Public speaking is a skill and you can learn it. While the content is the key, your presentation skills will make a difference in how the audience will respond to it and how much they will benefit from it.
Are you preparing to deliver a presentation and feeling nervous and agitated? You have all the materials, knowledge, but still feel anxious about speaking?
A good presentation requires a relaxed and confident speaker, that will gain the trust and respect of the audience. This is especially crucial, if you are speaking before an audience that doesn’t know you. The first few seconds are key, because the first impression will impact how people perceive you during the speech and how much credit they give you at the start.
Here are a few tips I would like to share with you today on how to create a bold stage presence, so you appear comfortable, trustworthy and convincing.
1. Get introduced
As a speaker, you want to have someone who will take care of the organizational details and all the announcements, from switching off mobile phones to the silent mode to details of the coffee break and the location of the restrooms. You should be invited to the stage with a short introduction. Think of a few words you would like the master of ceremony to use when inviting you to the stage.
2. Walk in with confidence
Your body language says more than words and in these first few seconds you are communicating with the audience before actually speaking a single word. Walk onto the stage with confidence and adjust the pace to your topic. If you are running an exciting event, show the excitement in your moves, be energetic, make bigger steps, smile and relax. If you are making a strategic announcement or delivering tragic news, adjust your movements to the situation, walk at a slower pace with smaller steps, ground yourself before speaking. In both cases it is important to appear confident and in control.
3. Keep eye contact
Whether you are talking to a small group or big crowd you need to keep eye contact with the audience. Scan the audience before you start speaking and maintain the contact throughout your speech. Every few seconds, choose a random face in the crowd and speak just to him or her.
4. Use pauses
A pause can be as powerful as the content. Plan a few pauses in your speech, let the audience have a few seconds to reflect on what you sad. A pause means you remain silent and your body motionless. Remain still and watch the audience. Then move before continuing your speech. If you move during the pause, you distract the audience and the impact it lost.
“There are two kinds of speakers – those who get nervous and those who are liars.”
5. Make a few distinct gestures
Think about your body language when you prepare your speech or presentation and add a few bold gestures to illustrate the key elements of your speech. Plan it ahead and practice. It is important to use those bold movements or gestures to help your audience to visualize but also to refocus on you. Confidence in your movements will help you to establish your stage presence.
6. Control your hands
Hand movements distinguish a confident and relaxed speaker from a nervous one. If you do not know what to do with your hands, rest them in front of you and use them to make distinct points during your speech. You can also hold an object – clicker or pointer, if you use slides or marker, in case you write on a board. You may hold some notes, but make sure they are on a smaller piece of paper, between a business card and A5, you don’t want to shuffle big pieces of paper in front of you.
7. Control your body
It is important you are aware of your body balance. Try to ground yourself from the beginning and come back to this position every time you are making a strong point. Try to avoid balancing on your feet, but do not lock your knees either – both those positions indicate a nervous speaker. Every now and then try to bring your awareness to your body, check your position, relax any tension you may feel. You should try to move purposefully.
Your voice is an instrument, it only works if you breathe properly. If you control your breathing, your voice will be stronger and clearer. Before you start speaking, take a deep breath. It is important your brain gets the oxygen to function properly. It also helps you to relax, if you start feeling anxious.
9. Use the space around you.
The bigger the stage or space the more you should use it. Don’t be afraid to come closer to the audience, particularly when you reach the climax of your speech. The stage is your territory, claim it, own it. In a big room, it is important you use not only the center, but also the sides, so the audience can get a fair share of you.
10. Make them laugh...
It may not always be appropriate, but a dose of humor will certainly make your speech better. People want to be entertained and even if it is a professional presentation, you can always find a way to deliver it with a twist. Think about a funny quote or an anecdote you may share with the audience. Make sure it is connected with the subject and adds value to your speech.
Don’t forget to have fun! Presenting can be a great experience and it is down to the speaker to make it one for the audience. You are delivering the message, make sure it is worthwhile.
End of the year is a time of looking back and summarizing achievements and making plans for the New Year. It is the time of Christmas parties, awards giving evenings and company speeches.
