How does a speaker improve? Years ago I asked myself this question. Many suggestions about reducing a speaker's fear are available, but simple strategic hacks to really engage your audience and deliver a speech with confidence are rare. Having taught hundreds of college courses, listened to thousands of speeches from both students and corporate clients, I discovered ten delivery secrets that have transformed thousands of speakers at every level. This article, reveals an overview of the delivery secrets I've discovered along the way; but, in the coming weeks, each principle will be explored in depth, separately.
Set the Stage
Start smart. Your speech begins well before your opening words. First impressions matter. Explore each step that leads to the first impression.
- Step 1: Before the speech. Includes your attitude about delivery, degree of preparation, your confidence level and various non verbal messages.
- Step 2: Taking the stage Includes how organized you appear, your stride, posture and confidence level, and even how friendly and approachable you appear.
- Step 3: Establishing initial audience connection. Stand before audience feet firmly planted, exude friendly confidence through posture and poise, establish rapport through eye contact and calmly wait each and every audience member to “be ready” to hear your words.
- Step 4: Speaking your first words. First spoken words: Know your first two lines. Project the words using plenty of vocal variety and pauses for impact. (Be careful to not look down at your cards and break the connection with the audience.)
Control the Energy
Be alert to competing energies unique to each speaking environment.
- Speaker’s Energy: Speaker energy related to and about the presentation (are you excited or dreading, prepared or unprepared) and your energy outside the presentation (your health or stressors that impact your personal energy).
- Audience’s Energy: Collective energy of the group (high/low, weak/strong) vs individual group member’s energy (negative/positive).
- Room Energy: The size, temperature, lighting and set up all influence the feeling of the presentation.
These energies commingle to create a complex dynamic. Anticipate and respond appropriately to create a conducive, receptive environment.
Engage your diaphragm to speak up. Speaking from your diaphragm ensures that words are fueled by your breath and resonate from deep within you. Over time, speaking from your throat rather than your diaphragm can damage your vocal cords. There is a direct correlation between controlling nervous energy and speaking up. The more you project your words competently, the more confident you feel.
Make the speech all that it can be by taking advantage of every opportunity your speech allows. Each speech contains specific opportunities and constraints it is up to you to consciously engage the audience and make the content come alive. Plan ways to capitalize on every opportunity. Look for ways to use your voice and body as you deliver the words but don’t stop there. Look for ways to activate each of the senses for your audience to create a more dynamic experience. Most people have few opportunities to stand before an audience and create change . . . make the most of the opportunity. Guess what? When you plan cool things, you will get excited to share them with your audience.
Power of the Pause
Use the power of silence to solicit a specific response from the audience. There are four types of pauses.
- Transitional: Pause used to notify the audience of a change in ideas both large (points) and small (research and connections). Length of the pause depends upon the size of the change.
- Dramatic: Pause used to add impact to an idea. Can be used to gain attention usually for humor or to make a profound point, like asking probing questions of the audience.
- Impact: A short pause used to create emphasis and interest prior to verbally emphasizing certain words with tone and pitch. Typically incorporated prior to numbers, conjunctions, adjectives and pronouns a short pause is inserted before the verbal emphasis is added.
- Unplanned: Strategy a speaker incorporates live to reset the focus or direction of the speech. Speaker stops speaking and waits long enough to continue the speech as planned.
Although they may arise spontaneously, for best effect, plan pauses in advance. Indicate the type of pause on your cards to ensure you implement them during your delivery.
Engage, Engage, Engage
Plan thoughtful ways to keep your audience involved in your presentation prior to taking the stage. Having heard, critiqued and advised a plethora of speeches, I recommend that speakers incorporate each of the 4 Ps for an engaging speech include:
- Personal stories: Share personal stories that includes details: who, what, where, why, how and how. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.
- Probing questions: Ask probing questions that require the audience to conjure up their own experience and connection to the content.
- Props (3D): Incorporate objects that demonstrate or illustrate content from your speech. Be creative.
- Physical activities: Inject activities that require at least two audience members to move from sitting in their seat. (Stand request to verify audience response/role plays)
Use Your Space Wisely
As human beings our sense of space resonates deeply, the study of space is called “proxemics”. If someone gets too close to us or is too far away it affects how we react and respond. Consider how to take best advantage the space no matter what the configuration to solicit the best audience response. This principle goes far beyond “taking a few steps on stage” while you are speaking. Rather use your space to toy you’re your audience’s expectation of space. Since cultural influences create a powerful response to space dynamics within each of us; breaking cultural norms can be a creative way to gain the audience’s attention. Your space includes staging various different elements including use of stage, interaction with podium/lectern, movement into the audience or unexpected (planned) responses from audience members, and the placement of the speaker’s body in respect to audience. Few things will solicit the audience immediate response than walking into the audience and getting close to an audience member or bringing an audience member to the stage. Many speakers completely overlook how they can use “proxemics” to create interest and intrigue in their speech.
Speaking engagements fit into events in a very specific way both in purpose and the time allotted. First and foremost, seek and respect guidelines on time and have an awareness of where the presentation fits into the event. Depending upon the location and cultural nuances at play, you as the speaker should adapt to the specific event context.
Dance with Your Audience
Develop an acute awareness of how each audience member responds to each word, pause and gesture you convey during your speech. Excellent eye contact with your audience is required to master this principle. Read, respond and react appropriately to fulfill the ultimate purpose for the speech.
Once you have mastered the other delivery principles ... Have fun! Relax and be “in the moment,” able to enjoy and have fun with the experience. The more you remain in the moment, the less anxiety you’ll feel, and the more easily you’ll be able to actually look forward to your audience appreciating your efforts.
Mastery of this delivery principle, “have fun” cannot occur until you can seamlessly employ the other principles. If you are struggling to "control the energy" and can’t seem to establish eye contact because you are reading off the cards, you cannot "dance with the audience" thus, you really can’t be having too much fun. Work through each delivery principle in this order, believe it or not, before you know it, you will be "having fun"!
The delivery principles are in a particular order. As you attempt to master each, begin by challenging yourself with the first three delivery principles and evaluate your progress. As you master each, move to the next principle. For instance, mastery of the final delivery principle, “have fun” cannot occur until you can seamlessly employ the other principles. If you are struggling to control the energy and can’t seem to establish eye contact because you are reading off the cards, you cannot dance with the audience and you really can’t be having too much fun. So work through each delivery principle in this order and before you know it, you will be having fun! Stay tuned each week for an in depth exploration of each principle.
Written by J.R. Steele, M.S.
Read more posts by J.R. Steele, M.S.