Achieving persuasion in public speaking is, as Hamlet said, "a consummation devoutly to be wished." Millions of speakers, every day around the globe, hope to accomplish that goal. (Want to speak for true leadership? Discover how: download my free cheat sheet, "Leadership Skills: The 5 Essential Speaking Techniques").
Persuasiveness isn't only the domain of a persuasive speech, however. In many instances, informative speeches—as well as inspirational talks, sales pitches, comments at meetings, and other speaking situations—include efforts to convince and achieve agreement.
Advice for being persuasive in public speaking appearances isn't hard to discover, either. But in this blog, I'd like to mention an important component of persuasiveness that often doesn't show up in discussions of persuasive speaking: the need to use effective transitions.
You Know Your Message Points, But Your Audience Doesn't
A simple realization should bring home why transitions are vital to clear and persuasive speaking: your audience doesn’t know your talking points beforehand, as you do. To convey your message and have listeners follow where you’re going, you need to make logical connections among the different elements of your talk. You will also benefit from understanding your audience's needs and preferences. Learn how to conduct an audience analysis.
Logic is the concept to bear in mind here. Since you’ve conceived your presentation and know where it’s going (or needs to go), you understand how the elements of the argument you’re constructing fit together. But how will your audience understand this if you don’t make it clear to them?
Intuitive leaps and “obvious” connections have no place here. Your audience needs to be led carefully through what might otherwise be a thicket of information and causal relationships. Occasional reminders of what the overall topic at hand is, and referring back to a point you made previously, can aid your audience’s comprehension. So can specifically mentioning how your previous point is related to the point you’re about to make, through the use of summaries and previews.
Internal Summaries and Internal Previews
Let’s say you’re discussing your plan for increasing your company’s profitability through a top-to-bottom makeover of the way your firm does business. You’ve laid out three main points at the beginning of your presentation: better quality control, improved distribution, and more responsive customer service. You’ve just been talking about that first main point, greater focus on quality control. You’re now ready to discuss distribution. Clearly, this is the first major transition of your talk.
Rather than saying (as some speakers do), “Now I’d like to talk about distribution,” or pointing out (as even more speakers do), “Okay, the next slide is about distribution”—you can use an internal summary combined with an internal preview, like this:
“So I think you’ll agree that better quality control will go a long way toward giving our customers more satisfaction in the products they’re purchasing.” (You’ve just summarized your previous point.) “But of course, great quality mean little if you don’t have a distribution system that quickly and reliably gets those products to market. That’s the second element of more streamlined operations that I’d like to talk about now.” (You’ve given listeners a “preview” of what you’re about to discuss, and you’ve shown them the logical connection between your first two main points.)
For an audience to be persuaded by what you’re saying, they need to be able to follow each point as you logically and convincingly develop it. That means using transitions as a key public speaking tool. Be strong in your transitions, and you’ll be a leg up on speakers who have great content but haven’t found a way to keep audiences with them as they make their argument, every step of the way.
Key takeaways from this blog:
· Persuasion is important in all presentations, not just persuasive speeches.
· Logic is a key tool in helping your audience follow where you’re going.
· Listeners need to be carefully led through the connections you find obvious.
· Internal summaries and internal previews help explain those connections.
· Content is never enough. Transitions help listeners’ understanding.
Few things are more nerve-wracking in public speaking than the thought, "What do I do with my hands?" (Want to boost your physical presence and charisma? Learn how by downloading my free cheat sheet "Body Language: 6 Skills Building Exercises.")
Too many speakers and presenters seem at a loss when it comes to using successful body language—especially where their limbs are concerned. It's as though they just acquired those appendages before going on stage and they don't quite know how to use them.
Don't Get on a Gym Ball!
Fergus McClelland, a friend of mine and fellow speech coach, uses a brilliant image to describe this situation: he talks about speakers who look like they're on a gym ball. Haven't you seen speakers who are like that—waving their arms wildly and too energetically, who appear to be desperately trying to stay on that ball!
Actors understand that they should never give an audience everything they have: the best ones hold something back. Audiences then not only witness a powerful performance . . . they realize there's even more that they're not seeing, held in reserve. As a result, the performance demonstrates a deeper reservoir of power that's not being fully tapped.
Speakers and presenters can benefit from the same approach. In other words, the concept of containment is a key element of dynamic body language in public speaking. With that in mind, here are 4 key elements of using physical expressions productively when you're speaking in public. Together, they spell out the word C.O.R.E.