If you are the one to deliver a speech, here are a few tips on how to create an ultimate speech.
Think about the following:
- speech structure
- speech content
- the message
First of all, your speech has to be structured. Make a list of the points you want to deliver. Start with general information and then go into details. Do not overload your speech as people usually remember 3 to 5 key elements. Keep it short and to the point.
You may thank the employees for their work, mention some results and achievements, name a few people to give them recognition. You may also mention some problems and issues, but show how you overcame them or what plans you have for next year to improve.
Remember your speech should have clear opening, body and closing.
1. Opening – the reason for the speech
2. Body – important information, achievements, mentions and recognitions
3. Closing – summary and plans for future
The content of your speech is what needs to be communicated. Choose a few important areas to cover and make sure you deliver it in a positive spirit.
Don’t be shy to share a personal story, to share your thoughts with the people. Use empathetic words to create an atmosphere of a very special evening.
The message, is the key element of your end of the year speech. This is what you want to get across to the people and something you want them to remember. It is important to be inspiring and motivating whilst at the same time showing confidence so others will share your confidence and enthusiasm.
You may consider making your speech less formal, bringing some humour. Be careful to use it in moderation, not to distract from the message.
When recognizing individuals or giving awards, make sure you make some personal remarks about each person, but also find a way to recognize the team and those who enabled the success as well. Make your speech memorable and inspiring!
I have never been shy of standing in front of a crowd, big or small. I have to admit, I enjoyed being in the spotlight and surely I love to talk. Years of company training sessions, various professional presentations and I thought I knew it all.
When I went to my first Toastmasters meeting, I was truly surprised how structured and organised it was. I was impressed from the beginning to the end and I realized I still have a lot to learn. It was a perfect opportunity for me and I was sure I had to join.
Now I look at my time at Toastmasters and while I am only half way through my CC manual, I know I am a new born speaker.
1. Organize my speech – My problem was overconfidence. Years of speaking experience, especially in the area of my expertise, gave me a false feeling I do not need to organize and prepare too much. The result was a loose structure and, as a result, I always ran out of time. Trying to share too much, going into details in one area and then skipping elements to wrap up, because the clock was ticking.
At Toastmasters we learn from the beginning to get organized, to ensure the speech has an opening, body and closing and we make sure the transitions are smooth.
2. Keep it simple and get to the point – trying to say too much, making digressions and not having a strong message? I’ve been there. Sometime there is just so much I want to share! If I am passionate about the subject, have researched it well and have all the data and information in my head, I just want you to have it too!
With this overload of valuable information, it is difficult to point out what is most important. The best approach is to keep it short and simple with a strong opening, three key elements, summary and a strong closing message!
3. Respect the time – one extra minute, maybe five, oh well, we can just shorten our coffee break. I learned to respect the time. If I am scheduled for a 7 minute speech, I have 7 minutes and 30 second before I will be interrupted. There is no excuse, we have to be on schedule and the ability to fit a speech into a precise time frame is a skill I owe to Toastmasters. It helps to keep me on track, focus on key elements and deliver a message before I see the red light.
4. Body language and voice – speech is not only about what you say, but how you say it. The more powerful the expressions, the more impact you will make on those listening. Using body dynamics to show emotions, playing with voice to strengthen the message. Sometimes it requires going out of our own comfort zone or use some acting skills. In a safe and friendly environment of Toastmasters meetings, we are allowed to experiment with our body language to enhance the speaking experience.
5. Show your emotions – giving a presentation in front of a client, running a training session in the office, I always kept a professional tone and distance. All wrong! A speaker has to play on the emotions of the audience both head and heart. Using emotions in a speech is important and should not be feared. A seasoned speaker has to light a fire in a heart, turn any topic into an interesting story, gain audience trust and take them for a journey. And yes, company speeches and presentations can be inspiring, otherwise why should we make them?
We are approaching the end of the year, a time for celebrations and looking back at the last 12 months. It is a time of Christmas parties and speeches. If you want to find out how to deliver a winning speech at the end of the year, read my next article.
Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of helping members improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills.
Through its thousands of member clubs, Toastmasters International offers a program of communication and leadership projects designed to help people learn the arts of speaking, listening, and thinking.
For more information, please visit Toastmasters International official website.
Body language impacts how others perceive you. What really matters, it is not what you say, but how you say it and, most importantly, how your body conveys that message.
According to the research studies – words, tone of voice and body language – account differently when it comes to our perception of another person. And while we like to think that it is the content that matters, only 7% accounts for the words. The tone of your voice is more important 38%, but the real focus should be on body language which accounts for 55%. Your message is only as strong, as convincing is your body language and tone of your voice.
Your body language also reveals how you feel and think about yourself. The way you enter the boardroom or the meeting, can make a good first impression, build credibility and trust if you feel good and confident. Your posture, your walk, speed of movements, hand gestures can show your confidence and high self-esteem.
5 tips on body language to make a good first impression
Good posture makes you look confident, shows good energy and health. Remember to keep straight, roll back your shoulders and keep your chin up. Try to avoid crossing arms, while it may be simply a comfortable position but it may be taken as you are not open to the conversation.
If you walk confidently, you will be able to build instant credibility and the reaction to you will be noticeable different. Try to keep a moderate pace of your walk. If you rush, you look stressed and chaotic. But if you are very slow in your movements, it may be taken as a sign of poor confidence, insecurity or health issues.
Give a firm, confident handshake when you meet your client or business partner. Do not try to power the other person down. Offer a straight vertical hand instead of palm down one to take control. Avoid the ‘wet noodle’ handshake that comes from timid and easily intimidated people.
Keep a comfortable space between you and the other person. If you are too far away offering a handshake you will have to lean forward and bow, if you are too close the handshake may feel uncomfortable as you are invading someones personal zone.
Eye contact is essential to create successful personal and business relationship, but so many of us find it difficult to do it effectively.
Keep an eye contact when shaking hand and maintain it during the meeting. Inconsistent eye contact is a sign that you are either not interested or extremely unconsidered.
You also do not want to look down when making a point, as it may look like you are uncomfortable or unsure with the statement.
Smile to show you feel comfortable and relaxed in business or social gatherings. Use smile at your business meeting to greet clients and partners, respond with smile if the conversation is to break the ice and of casual topics. But avoid smiling during serious negotiations as it may be taken for a sign of insecurity.
Image perception and first impression creation process is somehow similar to the decision-making process when it comes to buying products. Economics Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman describes the decision making process theory in his book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’.
While we would like to believe that we make decisions based on calculation of needs, price and product benefits, we actually based on our intuition and emotions. Kahneman describes two systems: System 1 is the lazy one – intuitive and emotional, the one he calls ‘a machine for jumping into conclusion’.
The conscious assessment of product features and benefits, comes later and requires effort and energy. That process is a rational system 2. As Kahneman says: ‘You generally believe your impressions and act on your desires’.
This is exactly what happens when it comes to first impression. The intuition, feelings and desires take over and we jump into conclusion. We do not have time to analyze all elements, it is the general feel that is created instantly that impacts us the most.
Similarly to packaging of the product and information the package contains. Customers rarely spend time to look at the detailed information. Our brain actively seeks information that conﬁrms its view of the world, and if the information is not available or missing, it simply fills the gaps by making up the stories, that it can access from its own memory.
When it comes to first impression of someone, we base our opinion on very little information. But our brain needs to fill the gaps, so it draws conclusions to create a full picture. That picture is a result of a person’s previous experience, hence the created image might be different and is more a reflection of own beliefs, values, expectations than the reality.
The more information we have about the other person, the more contacts and interactions, the more detailed the picture is. Another important factor is time. With time we can actually think and assess the information. We suppress the first impression and feelings and we start rationalizing.
It is striking, how many resemblances it has with a buying process. The less information and time we have to make a buying decision, the more likely we are to make an intuitive, emotional purchase. The cheaper the product, the more likely we are to make the quick decision. If we are buying an expensive product like a house or a car, we take our time, we analyze and compare.
