10 Tips for Speaking Effectively

By Kelly Marderosian, Consociate Media 

If something has “phobia” attached to it, then it’s probably not popular with many people. Public speaking falls into that category.

The fear of public speaking — glossophobia — is in the top 10 phobias and is even feared by some more than death. But public speaking doesn’t have to be so frightening.

The secret, says Beth Pedison Gibson, is to be well prepared. Gibson has more than 25 years of communications experience from the public and private sectors, including serving in the White House for President George W. and Mrs. Laura Bush. Before working in Washington, D.C., Beth was a communications leader at several large companies in Dallas and continues in that capacity, in particular for her husband Ken Gibson’s law firm, Gibson Singleton Virginia Injury Attorneys.

Beth shared these tips for preparing for your next public speaking event at a recent Gloucester Chamber of Commerce business training event.

Prepare for your audience.

Before thinking about what you want to say, always consider your audience. For formal speeches, actually call the inviter to ask detailed questions. For more casual opportunities, simply think about the answers and the types of people likely to be there. To prepare, know the full name of the group, the expected audience size, demographics and room logistics, such as the set-up, microphones, lighting and other details. Additionally, ask if media is invited to be aware if the comments you make could become public.

Determine your topic, importance and speaker.

Ask yourself these questions:

Topic – What would you like to say to this audience? What would you like them to do as a result? What will be most interesting to them?
Importance – Why should they listen? Will they become healthier, wealthier, or wiser?
Speaker – Why are you qualified to tell them? This should be very brief and often just your current or most recently past position.

Develop an appealing opening and a memorable closing.

In your opening, you’ll want to throw out a welcome mat. Put them at ease with the word “you.” Draw your listeners in by telling a story, asking a question, sharing a surprising statistic, an interesting quote, observation, or allusion. The phrase, “What most people don’t know,” always works!

For your closing, avoid introducing new thoughts. Simply tell them what you’ve told them. End with strong words, such as “you.” You can also include a memorable scene, sharing a personal philosophy, praise your audience’s role, take a look at the big picture, tell a humorous story or ask strong rhetorical questions.

Use a simple organization.  

A formula for a successful message is as follows:

—Tell them what you’re going to tell them in the opening;

—Tell them in the body;

Tell them what you’ve told them in the closing.

Share your stories, but have a point.

Stories are a great way to connect with people. Remember to be brief when telling a story and only include the relevant details. Humor is a powerful tool, but only if it has a clear point. Keep in mind, telling a long joke is risky to keeping your audience’s attention. 

Remember that delivery counts.  

Dr. Albert Mehrabian, a psychology professor emeritus at UCLA, did pioneering work on the importance of nonverbal messages. He found that when delivering a message, 7 percent is words, 38 percent is voice and 55 percent is nonverbal. This does not mean that your content is not important. It means that when your delivery and your words are in conflict, people trust your body language.

Maintain regular eye contact with your audience and smile often. Use good posture and keep your hands at your side while resting. Keep your weight balanced whether standing or sitting. It’s okay to look at your notes and pause often. By the end of your speech, you want your audience to like and trust you. 

Use your voice to convey enthusiasm.

Speak as if you are smiling and even mark smiles in your notes. Anger is rarely effective.

Project your voice. When you think you are speaking loudly enough, think about the people all the way in the back of the room. Additionally, speak more slowly than you would normally and consider lowering your pitch. Pause often during your speech and use silence to your advantage.

Lastly, ensure your breathing is under control. Practice breathing beforehand by sitting comfortably and breathe in and out to a count of 10, seven times.

Handle questions with courtesy and confidence.

You do not have to take questions at the end of a speech, even if you’re invited. If you want to end with impact and not dilute your message, you can always invite questions privately after the conclusion of your speech.

If you choose to take public questions, these tips work well, especially when dealing with the media:

—Limit time for questions up front;

—Use an open palm to call on someone as opposed to pointing;

—Rephrase questions as needed;

—Answer to everyone;

—End with a strong final statement.

To prepare for questions, you can jot down difficult questions you may be asked and practice your responses beforehand.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

You have to practice to improve. Practice your speech in front of a mirror, record it, or invite family and friends to listen in. You should practice a minimum of five times; once a day for five days works.

Be at your best.  

Get plenty of rest the night before your speaking event. Wear clothing that you feel good in and that photographs well. Arrive to your event early to avoid stress and to allow yourself time to visit with your guests beforehand. Lastly, check yourself in a big mirror immediately before you speak.


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