1. You must control your gestures and the other aspects of your body language. Leaders demonstrate control in nearly all of their actions, and when you speak in public, you are a leader. Maintain a strong stance (always stand if you have the choice between that and sitting to deliver a presentation), and move only when there's a purpose behind doing so. Keep your energy contained, and as explained above, you will add power to your speeches. Here are 10 ways leaders stay fully focused when speaking.
2. Start out and maintain an open physicality. This means get in the habit of beginning your speech in the "neutral position," with your arms at your sides. Bring your arms and hands up to gesture when doing so adds a visual component to what you're saying. But above all, avoid the "fig-leaf position" (hands clasped in front of crotch), the church steeple, "washing" your hands, or anything else that creates a physical barrier between you and your listeners. That goes for when you're sitting at a board table, too.
3. Make your gestures restrained. Too frequent or overly energetic gestures dissipate your energy. And of course a gesture made over and over again loses any meaning it once had. Think of the discussion above concerning containment: a slightly contained gesture advertises a level of power yet unused. Few things betray nervousness like body language that's either too tiny or too large. Limit the size of your gestures, and let them come from your core outward.
4. Gestures and movement should be emphatic, i.e., they should support or amplify what you're saying. This ties in to the magic trilogy of public speaking: a great message, developing your voice for business success, and effective movement, for each complements and strengthens the other. Complement means "that which completes or brings to perfection." What an ideal definition of the task of body language in public speaking!
Key takeaways from this blog:
- Avoid climbing on a gym ball when you speak so you look awkward.
- Gestures that are controlled will add power to your speeches.
- Stay open physically so you don't create a barrier you hide behind.
- Restrain your gesture slightly and it will become more powerful.
- Gestures and movement should support or amplify your meaning.
Combine your focus on your message with effective body language, and you'll have the "full package" for dynamic public speaking! Discover how to get people to respond to you positively and view you just the way you want them to. Download my free cheat sheet, "Dr. Gary Genard's 5 Secrets of Powerful Body Language."
You have an advantage over everyone else every time you give a speech or presentation: nobody else can be you! (Do you know how to speak for leadership? Discover key techniques in my free cheat sheet, "Leadership Skills: The 5 Essential Speaking Techniques.")
Sound obvious? It should be—but it's amazing how often speakers don't accept this fact that can and should be an asset to their public speaking.
A Tale of Two Speakers
I thought of this recently when I coached two executives, one of whom had extensive speaking experience and one who didn't. In our day-long session together, the inexperienced speaker kept trying to emulate her boss. And her boss was trying to be as good as a well known humanitarian from his country with whom he had worked on social justice issues.
What was wrong here? — Both executives were making a mistake that's common among business speakers: trying to make themselves into another speaking personality, both an absurdity and a clear impossibility.
Imagine the following situations, if these famous speakers had attempted turning themselves into an equally famous personage who had succeeded before them:
- George Washington trying to be Confucius.
- Eleanor Roosevelt imitating Pocahontas.
- Hillary Clinton speaking with Marilyn Monroe's whisper.
- Barack Obama channeling Popeye.
Ridiculous, isn't it? Of course I'm exaggerating to make a point. But it isn't as far off the mark as you may think. Speakers and presenters frequently try to be someone they aren't. The most illogical part of all this is that those other presenteres wouldn't be any good in the speaking situation anyway.
Have Faith in Yourself, Because Your Audience Does
That's because you are the person the audience actually wants to hear, not that other speaker. There's a reason, in other words, that you were asked to present: you have the credibility, the knowledge, and/or the suitability to be speaking to this audience, in this situation. The other person doesn't. (What happens if you run into resistance? Find out how to handle yourself in my cheat sheet, "7 Tips for Overcoming Audience Resistance.")
Let's go back to that pair of executives I mentioned earlier. The woman who was trying to emulate her boss was an international games competitor of a very high caliber, and the talk we were working on was a speech to young competitors in the field.
Her boss had no such credentials--so why was she looking to be like him? And her boss himself volunteered the information that the well-known humanitarian whose public speaking he admired had qualities as a chief executive that he wouldn't care to emulate.
How to Achieve True Leadership in Your Speeches
In other words, neither of these speakers had any need to become "better" than they already were. Each was highly qualified to assume the leadership roles their public speaking set out for them. In fact, leadership in these two speeches could only reside in them. In terms of your need to make an impact, here are 10 ways to stay fully focused when speaking for leadership.
We can't change who we are, so we shouldn't try to do so where public speaking is concerned. In our genuineness and honesty lies the power to reach an audience and positively influence their behavior. Every successful business speaker knows this, either intuitively or through experience.
Not such a secret? I agree. Pass it on.
