Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Verbal Victory - Improving Your Public Speaking Skills

If you want to improve your golf game, you have to practice. To win at chess, you have to play many games. Fitness coaches are hired to help people get in better shape.

Greatness in anything does not happen by accident!

To fine tune your skills you need to invest time and effort. Practice, dedication, coaching, contemplation, prioritization, focus, and more practice.

Yet I am often surprised by how little attention that business professionals give to their public speaking skills. They assume they will just do an adequate job, and prepare very little. They will regularly have their staff invest time in creating beautiful visuals and handouts, but they do not invest in improving their delivery.

Highly competitive men and women ,who tackle every area of their life with a focus on improvement, simply "wing it" when they publicly address an audience. While most of them have "okay" speaking skills, they often leave the audience with much less than a "WOW" experience.

Think about all the really great speakers you have seen at business events. Most are fine, but these are driven, high-energy individuals who would never settle for "just okay" in any other part of their life. However, for some reason they do not realize that they have the ability inside of them to take their public speaking skills to a higher level.

I recently had someone see me speak who had attended a similar presentation a year earlier. His compliment following my talk pointed out that he thought I did a very good job a year earlier, but that this time he was "WOWed". He was curious at how I had taken the presentation to the next level?

The answer was simple. In the past 12 months I had given 50 presentations. I never once "winged it". Before each presentation I invest several hours of preparation, not just in my PowerPoint presentation, but also into the words that I would use and how I would deliver them.

Additionally I have attended over well 50 presentations by other people in the last year. Any time that I see anyone deliver a presentation I treat it as if it was "Speakers University". I have seen some great talks, but mostly a bunch of dull oratory. However, I learn from everyone I observe.

Here are three tips to help anyone be a better speaker:

1. Be serious in your understanding that public speaking is a SKILL. Do not fool your self into thinking that those who are better speakers than you are "naturals". While some speakers are blessed with their talent, most who can "WOW" an audience have invested a lot of time to craft their oratory. Invest the time to make improvements to your speaking or stay off the stage.

2. Give to the audience. They call it "giving" a speech, so remember that every time you take the stage you are delivering a gift to the audience. Do not make the presentation solely about you or your company. Make sure that when you tell your personal stories that there is an underlying lesson for the audience. Personal stories are the BEST, but not if they are bragging. If you are not there to help the audience, stay off the stage.

3. Release you personality. You are not an actor, thus do not pretend to be something different than whom you are inside. If you are not funny, don't try to tell jokes. Open the kimono and let the audience see the real you. Be true. Make your stories reveal the good, the bad, and the ugly about what makes you tick. If your real personality is dull, stay off the stage.

I am often asked for advice by CEOs and other executives who are interested in being a more engaging business speaker. Thus, I have created a new hour long presentation for executives called "Verbal Victory: Outshine, Improve and Polish Your Public Speaking Skills". If your company or organization is looking for a fun and informative presentation to encourage people to embrace the power of the spoken word, let me know!

Have A Great Day.



Anonymous said...

There is nothing wrong with saying "no" when asked to speak if you know you are just not a great speaker. But too many executives say "yes"

James T. Parsons said...

Hey Tom, I have seen you speak and think you are quite entertaining and are good at that skill.

I do think, though, that some speakers first mistake is to worry too much about making the perfect speech, that they do a worse job than if they had "just winged it." Public speaking is a performance skill, and as with others, performance anxiety is probably the worst killer of speakers. Nervousness is more deadly than lacking perfection.

As with performance skills, I think if people lack the experience, just getting one's feet warm by speaking in public is a plus to get used to the experience. Maybe for the first several years they won't be that good, but definitely ought to focus on improving, not perfection.

However, if they get to the point that they like it and want to speak more in public, definitely think your tips are great for them to follow - since you do a good job at presenting publically.

Just my two cents. Good to see you at AU40.


Andrew Weaver said...

Great pointers, Thom. Especially when it comes to releasing your personality. So many, it seems to me, forget this and get stuffy or change entirely. Why wouldn't you show yourself to be genuine and transparent by releasing the real you?

Anonymous said...

Your tips on releasing our personality are my favorite - I have to say, occasionally somebody should stay off the stage, and sometimes, humor is not the solution ... especially if you aren't funny, like me! Good, solid, non-standard tips