will remember the point behind the story.
Remember: Tell a story; make a point.
Become a collector of stories. When something interesting happens, jot down a sentence or two in a notebook or create an online file so that you don’t forget. Over time, you will build up a repository of stories for your speeches and presentations.
To help you hone your storytelling technique, you can find great advice here:
Over to you
There you have it: five resolutions to help you become a better speaker. Any one of these will make a big difference; following through on all five will add rocket fuel to your speaking.
Good luck and have fun! Remember that every time you have the opportunity to speak to an audience, you are being given a great privilege and you should enjoy it.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and all the best for a terrific 2019!