The skill of public speaking

Public speaking is a must for the executive’s skill set. The kind of speaking we’re talking about is practiced not just at weddings or annual conferences, it is needed if you are going to be on stage at a board meeting, annual general meeting, corporate conflab or news conference. It’s valuable at any event, small, medium, large or enterprise-size.

As a budding speaker, you might have questions – here are a few queries – with tips:

How do I stay on message? First, you need a message, or a number of them, to stay on. Basically, you have to answer the 5Ws, who, what, when, where and why.

  • Who are you and who is in the audience that you should acknowledge (and thank if it’s your host)?
  • What are you talking about? Make clear your most important mission and go down the list from there as to what you want the audience to know and to care about. Don’t wander off during your talk into asides or anecdotes that have nothing to do with your topics. Stick to your whats.
  • When refers to anything having to do with time. How long might you talk? If your ‘What’ is a new product, when will it be launched. If your company has a new board member, when will she take her seat at the table…
  • Where means where your ‘Whats’ are available or where the next meeting will be held…
  • Why answers questions in the audience’s mind such as ‘Why the heck am I listening to this?” or why my company is launching this particular product or why the board is concerned about the coming year…

How do I make certain my information is engaging from beginning to end? Try out your speech with your spouse or a friend or colleague before you face the live audience. Give some punch to key words and phrases when you speak. Vary the pace of your talk and the volume of your voice. And when you note the eyes in the front row glazing over, bring your speech to a conclusion.

How do I end the speech?  Near the end of your speech, wind it up with a Call for Action – something each member of the audience can do to achieve the goals or get the products or face the future as described in your speech. As in music, you end with a crescendo, not with a lame “That’s all folks.”

What if things go wrong?  Yes, the mic or your PowerPoint can go wonky, the lectern can fall over. Ignore it. Move on – at higher volume if necessary – forgetting the coloured charts and graphs that are no longer there. Walk to the front of the stage…  Don’t dwell on what you can’t control. The audience won’t if you don’t.

Use your hands almost any way you want except by waving them in front of your face and not in a ‘herky-jerky’ way, as Dale notes in his blog. Most gestures match the words and help make your points. Stand where you want but erectly and don’t lean on the lectern.  If you are comfortable behind a lectern, use the prop; if you want to pace, do so but not in a frenetic way.

Above all, get trained, then prepare, prepare, prepare so you can keep calm and carry on as you inform, educate, entertain and even excite the crowd, small, medium and large, that is doing you the honour of listening. It’s a skill but it’s not rocket science.

-MF