Very similarly we react to people. We heavily rely on first impression and we quickly jump into conclusions based on persons appearance and behavior. But when it comes to important matters like choosing an employee, we run an extensive process. We gather information, conduct meetings, compare and evaluate. The first impression gives us the feel, that impacts the way we perceive the candidate. If it is positive we are more likely to interpret the other information to his or her benefit. If the impression is not positive, even best resume will not convince us.
“First impression is an idea, feeling or opinion about a person formed without conscious thought or on the basis of little evidence.”
We deeply believe that it is our character and personality that counts, but the reality is that people make judgements about who we are based on first impression. It is not always the most accurate representation. And because it is formed in very short time and based on a very little information, it is always related to the other persons personal experience. Hence it is someone’s perception of you and not a real image. The accuracy of the image increases with the time. With every event or meeting with that person, we gather more information and that brings more clarity to whom he or she is.
We need to think about first impression as a snapshot, a snapshot that captures the moment and nothing else. And those few first seconds are sufficient to make a conclusion about fresh acquaintances. The first impression is created in seconds at the very first encounter – either in person or over the phone or even via email or website. Surprisingly, it has a lasting effect, as we reckon it impacts the way we perceive the person in 60%.
First impression is also about the initial feeling people have meeting you. How you make them feel is more important than what you are saying. Your appearance together with your body language and the tone of your voice create the atmosphere of the meeting. You can make others feel comfortable and relaxed or stressed and pressured. Think of how people respond to you.
From the scientific point of view, our brain is a thousand years old structure. Thanks to the increased use of our brain capability, we evolved as homo sapiens. But many reactions were inherited from our ancestors, like the one that allows our brain to recognize another human as a threat or friend in a few milliseconds. It has been trained for a thousand years to judge the situation and react very quickly based on little information.
The first impression is not the same for various people. They heavily depend on their expectations, prejudices, beliefs and stereotypes. We all have a tendency to interpret situations, events and objects in our own unique way and the distortion of opinion is the result of personal experience. In the same way we differ in interpreting another person’s appearance and behavior. It is not always a bad thing, it makes life interesting and meeting people an exciting experience.
What we need to remember is that to every person their own opinion looks real, true and solid. While it is only an illusion, their perception is their reality.
“Body language is the process of using facial expressions, gestures, gaze, tone of voice and postures in order to send and receive non-verbal messages.”
Language, as a form of communication, is quite a recent discovery. Considering the history of a mankind, and while it is still a matter of discussion, we can estimate it to few hundred thousand years. Prior to that time most of our communication was similar to those of other animals – understanding and sending nonverbal cues. Humans are the only animals on Earth that developed a complicated language structure and a vocabulary, in English language*, as an example, exceeding six digit number.
In everyday life you use usually 2500 words to communicate effectively in a wide range of social and practical situations. To be able to communicate in foreign language you need around 1000 words. And in case you do not speak a foreign language and you are in a situation you need to communicate, you manage to find a way to do so. Why? Because body language is universal. It was common to our ancestors and is part of our subconscious behavior.
Facial expressions, body movements, gestures are common to all humans in all cultures. Some gestures and reactions are inborn, and they are universal around the world. Others are typical to the culture or ethnic group, are learned by observation and some are refined with age and use.
Fear, happiness, anger are not expressed by words but by our bodies. Non verbal signs can reveal much about your feelings and meaning to others and how others reveal their feelings toward you. Being aware of your body language can help you express your feelings and emotions in a better way, can also help you to be in control of the way you show and communicate your emotions.
Unlike the spoken language, body language does not consist of vocabulary and set of grammatical rules. To understand it, you need to remember about the three rules when reading and interpreting nonverbal communication elements:
1. Read gestures in clusters – only when having big picture you can get the right information
2. Look for congruence – elements that correspond with each other, there should be a harmony between the spoken and non-spoken message
3. Read gestures in context – this one is probably the most important, always interpret behavior in its context, you simply cannot single out a gesture
*The number of words in the English language is : 1,019,729.6. This is the estimate by the Global Language Monitor for January 1, 2012 although The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words.