Key takeaways from this blog:
- You have a natural advantage as a speaker because you're unique.
- Too many presenters try to be "better" than they are by emulating others.
- Chances are you were chosen to speak exactly because of your assets.
- Public speaking is a form of leadership, where authenticity matters.
- Your genuineness and honesty are sources of your power to persuade.
Looking for an inspiring talk? Watch Jill Bolte Taylor's "Stroke of Insight" speech on TED. This second most viewed TED talk of all time is a remarkable pairing of expertise and personal experience. Deep knowledge and an affecting story combine for a powerful reminder of what moves, educates, and inspires audiences. (To speak with true influence and impact, download my free cheat sheet, "4 Characteristics of an Influential Speaker.")
Dr. Taylor, a neuroanatomist, suffered a severe brain hemorrhage on the morning of December 10, 1996. Her left hemisphere stroke left her unable to "walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life" (http://drjilltaylor.com/about.html). As a brain scientist, however, she was able to observe closely what was happening to her. This fascinating experience forms the basis of her TED talk.
When You Speak, You Need to Be Inspirational
Do you need this kind of dramatic event in your life to be an inspirational speaker? Of course not. But whatever your expertise, you do need to inspire your listeners.
Many speakers aim only to educate their audience—and considering their unimaginative presentations, too many of those don't even accomplish that goal. In the world of business and the professions, Content is king, and PowerPoint its chief enforcer.
Your real job instead is to light a flame under your listeners, to delight them and to excite them into action based on your ideas and vision. Great content and preparation are critical to achieving this aim. So are the following four key elements of your successful performance as a speaker:
1. Launching strongly. Watch Dr. Taylor's speech to understand how to give your audience a clear indication of where you're going. Notice her clear explanation of who she is, and why that matters to what she's about to say. Clarity, in other words, is essential to allow your audience to see the landscape of your presentation. You can also grab their attention with one of 12 foolproof ways to open a speech.
2. Using visuals to reinforce your content. Not only does Dr. Taylor use her brain to allow this to happen—she brings a real human brain on stage! In her case, a prop (that brain) is the essential visual element that complements what she's saying. Think carefully about what you show your audience—and if it's PowerPoint, it probably shouldn't be a steady stream of data-filled slides. And of course the most powerful visual you show is you.
3. Finding a physical expression for what you're saying. Physical expressiveness is an easy and essential way to allow your speaking infuence to soar. Your body is one of your best tools of communication. If you doubt it, pay attention to how you move and gesture the next time you talk about something important, funny, or that amazed you. To help you, here are the 5 key body language techniques of public speaking. And here are 5 body language errors that will sink your presentation. Dr. Taylor uses her entire body throughout her speech. Here's a screen shot that's typical of her performance:
4. Telling a story. Every time you speak, you're telling a story. Call it a "narrative" if you prefer. It's the tale you need to tell to move and inspire your listeners. However strong their content, the best speakers relate it as a human story listeners can respond to. Here's how to add drama to your speeches and presentations. Dr. Taylor's story is riveting. Watch it here to discover how you can use story to make your content come alive:
Key takeaways from this blog:
- True speaking success combines expertise with a speaker's personality.
- Don't just educate audiences—delight and inspire them!
- Let audiences know where you're going with your talk.
- Be aware of visual components, and use physical expressiveness.
- Every time you speak, you're telling a story.
Looking for other ways to speak for leadership? Whether it's one-on-one, in a boardroom, to potential clients, or delivering a speech to a large audience—you need to go well beyond delivering information. True leaders move others to action. My free cheat sheet, "Leadership Skills: The 5 Essential Speaking Techniques" reveals the communication secrets you need to motivate and inspire listeners. Download it here:
In Shakespeare's most famous play, Hamlet tells the character Rosencrantz: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” It’s a statement that’s absolutely true concerning your own thoughts about your fear of public speaking. (To become a dynamic rather than a nervous speaker, download our free cheat sheet "How to Calm Your Nerves Before Speaking.")
In one sense, you create your own fearful response to public speaking. That’s because, almost universally, there is never as much danger or risk as you think there is concerning a speech or presentation. But your anxiety leads you down a path with no exit, since you’re substituting your fears for more accurate measures to judge your success. And so you create a false reality that’s actually much harsher than the actual speaking situation.
You need, of course, to change such unprofitable thinking about speaking in public, to turn unhealthy thoughts into a constructive mind-set. Banish the negative self-talk that’s been undermining your achievements, and you'll be able to build a repertoire of positive coping statements to take their place. By doing so, you’ll discover how to evaluate your speaking performances more realistically, using accurate measures of your progress.
