You’ve designed and prepared your speech. You believe in your message and are rooted in your philosophy of speaking. Now it’s show time, where philosophy and preparation meet performance. Here are eight pointers for making it a breakthrough performance.
First, don’t overlook the importance of your introduction. It accomplishes two vital tasks – it establishes your credibility, giving your audience a reason to listen to you, and it sets the tone for your presentation. Don’t think of the introduction simply as fluff-stuff that happens before you speak. It is a part of your presentation. So work with the person who will be introducing you. Provide him or her the most appropriate information about yourself in a form that offers maximum benefit. Most professional speakers use a prepared introduction. You should too.
Second, remember that anxiety is OK (and suprisingly a good sign). In his book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goldman addresses the subject of anticipatory anxiety. He says that skilled people use anxiety to motivate themselves to prepare adequately and perform well. I still get nervous before speaking, even after speaking to 2,000-plus audiences over the years. If I didn’t, there would be something wrong with me.
Anxiety generates adrenaline – it makes you alert and keeps you at your best. If you experience no anxiety, you are either over-confident or asleep-and neither state leads to breakthrough speaking. The trick is to use anxiety to fuel your performance rather than let it become an obstacle.
Third, let your humanity show through. My colleague Winnie Shows describes what she calls “The Goldfinger Effect” in the art of speaking. Years ago, the movie “Goldfinger” prompted a question about a character painted completely in gold. What would happen if someone were covered in gold paint? Would one’s cells suffocate? Could it cause death? The general agreement, according to Winnie, was that one could paint the body gold if a little space was left unpainted. Likewise, she points out that a highly polished presentation is good, but it is critically important that the speaker’s humanity is clearly visible.
I agree with Winnie’s illustration. If your presentation is too polished, people will think you’re too perfect, and that can reduce your rapport with them. So leave a little of your presentation unpolished, perhaps a few segments where you ad a personal aside. Apply “The Goldfinger Effect,” then your listeners will know that you are human, like they are, and they will be more receptive to your message.
Fourth, make the most of your opening. Memorize the first part of your presentation and practice it so that it seems natural rather than stiff or “canned.” Knowing exactly how you’re going to begin and being intimately familiar with your opening will prevent anxiety-caused forgetfulness.
Also, remember that it’s the job of your opening to break your audience’s preoccupation with circumstances and concerns outside the presentation room. People may be sitting quietly in front of you and looking at you, but that doesn’t mean that they are paying attention to you. You must open in a way that will break through their preoccupation and capture their imagination. Your audience needs immediate proof that the rest of your message is worth sticking around for. An interesting illustration, a surprising quote, or a challenging question are just three ways to open your message with attention-grabbing power.
Fifth, don’t read your speech. If you feel tempted to do so, remember that it would be more effective to give your listeners their own copies and let them read your presentation for themselves. Breakthrough speakers don’t read their speeches, they deliver them.
Sixth, use variety. Nobody enjoys a monotone presentation. Good conversation is lively and animated. So, too, is effective public speaking. Talk softly. Talk loudly. Vary your tone of voice, energy, pace, and emotion. Think of breakthrough speaking as a musical score, and make full use of the range of notes available to you.
Much has been written about the importance of passion in speaking. I would offer two cautions about this subject. First, remember that passion without technique is misdirected. While listeners may admire your passion, they won’t be positively impacted until you learn how to use it to bolster your delivery. Second, passion is not about rabid enthusiasm or the decibel level of your voice. It is about the conviction of your words.
Seventh, make it easy for your listeners to act. Give them very specific suggestions about what you want them to do as a result of your presentation. Breakthrough speaking is designed to spur audience members to action. So make sure they know what appropriate actions to take and how to take them.
Eighth and finally, have a strong closing. When you finish, finish. Avoid false closings at all costs. A false closing suggests to the audience that you are going to end, but then you continue to cover additional points or material. In such a situation, listeners feel tricked, and your effectiveness is seriously compromised.
Know exactly how you are going to conclude (just as you knew exactly how you were going to begin). Your closing is the last point people will remember, so make it memorable.