If all my talents and powers were to be taken from me by some unscrutable Providence, and I had my choice of keeping but one, I would unhesitatingly ask to be allowed to keep the Power of Speaking, for through it I would quickly recover all the rest.
- Daniel Webster
What do the words public speaking bring to mind? Large halls and after-dinner ramblings? Executive seminars where you listen to a speaker expert in some key area of business? Politicians at election time? Presenters using complex PowerPoint slides? These answers are all correct, but big events and big names are just the tip of the public-speaking iceberg. Public speaking embraces not only the formal settings for speeches but also myriad events in any businessperson's day.
Public speaking affects every aspect of communication. It refers to your ability to get ideas across and to inform and persuade your audience. Even though most people admit to disliking it, everyone has to rely on his or her speaking abilities in meetings, on the phone, when asking for a raise, or when explaining procedures to a new employee. There are two varieties of business communication: written and spoken. And while many professionals, managers, and executives complain about the number of memos and e-mails they have to write, they communicate verbally much more often.
Yet many people persist in divorcing lectern-style public speaking from the speaking required in a one-on-one meeting with the boss. They think the former is a very formal event requiring preparation, while the latter can be done off-the-cuff. It can be done this way, but the results won't distinguish you. In the business, powerful people know how to put the power of speaking to work for them whenever they are communicating verbally. Those who don't think of themselves as public speakers within their companies, organizations, or associations probably aren't perceived as good speakers by others either, and they lose the aura that goes along with being known as an effective communicator. Or worse, they have a reputation for being dull, unsure of themselves, and weak.
Powerful speaking is not a new phenomenon. In his 1880 book, History of England: Volume I, Thomas Macauley wrote about William Pitt the Younger, who became Prime Minister of England at the age of 24: "Parliamentary government is government by speaking. In such a government, the power of speaking is the most highly prized of all the qualities which a politician can possess; and that power may exist, in the highest degree, without judgment, without fortitude...without any skill in diplomacy or in the administration of war." That is why Pitt, who was lauded for his remarkable talent for making speeches, was a successful politician despite his lack of experience and political savvy.
I have seen what a newfound speaking ability can do for a person. Being a good presenter makes you visible, and in corporations, money, resources, and power flow to the visible high achiever. The visibility that speaking abilities give you becomes part of your overall professional growth. A colleague of mine at a large Fortune 500 company moved through the ranks with startling speed and ease. Many of his peers were just as competent, but he was a very good public speaker; his presentations were effective, persuasive events. He had an undeniable edge.
I also watched the careers of two executives at a large manufacturing firm. She was a highly persuasive speaker who had studied public speaking and ran dynamic meetings. She really knew how to inform and persuade. He, on the other hand, was a dull speaker. After five years, she was vice president of their division, and he was still a manager. Needless to say, the executives may well have been equally competent. If you don't use public speaking to your advantage, someone else will use it to his or hers.
There is just so much spotlight to go around, and it's a given that speakers occupy it regularly. Presenting in public is advertising with subtlety: You are displaying your abilities without touting them. As the old rhyme reminds us:
The codfish lays ten thousand eggs, the homely hen lays one.
The codfish never cackles to tell us what she's done;
and so we scorn the codfish while the homely hen we prize.
It only goes to show you that it pays to advertise.
That's why you should use every speaking opportunity possible. When someone needs a speaker, volunteer! If someone else is speaking, volunteer to introduce them! Get yourself in front of other people as often as you can. The more you do, the more you will be perceived as the confident, take-charge kind of person you truly are.
I have listened to many hundreds of speeches. The more I listened to people's presentations and speeches, the more I recognized a "pattern" of flaws that led to ineffective communication. And I discovered that in all these hundreds of speeches there were six major speaking faults that occured over and over again, even among experienced speakers.
I have become convinced about the power of the six speaking faults, and the importance of a speaker recognizing these faults in him or herself. In a February 2001 Gallup Poll, the following question was posed to a representative sample of 1,016 Americans: "Which would help you be more successful in life: knowing what your weaknesses are and attempting to improve them or knowing what your strengths are and attempting to build on them?" Of all those surveyed, 52 percent believed that the secret to success lies in knowing their weaknesses.
If any one of these speaking faults is present - even if you are doing everything else right - your talk loses most of its effectiveness. Here are the six major speaking faults:
An unclear purpose. You want to motivate your audience in a certain way, but they would never know it from your meandering presentation.
Lack of clear organization and leadership. Your speech isn't structured and doesn't flow logically from one point to another.
Too much information. You overload your audience with details, some of them technical and most of them unnecessary.
Not enough support for your ideas, concepts, and information. You have compelling arguments to make, but you don't back your ideas up with colorful, memorable stories and examples.