Is that a lot to accomplish? Maybe. But you’ll be able to do it. That’s because restructuring negative thinking is a key activity in overcoming speech anxiety—and no one knows as much about your own negative thoughts as you do. (Do you know how to use body language to improve your speaking confidence? Click on that link to find out!)
This process, of re-routing negative thinking into productive channels is called “cognitive restructuring.” For you as a presenter, it simply means going from a negative mindset to a positive one where public speaking is concerned. Another way to say this is: you’ll be changing your role from being your own worst enemy to becoming your own best friend as a speaker.
Are You Biased Against Yourself?
Karen: A Case Study
Karen is a 36-year-old Senior Learning Manager for a leading computer manufacturer. She conducts in-house workshops worldwide for IT managers on the software that her company sells. She came to Public Speaking International a little less than a year ago because, she said, “I’m a horrible presenter!” Not only did she believe that she had no talent for speaking in public. She was also sure that she was broadcasting that fact to her trainees.
In Karen’s mind, it was only a matter of time before her firm’s management discovered the awful truth about her lack of skills and let her go. So she was a bundle of nerves: terrified of conducting the training workshops that were the core of her job, while to her own thinking she was “living a lie” and was constantly on the verge of being found out.
Note Karen’s response to her public speaking assignments, as described above: She believed that she had no talent for the task. She was certain everyone else realized it too. And she knew she was living a lie as a supposedly competent training professional. Clearly, Karen’s own cognitive process was a major stumbling block to her job satisfaction and feelings of self-worth!
Naturally, Karen desperately wanted to improve what she considered inferior skills as a trainer and presenter. But as I pointed out to her, before she could get to that point, she had to change her thinking. Starting out with feelings of negative self-worth is the weakest possible position from which to build dynamic speaking skills.
* * *
Let’s take Karen’s situation and apply it to the general population of people with speaking anxiety. After all, feelings like hers are common among people who believe they’re simply poor speakers.
One of the biggest challenges anxious speakers like Karen face is that they overestimate how negatively other people will judge their performance. The truth is that most audience members aren’t picking apart a presenter’s speaking skills. Instead, they’re looking for something positive from the experience—for they want to know that attending this meeting or lecture is worth their time. In this sense, audiences actually have little interest in the speaker. They’re much more focused on the message and the information being given. While that may seem a little rough in terms of your reception from an audience, it’s actually good news since you’re not under as harsh a spotlight as you may have imagined!
But if you’re speech phobic, you aren’t aware of this, because you’re too busy monitoring what you consider to be your own poor performance. You’re biased against yourself! You may, in fact, be doing quite well. But you spoil your success by creating “a negative reality.” Then you reinforce your belief that you’ll do badly through self-criticism . . . even if you’ve actually succeeded with your goal for the speech! You might even say that you’re determined to be miserable despite your success.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? If it does, you need to make the commitment not to indulge in self-talk like this that’s clearly counter-productive to successful speeches and presentations.
Key takeaways from this blog:
- We create our own fearful, non-realistic response to public speaking.
- You can turn unhealthy thoughts into a positive mind-set.
- A positive outlook can help you judge your performance accurately.
- You can actually be biased against yourself and undermine your success.
- Make a commitment not to indulge in self-talk that's counter-productive.
Now that you've developed a more positive mind-set, why not learn how to stay more focused and aware as a speaker? Leaders and dynamic speakers both know how to control the speaking situation. Do you? To be a more influential presenter, download my cheat sheet: "10 Ways to Stay Fully Focused when Speaking."
Here's a paradox of PowerPoint that you may not have thought about: PowerPoint is a primarily visual tool, but most presenters fill their slides with verbal content. (Discover the art of effective PowerPoint performance with my free cheat sheet, "5 Rules for Succeeding with PowerPoint").
Doesn't make much sense, does it?
A side-by-side comparison I saw recently showed two screen grabs: One was of Bill Gates using PowerPoint, and the slide behind him had four or five bullet points. The companion screen grab was Steve Jobs, standing in front of a screen showing . . . an image. No nouns, verbs, prepositions, or dangling participles: instead, there was a single image of an iPhone.
Which of those presentations do you think was probably more effective?
Words Are Fine If You Use Them Well
There's a reason most speakers create PowerPoint slides filled with words: these speakers are more comfortable using language than creating visual designs. That's not a surprise—we spend thousands of hours in classrooms learning how to read and write, though rarely do we learn much about the graphic arts.
