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Effective Public Speaking - Play Your Role

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The best speakers minimize their fear by creating "stage personalities" for themselves.

Public speaking may well be the number one fear among people in business today. Face it: all but the most accomplished speakers have difficulty predicting the quality of the impression they'll make on an audience. They're afraid of appearing inadequate, uninformed or foolish in front of others.

The best speakers minimize their fear by creating "stage personalities" for themselves, and remaining true to these roles throughout their presentations. Many of these "stage roles" - such as the roles of actor, preacher and storyteller, for instance - are familiar to most audiences. When these roles are displayed, the result can be striking: without realizing it, listeners quickly form the impression the speaker wants to convey.

When you're called upon to deliver a presentation - whether it's at a small sales meeting or at your Toastmasters club - define the role you want to play in front of your audience. You can use many of the same roles expert speakers use:

• Actor. The actor frequently plays a dramatic role in front of her audience. She might use impassioned commentary, strong gestures, and even imaginary characters to get important points across. Techniques often used: inflection, movement, dialogue among fictitious characters.

• Beggar. The beggar appeals to the audience to get something done. He may paint vivid pictures of problems, and contrast them with pictures of accomplishments. He may appeal for unity and teamwork, and try to convince his audience of the ease with which some course of action can be taken. Techniques often used: analogy, understatement, grand gestures.

• Confidant. The confidant lets the audience in on a secret. He attempts to build rapport with a group and aims to convince them of the merits of an idea. Techniques often used: "secret" props (such as a sealed envelope), physical proximity to listeners, impromptu gestures.

• Critic. The critic attempts to focus attention on the weakness of an idea. She wants to get her listeners to think, and may debate or even ridicule what she believes is faulty logic. Techniques often used: humor, sarcasm, rating systems, caricatures, appeals to experts.

• Entertainer. The entertainer often injects a lighthearted tone into her talk. She attempts to build her audience's morale. Masters of the entertainer role may sing a few bars, regale audiences with sports stories, or crack witty one-liners. Techniques often used: jokes, extended metaphors, skits, humorous exhibits. A word of caution: speakers using the entertainer role must always be sure that their selection of humor doesn't offend or insult anyone in the audience.

• Organizer. This role is especially useful for a speaker who wants to impart instructions to an audience or set the stage for a new project. He may deliver his remarks using a "step-by-step" presentation outline. Techniques and aids often used: graphs, charts, timelines, encouragement of note-taking.

• Preacher. The preaching role is an inspirational one. The preacher fosters a desire on the part of the audience to move ahead, to adopt a set of ideals, or take a strong and noble course of action. He may paint a vision of what is "good" and "bad," and link his remarks to the values his listeners hold. Techniques often used: quotations, symbols, props, extreme vocal variety.

• Salesperson. The salesperson attempts to present the merits of an idea, identify objections of audience members, and then "close" toward agreement. She'll frequently attempt to get listeners to promise to do something. Techniques often used: cost-benefit analysis, questions-and-answers, simple demonstrations.

• Scholar. The scholar attempts to relate knowledge to the audience, perhaps by clarifying a point or debating an issue. The scholar might take a serious, analytical approach to the presentation. Techniques often used: references to studies or experts, testimonials, exhibits, chalkboards, cross-examination of ideas.

• Storyteller. The storyteller tries to hold her audience in rapt attention by illustrating her talk with captivating anecdotes, fables or accounts of personal experience. Her stories, however, are usually simple. And they're often preceded and concluded with a crystal-clear message to the audience. Techniques often used: inflection, pauses, props.

Ponder for a few moments these stage roles, as well as other roles you've seen speakers play. And ask yourself: What stage personality fits when I present ideas and information to an audience? Answer that question, and then practice your newfound role with consistency and confidence, and you may find wonderful things happening. For starters, you might ease some of your public speaking fears. More important, you'll find a growing number of listeners convinced of the validity of your ideas long after your presentation is over.


Good speakers often have a distinctive "stage personality." In developing your own stage role, imagine a real person who exhibits the qualities you want to project on stage. Then, practice these qualities.

For example:

  • What tone of voice does this person display?
  • What's the individual's temperament like?
  • What interests the individual?
  • How does this person get along with other people?
  • How does this person get ideas across to others?
  • How does this individual walk, move and make gestures?
  • How does this person express joy, sadness and other emotions in front of others?
  • How does the individual act when excited about an idea?

The greater the fit between the traits of this real-life individual and your own stage role - the more commanding your ideas may appear to your audience.

By Richard_Ansman

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