Monotonous voice and sloppy speech. You believe in your subject and are excited by it, but your voice and manner of speech don't express what you're feeling.
Not meeting the real needs of your audience. You focus on what interests you, rather than on what your audience is interested in hearing.
These faults are closely linked; improve in one area and you almost automatically improve in the next. Of course, it takes patience and practice to truly hone your speaking abilities, but recognizing and eliminating these six major speaking faults will give you a competitive edge and improve your speaking abilities 100 percent!
In addition to the six major speaking faults, there are five trouble spots speakers consistently run into. These are times that are hardest for the speaker and easiest to lose the audience. The trouble spots are:
Openings: How to get and keep attention while making a strong, confident connection to your audience.
Closings: How to avoid fading away at the end, and the techniques used to leave people on a high.
Transitions: This often makes the difference between an average presentation and a great one (and also helps reduce the "uh's").
Questions and Answers: How to stay in control and remain the expert, no matter who asks the question.
Visual Aids: Visual aids used badly are not aids; they cost you 90 percent of the audience's attention. Used well, you gain 90 percent of their attention.
At a dinner party several years ago, the witty playwright Noel Coward and the Hungarian actress Eva Gabor were having a conversation.
"Noel, Dahling," said Eva. "Have you heard the news about poor Bahnaby? He vass terribly gored in Spain."
"He was what!?" cried Coward in alarm.
"He vass gored."
"Thank heavens," said Coward, "I though you said he was bored."
This resource is imbued with a rule central to any speaker's success: Never be boring. An audience will forgive almost anything if you don't bore them to death. As a speaker your first job is to be interesting; that's where you generate power: You are effective to the degree you capture your audience. If you are interesting, entertaining, and memorable, then people will think of you as a powerful speaker.
This system is a strategic shortcut gleaned from years of listening to and training speakers; chapters, exercises, and checklists that cover all the fine points of presenting; and a belief that power will stem from speeches that work hard to keep audiences entertained and interested. These elements make up an effective whole, as I'm sure you will see as you put the system to work for you. This resource was written with these three key words - never be boring - as the secret weapon that should be in the back of every speaker's mind.
You engage your audience by drawing them in, by being interesting, by never being boring. You inspire your audience to take action by reaching their emotions - to get them to see things and feel things. People never take actions for intellectual reasons, there is always an emotional benefit or fear that spurs them on. As a speaker you want to stimulate people to think and to be open enough to consider your ideas.
Confidence and speaking ability go hand in hand. The more speaking you do, the more confident you become - not only of your ability to present but also of your overall corporate skills. When you overcome your fears more easily, you have the ability to truly persuade superiors, peers, or customers.
Your confidence grows with every speech you give, and every new thing you try - I know. Several years ago, I decided to become an "out of the box" speaker. Audiences needed more and more stimulation to stay involved with me and with all speakers of all persuasions. Because my goal is always to encourage maximum attention, I created "infotainment" - a unique way to combine information with entertainment. I also wanted to find a way to use my theatrical background to make my message entertaining as well as informative. So I created the Theater for Learning program - I added songs, props, and costumes to my workshops. As you can imagine, I was very nervous the first time I tried out this idea, especially because the first audience to view my new program was an auditorium full of straight-laced executives from IBM, one of the most conservative corporate cultures around.
To my relief, they liked it! They really liked it! That gave me the confidence to go on and to develop my program even further. Not everything I tried was a success, but most things were. Simply by trial and error, I came up with a program that is informative and fun at the same time.
Nothing builds confidence more than trying something new and daring in front of an audience. Every step you take in a new direction is a step towards building your confidence as well.
Confidence is not the only benefit of public speaking. During my seminars and workshops, I ask participants to come up with a list of things they can gain by becoming a more persuasive speaker - all beginning with the letter C. Here are just a few of the answers I get:
So how do you gain the public-speaking edge? By treating every speaking opportunity as just that - a valuable chance to inform and persuade effectively and, thus, shape the way you are perceived. This resource will teach you how to bring to any meeting or conversation the tools of a powerful speaker's trade: preparation, organization, focus, relevance, enough support for your ideas, and attention to the needs of your audience, whatever the size.
This careful approach to public speaking is tactical; it is designed for you to control your public-speaking situations, rather than vice versa. Effective public speaking is a true boost to self-esteem. People who control the effectiveness of spoken communication don't just exhibit confidence, they become more confident. People perceive persuasive speakers as leaders. The ability to speak and present clearly, persuasively, and memorably is a skill that will pay off for years to come.
So read on, and start to look at your workday differently - not as a series of random conversations but as myriad chances to polish your skills as a powerful public speaker. The first thing to tackle is fear of public speaking, which the next chapter covers in depth. With fear behind you, you will be free to reap the benefits enjoyed by commanding speakers.