John Eales

The Australian - The Deal - - News -

Ways you can hone your public speak­ing skills and beat bore­dom

Fear not, speak up Key ways to hone your or­a­tory skills and keep them lis­ten­ing

T HE worst speech I ever heard was at a school sports­mans’ din­ner. The speaker had lit­tle to do with sport, no affin­ity with the au­di­ence, and got lost in ir­rel­e­vant and poorly con­structed anec­dotes. Au­di­ences are not dumb. They know if a speaker is knowl­edge­able and has paid them due re­spect. The speaker was los­ing his au­di­ence but stub­bornly con­tin­ued. Af­ter 25 min­utes he had had enough, bang­ing his mi­cro­phone on the podium to com­mand ev­ery­one’s at­ten­tion. When the room was as quiet as he was go­ing to get it, he brought the house down. “Look, if you don’t be quiet I’m go­ing to start all over again.” The speech got no bet­ter but he had pin-drop si­lence for the re­main­der.

While lead­ers de­velop a com­mu­ni­ca­tion style most rel­e­vant for their per­son­al­ity, be­ing adept at public speak­ing and the town-hall ad­dress are req­ui­site skills for any ma­jor role. No leader should need to re­sort to tricks or threats to com­mand at­ten­tion. And this is not easy. Glos­so­pho­bia, the fear of public speak­ing, made the top five in the Chap­man Uni­ver­sity Sur­vey of Amer­i­can Fears – in the same league as iden­tity theft and mass shoot­ings!

The fol­low­ing are five key considerations for any town-hall ad­dress.

Short is sweet: Co­me­dian Ge­orge Burns be­lieved the se­cret to a good speech was a good be­gin­ning, a good end­ing, and to have the two as close to­gether as pos­si­ble. Most peo­ple de­liver at around 100-120 words per minute so a five-minute ad­dress will re­quire an av­er­age of 500-600 words. Know your tim­ing and choose your words ju­di­ciously.

Pre­pare to suc­ceed: For­mer US Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wil­son was once quoted on pre­par­ing speeches: “If it is a 10-minute speech it takes me all of two weeks to pre­pare it; if it is a half-hour speech it takes me a week; if I can talk as long as I want to it re­quires no prepa­ra­tion at all. I am ready now.” Be­ing pre­pared though, doesn’t mean be­ing in­flex­i­ble. Be sure of how you will start a pre­sen­ta­tion, the three points you must make in the mid­dle, and where you will fin­ish. But be flex­i­ble enough to read the au­di­ence along the way as you de­cide how to take them there.

Tell sto­ries: Our brains are wired for sto­ries so tell them. As we lis­ten to or tell sto­ries, dopamine, our own nat­u­rally pro­duced ad­dic­tive chem­i­cal, is re­leased mak­ing us feel bet­ter about our­selves and help­ing us to re­mem­ber. In­sti­tu­tions, from the world’s old­est re­li­gions to Har­vard Uni­ver­sity, have used sto­ries or case stud­ies to re­lay their mes­sage in a more po­tent, mean­ing­ful and mem­o­rable man­ner.

Flow mat­ters: When writ­ing and speak­ing I fol­low the phi­los­o­phy of Wil­liam Zinsser. In his book, On Writ­ing Well, he main­tains the only goal of the first sen­tence is to get some­one to read the sec­ond sen­tence and the only goal of the sec­ond sen­tence is to get some­one to read the third. You get the pic­ture. Speeches must sim­i­larly have a lyri­cal and log­i­cal flow about them. Take your au­di­ence on a jour­ney. Sur­prise them, sure, but lead them some­where. If it is not rel­e­vant, leave it out. They should walk out of the room ap­pre­ci­at­ing the jour­ney while also get­ting the mes­sage.

Be con­fi­dent: When speak­ing, it is worth re­mem­ber­ing the au­di­ence is on your side. There is noth­ing quite as un­com­fort­able as squirm­ing in your seat while wit­ness­ing a death on stage, so use that good­will to build your con­fi­dence and al­low it to res­onate in your mes­sage.

One fi­nal thought, be­ware of traps. One friend was in­vited to speak on a Satur­day night in Rock­hamp­ton. It co­in­cided with the big­gest race day in the town for the year.

On ar­rival the coun­try hos­pi­tal­ity took him straight to the track and filled him with am­ber fluid. This con­tin­ued through to the evening where he couldn’t avoid hav­ing a drink with ev­ery guest as they ar­rived. As the night wore on it was fi­nally time to in­tro­duce the guest speaker: “Ladies and gen­tle­men, it gives me great plea­sure to in­tro­duce one of this coun­try’s great ath­letes, one of our sport’s great am­bas­sadors, please make him feel wel­come.”

The worse-for-wear speaker braced the podium, scanned the room from one cor­ner to the other, and be­gan. “Ladies and gen­tle­men … I’ve had a shocker …” And then he sat down and didn’t say an­other thing all night.

So re­lax, you can’t pos­si­bly be any worse than that.


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