Our increasing use of Zoom and other platforms for giving presentations, speeches and other communications has focused our minds on the skills required to do this well. To deliver your message well you need to create connection, change and confidence. Let’s look at these to understand how you can develop as a skilful and sincere speaker either in person on via the screen.
If you can’t connect with your audience, you might as well be talking to yourself!
Think about how you connect with people socially. You probably smile, make good eye contact, etc. and come across as likeable. What you say is also important and the fastest way to create a connection is to talk about things which you care about and which are interesting to the other person.
Unless you are talking to a small group you know well, it is always a good idea to find out as much as you can about your audience in advance. As a speaker, it’s your job is so answer their “‘What’s in it for me?” question.
Knowing your audience will also give you strong pointers about delivery – whether you might need slides and how many, relevant stories you might include, appropriate levels of energy, vocal variety, body language and so on. Body language still applies even if your audience can only see your head and shoulders online.
Speaking is an opportunity to share your knowledge, positively impact others and drive change. Having researched your audience, you will have a good idea of what information and message they will value.
When preparing a talk, try starting at the end. What do you want your audience to think, feel or do differently after they’ve heard your talk or presentation? What is the one important message you need them to take away? Jot it down in large letters in fewer than ten words and keep it visible. Any content that doesn’t support your message doesn’t belong in this particular talk.
Confidence matters because it is part of your authority and credibility as a speaker. When audiences sense you’re nervous, they will often be more concerned about your wellbeing than about what you’re saying. Confidence allows your listeners to relax and engage with what you have to say; your message, not how you’re feeling.
Confident speakers are frequent speakers, so take every opportunity to speak up, be it to a small group, in video meetings, or on a call. Take every opportunity to practise different techniques, e.g. voice projection, storytelling, opening a session with impact. Invite people to give you specific feedback on what they liked and any improvements they would welcome to improve their experience.
A huge part of confidence comes from being true to yourself. So how do you remain authentic?
- You care, we care
When you talk about something you care about, your personal passion will shine through. Assuming you’ve taken care to choose a topic that’s relevant to your audience, they will happily connect and engage with you.
- We love a good story
In prehistoric times people shared stories around the campfire. Storytelling continues to connect us as human beings. Opening a talk with a well-crafted and relevant personal story will captivate an audience. And because it’s personal, it’s authentic and uniquely yours to tell.
Stories are also memorable and create and far more impact than facts and figures.
- Your voice
Your voice is part of who you are. Your accent is part of your identity. Authenticity is not about changing your voice. It’s about being proud of your voice and learning to use it effectively. Consider the pace, pitch and volume of your voice and how to project it so that your words are clear, interesting and meaningful. Use pauses for impact or, for instance, to give your audience time to reflect on what you’re saying.
- Your body doesn’t lie
If your words don’t match your facial expressions or hand gestures, audiences will believe what they see over what they hear:
‘When the eyes say one thing, and the tongue another,
a practiced man relies on the language of the first.’
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, essayist
You can finesse your body language. For instance, too many hand gestures or arm waving can become distracting; try dialling it down by letting your hands relax at your side. You want to use gestures and expressions that feel natural and reinforce your words and meaning. Notice your body language in everyday conversation and bring that authenticity to your talks, scaling up or down for the size of your audience and the platform (scale it up for a large conference style, dial it down for a small video meeting).
- Authenticity leads to originality
We live in a world that values authenticity. We encourage transparency and openness. We want to hear each other’s stories and we embrace vulnerability. The bonus of being authentic is that you don’t have to work out how to be someone you’re not. Furthermore, it often feels as if there is so much information available to us that it’s difficult to come up with something new and interesting to say. Being authentic in everything you say and do helps you come across as original and unique and congruent with the work you do.
Using connection, change and confidence you can become the skilful and authentic speaker you want to be.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lyn Roseaman, DTM 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