Article Category: Speaker Habits

5 Speaking Resolutions to
Wow Your Audience in 2012

The year is fast coming to an end, which means it’s time to set goals for the New Year.

Here are five best practices of public speaking that speakers don’t always follow, but should resolve to in 2012:

1. Pick up the phone before you pick up the pen.

You can only learn so much from event planners and the demographic information provided by the group you are addressing. It takes actual conversations with expected audience members to get a handle on their interests, needs, and knowledge of your subject.

While e-mail is passable in a pinch, it is far better to pick up the phone and talk to five rank-and-file people who likely will be in your audience. Have a few questions planned, but only use them to keep the conversation going or ask for clarification.

Chris Lu, a senior official at the White House recalled, “When I was drafting my first college commencement speech, I called several graduating seniors to learn about their campus experiences – their triumphs and struggles, favorite professors and hangout places, and common bonding moments. Drawing on these references and vignettes in my remarks, I was also able to make my speech more relevant to the audience. Afterward, several long-time professors said it was the best commencement speech they had heard.”

As Lu successfully did, make sure to listen for stories and examples you can weave into your speech, as well as inside information or jokes you can allude to. This shows your audience that you have done your research and aren’t giving a canned presentation.

2. Have a laser-focused point.

You can learn a lot by asking listeners how your speech was effective… and how it was not.

No, not a laser pointer, a laser-focused point.

It may sound obvious, but too many speakers don’t have a succinct main idea. If you can’t explain your speech in a sentence, you certainly won’t explain it in an hour.

Use a short, clear phrase or sentence that summarizes the point of your presentation to tell your audience what to expect. It doesn’t have to be the first thing out of your mouth, but should come during the introduction and set-up of your speech. Then, make sure you relate your main points back to that central idea as your presentation progresses.

3. Rehearse six times for success.

We all know that practice makes perfect, but exactly how much? Rehearse at least six times. That’s right, a minimum of six times.

Why six? There is something special about the sixth rehearsal. It’s the rehearsal when speakers truly master their content, can recover quickly from hiccups in their delivery, and feel significantly more comfortable at the lectern.

A case in point is that of work-life integration coach Carolyn Semedo, a participant in a recent series of small-group coaching classes. During one session, she acknowledged feeling frustrated that she was stumbling over the content of a presentation she was slated to deliver.

She chalked it up to being a mediocre presenter. In response to a question about her method of rehearsing, she said that she had practiced once over the weekend and again on Monday evening as she was driving to class.

Of course Carolyn’s delivery was rocky! Even the most celebrated speakers don’t have their material down on a second run through. On the contrary, speakers who make presenting look easy are those who have practiced their material the most.

Carolyn is by no means a mediocre presenter. Like many speakers, she just needed some coaching on how to rehearse. She said, “I thought that by rehearsing two or three times, I should have it nailed. It was very helpful to learn that more rehearsals were the key to a better speech.”

4. Get feedback – before and after your speech.

You can learn a lot by asking listeners how your speech was effective… and how it was not.

Video is an unparalleled learning tool.

Get a gut check before the curtain goes up; have a trusted colleague and/or a speech coach evaluate the content and delivery of your presentation. This will help prevent a situation where your presentation misses the mark or humor falls flat. It also will help you identify what works, as well as what needs refining. Make sure you ask for specific suggestions on how to improve the speech.

It is just as important to get feedback after the presentation. Written evaluations can be especially easy if the conference or event already is collecting data from listeners. Review the questionnaire ahead of time and ask to see the results. If the questionnaire isn’t thorough or specific enough, ask to add some questions or supplement it with your own form focused on the reception of your speech.

If a formal evaluation isn’t possible or appropriate, interview a few members of the audience after your presentation to see what stood out to them – asking about strengths as well as areas that need improvement. In some settings, like toasts and graduation speeches, it can be difficult to get specific feedback from members of your audience because they’re listening mainly for pleasure. In these instances, it is helpful to talk to a few known and trusted audience members beforehand, asking them to listen to the speech critically and provide an evaluation.

5. Get caught on camera.

Video is an unparalleled learning tool. Though some speakers find it painful to watch themselves on camera, reviewing recordings of rehearsals and presentations will open your eyes to bad speaking habits and other issues.

“Although I was initially apprehensive about watching the video recordings of my practice speeches,” admitted Kristie Patton, who works at the National Council on Aging, “I came to view this exercise as extremely helpful.

“It offered a valuable window into how I was communicating with my audience, both verbally and non-verbally. In addition to observing standard communication errors, like speaking too quickly or using filler words, it was also instructive to note that something as seemingly innocuous as my earrings could serve as a distraction to my audience.”

Furthermore, video is a great way to document progress. Like taking photos before starting a new diet and exercise regime, comparing video provides motivation when you see progress and the payoff for your hard work. And when you get more proficient in speaking and comfortable watching yourself on camera, recordings will become a useful tool for spreading your message well beyond your physical audience – whether you put them on YouTube, your website, social media, or other platforms.

Resolve to follow these best practices in the New Year, and your audience, undoubtedly, will see a dramatic improvement in your presentations.

What are YOUR resolutions for 2012?

In addition to these five best practices, what will you resolve to improve in 2012? Please share your resolutions in the comments.

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