By Marcus Grodentz, Toastmasters International
On a bitterly cold winter’s day I was sitting in my office overlooking the docks.
I jumped as the telephone rang.
“Marcus, we need your help. We have to save a life.”
This was how I was introduced to Snowy the chicken. Little did I know that it was the start of a nine-month publicity campaign.
We’ve all heard talks where the speaker starts at the beginning and laboriously works through way through their ‘story’ in a linear fashion. Did they grab your attention? Probably not!
With any presentation or speech, you need to capture the attention of your audience right away. You want to grip them arouse their interest and get them involved
Public speaking is an art and like lots of arts it is made up of a range of skills. Here are my tips for elevating your public speaking to new heights.
If you are giving a talk whether in person or online don’t jump straight in. Wait. Wait until your audience is settled. Wait until they are all looking at you and then and only then start talking.
It is an old adage but nevertheless true. What sort of talk are you giving? What do you want it to achieve?
Who is going to listen to your speech? That is important because to some extent that dictates the type of language you use. Many speakers use technical terms or acronyms unfamiliar to their listeners. That means that you lose them. They are too busy figuring out the technical stuff to keep listening to what you have to say.
Any TV or film drama you watch starts with a cliff-hanger of some sort. It can last several minutes. Only then do the titles roll. Start your talk with something dramatic. Grab attention. Get your audience engaged. Then take your audience on a journey that arrives somewhere. You need to make sure that your ending has some relationship to where you started. Complete the circle. Leave your audience feeling complete.
The language you use is important. You have the whole lexicon of the English language to help illustrate and describe your story. For example, there is a world of difference between ‘taking an opportunity’ and ‘grasping an opportunity.’
Vocal variety is another key element. How many talkers go through their entire story at the same pitch. It becomes monotonous, even tedious. Varying the pace of your story and the pitch of your voice is another weapon in your arsenal of techniques.
If you have something dramatic to say you might want to speed up and perhaps raise your tone. If you have something sensitive, you can slow down and lower your tone. And, if you have some important information to share then take a pause.
Allow your audience time to absorb and digest it. Pausing is also a great way to cut down on the number of times you say Um and Ah.
Incorporating body language into your talk raises it to another dimension. If we were meeting in person, we would never dream of giving a talk sitting down. With covid and lockdown restrictions we now meet often on Zoom. Because we are on Zoom it is apparently OK to give talks sitting down. I am from the school which says if you are a speaker you stand. It actually isn’t that difficult to rearrange your desk and camera angles to enable you to do that. It just takes a little effort. Sitting down with your face filling the screen robs you of the ability to use your body and to take advantage of your screen stage. What you do get is the occasional disembodied hand.
If you are unable to stand for any reason, then you can move your chair further back from the camera so that the audience can see more of you and that again enables you to take advantage of using body language to engage with your audience.
One of my pet hates is the use of PowerPoint as it is almost always unnecessary. Speakers use it as a prop to hide behind. Death by PowerPoint is the hallmark of a poor speaker in my opinion.
Visual props are good but only if they are an integral part of your talk. If you are a speaker then you want your audience looking and concentrating on you. That is the whole point of being a speaker.
It is essential to practice your talk – and to time it. You need to know what you want to say and how long it will take you to say it.
By working on just some of these aspects and skills, your talks can be raised to a whole new level. It will elevate you from being just a common or garden talker to a consummate, articulate and engaging speaker.
One of my early tips was to make sure you connect your ending with your beginning so I cannot leave this piece without returning to my friend Snowy the chicken.
Snowy was hatched in a Rare Breed Centre during a snowstorm and was the only one of his clutch to survive.
The call to me as the City Council’s PR Chief was to launch a media appeal for a donation of other chicks that he could ‘huddle’ with to help him survive.
He not only survived, he also became such a media celebrity that we used him in a whole variety of ways to promote the council and its services. He had a wonderful career and went into retirement at the Rare Breed Centre.
As a speaker you need to be authentic and passionate about your subject. When you are
then you have every reason to expect that your audience will love you too, and appreciate your speaking skills and your message.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marcus Grodentz is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org