Six ways to master the art of public speaking

In 2014, Chapman University conducted a study to find out what are the most common fears of the American public. Interestingly, the researchers discovered that public speaking was the most common and biggest fear amongst Americans. Other fears such as fear of height, bugs, and reptiles, or even zombies came way down in the list. This study was followed up by multiples polls and surveys across the world, and most of them ended up identifying public speaking as one of the top 3 fears.

Unlike being chased by reptiles or zombies, fear of public speaking is very easy to deal. It is important to understand that the primary reason why many find it extremely challenging to master public speaking is that it is an art as well as a science that require dedication and practice.

However, that doesn’t imply it is a difficult trade to follow. By learning the right methods, public speaking is something anyone can master in a short period. Here is how to do it:

1. Master the subject

When you think about giving a talk, you visualize delivering the lines in the perfect flow without any pause or gaps, and that’s where you have to alter your perception. See, the audience sitting in front of you is expecting the valuable information they can take away and not unnecessary words were spoken in perfect rhyme.

The concept is the key, and make sure you are well versed in the subject of your speech. Having mastery over the subject alone will boost your confidence, and the audience will appreciate you for giving them knowledge.

If you are still not convinced about the importance of knowing your subject inside out, then here is a question. Which speech will you prefer to hear? Elon Musk explaining why humans should be a multi-planetary species with a lot of fillers or former Miss South Carolina Lauren Katlin speaking in a perfect flow with dumb facts?

2. Opening is critical

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED talks on brain functioning are hugely popular with over 4 million views. She simplified a concept so complicated such as the difference in the operation of both hemispheres of the brain in her talks.

She is one of the greatest TED speakers, and in both of her talks, you can find how she opened with something fascinating. In her famous ‘my stroke of insight’ talk, she began it with a story about how her brother’ schizophrenia motivated her to have a career in neuroscience.

The opening is everything when it comes to giving a speech. I bet a very few amongst you can even recall what followed ‘I have a dream’ in Martin Luther King Jr’s greatest speech of all time.

One way to open your speech is a personal story that will generate intrigue in the audience like how Jill Taylor did. Alternatively, you can open with a powerful message like Martin Luther King Jr. Jokes, quotes and interesting facts are also great openers.

3. Prepare and practice

What surprised many people when they hear the fact that Martin Luther King Jr. added the ‘I have a dream’ part to the speech’s draft in last minute, is the fact that there was a transcript. Of course, most of the greatest speeches are prepared and practised over and over again unless you want to give a speech like Donald Trump. Make your draft, mostly in bullet points, revise it and memorize the points before the speech.

Additionally, record yourself giving the speech, listen to the tone and pitch of your voice and understand where all you want to vary them. Demosthenes, the greatest Greek orator of all time used to talk with pebbles in his mouth and recited verses while running. To strengthen his voice, he even spoke on the seashore over the roar of the waves.

4. Body Language

Seventy per cent of the communication we make is non-verbal, which means our body language alone can convey more than what we can do with words. When you are giving a speech, make sure to adopt an active and open body language with your hands drawn wide. Never give a speech in a negative or close body language such as standing with your hands folded across or in the pocket.

Your physical movement and eye contact are other two important factors. Never be static, move around a little at a slow pace as you convey your idea. Remember how Steve Jobs explained new products in Apple events? In the case of eye contact, look at the faces of the people sitting in front of you, but don’t stare at a person for more than a second or two, or else they will be creeped out by your staring.

5.  Use Prompts

Prompt can be little cues that you can carry with you or access from your memory or the surroundings that will guide the direction of your speech.

One way is to use index cards with the major point, often a word or phrase written to convey to you what is the next part of the speech.

If you are familiar with space where you are giving the speech, then create mental markers based on the objects in the room and assign each object a major point from the speech. And all you have to do is look at the objects in clockwise order to figure out the next cues.

6. Finish with a call to action

Cicero was one amongst the great speakers of ancient Greece as people stood in chorus applauding his speech for many minutes after he finished. But, Demosthenes was the greatest orator of all time, because as soon as he finished his speech, the audience stood up and left to put his words into action immediately.

You should remember that one of the greatest speeches such as Winston Churchill’s 1940 address to the House of Common called ‘We Shall Fight on the Beaches’ was all about a call to “defend our Island, whatever the cost may be.” Martin Luther King Jr ended his speech calling for civil liberty and equality.

Even though your address may not have a historically significant message, finishing it with a call for action, however humble, will enable you to leave a positive mark.

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