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The Art of Public Speaking

Dugpublic speaking[3] jpgDid you know that public speaking tops the list of phobias for most people? Not spiders or snakes but it is public speaking - speech in public! I still remember my first public speech when I was a grade 8 student. Those days opportunities for public speaking were not available unlike our new generation kids. I entered the stage with a piece of paper in my hand full of points. However, seeing the crowd my mind became blank and I forgot the topic. Somehow I started with greetings and fumbled for words. I could say few scattered words but failed to make it into sentence.  The failure in my debut speech however did not dishearten me. I was so eager to speak in public because my role models were politicians of those days who can influence large crowds with their charismatic eloquence. 


Even though the beginning of my public speaking was not encouraging, years later when I look back the successful speeches in hundreds of stages with thousands of audience, attest a fact that public speaking skills can be developed. I feel public speaking not an inborn talent like singing or painting. Anyone who genuinely desires to become an orator can develop the necessary skills, if systematic preparation and practice done.

Here I attempt to provide some tips for successful preparation for public speaking and confident performance on stage.


Practice: Even great speakers practice their speeches beforehand. Practice and rehearse your speech at home or where you can be at convenience and comfortable, in front of a mirror, your family, friends or colleagues. Use a tape-recorder and listen to yourself. Videotape your presentation and analyse it. Know what your strong and weak points and rectify weak points.


Get experience: Take every opportunity you can get to speak (and listen to other speakers). Prepare well ahead of time. Experience builds confidence, which is the key to effective speaking.


Know the audience: Try to speak to one or two people in the audience as they arrive – they will be your supporters in the audience – it is easier to speak to friends than to strangers.


Know the setup: Arrive in good time to check out the speaking area. When using audio-visual aids to enhance your presentation, be sure all necessary equipment is set up and in good working order prior to the presentation. If possible, have an emergency backup system readily available.  Check out the location ahead of time to ensure seating arrangements for audience, whiteboard, blackboard, lighting, location of projection screen, sound system, etc. are suitable for your presentation.


Starting:  Begin with a recent incident or news item to catch the attention of audience.  A relevant personal story is a great start.   It connects you to the audience and creates the right emotional atmosphere (and calms your nerves).


Body language is important. Standing, walking or moving  in the stage  with appropriate hand gesture or facial expression is preferred to sitting down or standing still with head down and reading from a prepared speech. 


Use audio-visual aids or props for effective presentation if you are speaking in company meeting or a seminar: Master the use of presentation software such as PowerPoint well before your presentation. Avoid excessive use of animation, sound clips, or dark colours which are not suitable for your topic. 


Speak with conviction is very important to convince your audience. If you are not sure about the topic you speak, it is impossible to persuade your audience effectively. In order to speak with conviction, a thorough preparation of the topic is imperative. 


Systematic Presentation. If you want to make a powerful speech, prepare the layout of your speech with introduction, main points with examples (body) and conclusion. 


Do not read from notes: Don’t try to read from notes instead speak short and powerful sentences. However a glance at your notes infrequently is acceptable. Speak loudly and clearly. Sound confident.  If you made an error, correct it, and continue. No need to make excuses or apologize profusely.


Maintain sincere eye contact with your audience: Use the three second method, e.g. look straight into the eyes of a person in the audience for 3 seconds at a time. Have direct eye contact with a number of people in the audience, and every now and then glance at the whole audience while speaking. Use your eye contact to make everyone in your audience feel involved.


Observe the response of audience: Speak to your audience, listen to their questions, respond to their reactions, adjust and adapt. If what you have prepared is obviously not getting across to your audience, change your strategy. Remember that communication is the key to a successful presentation. 


Pause: Allow yourself and your audience a little time to reflect and think. Don't speak fast and non -stop instead short pauses, raising and lowering voice would make your speech attractive


Add humour whenever appropriate and possible: Keep audience interested throughout your entire presentation. Remember that an interesting speech makes time fly, but a boring speech is always too long to endure.


Time management: Know when to stop talking. Use a watch or wall  clock to check the  time  now and then  during your speech. Don't bore your audience with repetitious or unnecessary words in your oral presentation. End your speech within the time allotted.


Conclusion: To end your speech, summarize your main points. Remember to emphasise the message and make sure it reached to your audience. Leave your listeners with a positive impression and a sense of completion. Thank your audience and sit down.


In short, when you are presenting in front of an audience, you are performing as an actor is on stage. Dress appropriately for the occasion. Costume should be according to the event. Look pleasant, enthusiastic, confident, proud, but not arrogant. Remain calm. Appear relaxed, even if you feel nervous. Speak slowly, tell the points clearly and show appropriate emotion and feeling relating to your topic. Establish eye contact with your audience. Ensure your voice is audible to the back of the room. Vary the tone of your voice and dramatize if necessary. If a microphone is available, adjust and adapt your voice accordingly.


Duglas gifDuglas Joseph

(Duglas Joseph is a prolific writer on Social, Educational and Parenting issues in newspapers, magazines and online portals. Conducting counseling  sessions and seminars on teenage, career guidance and educational issues. Faculty at Gems Our Own English School Fujairah. Former faculty at Ministry of Education Maldives)


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