All of us would be better presenters if we learned how to use PowerPoint more visually. But even if we don't learn to do so, we can certainly create more effective slides where language is concerned. In fact, there are two critically important ways we must use language effectively when we present with PowerPoint, regardless of how talented we are creating visually effective presentations.
Use these two techniques, and you will become recognized as a powerful presenter who knows the techniques of persuasive speaking. The techniques are extremely simple, though no less effective because of that fact.
Use Title Slides
Ever see a silent movie? If you have, you realize how important title slides are to understanding what is happening on the screen. Silent movie actors were masters at using physical expression to display emotion, intention, and motive. In fact, if you want to understand how body language works to educate audiences, you'd do well to watch some silent films and learn from the real pros. (Discover how to get people to respond to you positively through "Dr. Gary Genard's 5 Secrets of Powerful Body Language.")
But physicality isn't everything. In fact, there are 5 key body language errors that will sink your presentation. As human beings, we have an inherent ability to use and comprehend one of nature's premiere tools of communication: spoken language. Certainly as speakers and presenters we grasp the centrality of this fact. But prior to 1929, "talkies" didn't exist, and so silent movies used title slides to inform movie-goers what was taking place in the story.
Here are some title slides from the 1923 silent film The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring the great Lon Chaney:
"Notre Dame, the Cathedral Church of Paris [image of church]: A spiritual haven in a brutal age . . . a sanctuary where the persecuted could find protection."
"Esmeralda, a child of mystery . . . whom Clopin bought from gypsies and raised as his own."
"Our day is coming, when we'll bow our heads to no man!"
Modern audiences usually need to absorb large amounts of information in any presentation. Speakers often have a habit of showing them slide after PowerPoint slide filled with bullets, charts, selling points, and other forms of data. It can all be deadening and difficult to absorb and retain.
The solution? Create title slides like those from silent movies that break up the sections of your presentation and make it much easier for listeners to place the mass of information in context. In 1-5 words, alert the audience what is coming next, and they will be primed to place this information in its proper context and to remember it afterwards.
Use Slide Headings to Accomplish Your Purpose
If you use slides with headings such as Agenda, Introduction, Thank You, and Any Questions?, you are wasting golden opportunities you have to persuade listeners and accomplish your purpose.
These headings are boring and achieve nothing. Audiences have seen them a thousand times; and besides, what is their purpose? We can clearly see from the content of a slide that it shows an agenda. And the word "Introduction" is only so much throat-clearing—what you are about to say to actually introduce your topic is what really interests people. The often-used "Thank You" and "Any Questions?" slides are completely meaningless, since these are things a speaker should say and not display on a screen.
The moment you inform an audience of what you and they will share in this discussion, you have made your topic sound interesting and something that they would like to hear. For instance, instead of a slide headed "Agenda" in a recent public speaking workshop I conducted, my PowerPoint slide read:
Your Path to More Dynamic Presentation Skills
The material I was about to present in the day-long seminar was, of course, exactly the same as if I'd used the word "Agenda." But the heading on that slide was already persuading the workshop attendees that the day would be worth their while. A slide headed "Agenda" would not have done that, and would actually have started the workshop off in a bland and uninformative way.
Rather than a slide that reads "Introduction," ask yourself not only what you actually want to introduce, but how you are going to launch the first main section of your talk. You may already have thought carefully about that. If so, use a heading that gets your listeners on the right wavelength immediately. One of my recent slides along these lines read:
5 Ways to Speak as a Leader
which introduced the approach I was going to take in the material that followed. Another read:
Find a Physical Expression for the Words You Are Saying
as the introduction to a section on body language and public speaking.
As always when you use PowerPoint, the story you tell and your passion and skill in telling it are the critical factors in whether you'll succeed or fail. But why not use the two simple tools above to enrich your talk and, far more important, use your verbal content to further your purpose and the actions you want to instill in your audiences?
Thank you. Any questions? (Imagine you just heard me saying that!)
Key takeaways from this blog:
- PowerPoint is primarily a visual tool, though presenters use it mostly verbally.
- Language as well as images can be used to persuade and influence.
- Body language is important, but words accomplish other key goals.
- Title slides will help your listeners put information into context.
- Use slide headings to further the purpose you're trying to achieve.
Did you know that you're as much a performer as an actor when you deliver a presentation? Actors, of course, are performers par excellence of the spoken word. When you deliver a speech or presentation, you too are using a magical combination of language, voice, and physical expression to create a reality that is unlike any other. (Want to make your presentations unforgettable? Download my free cheat sheet, "5 Ways to Captivate an Audience.")
Like an actor as well, you have the opportunity to live two lives onstage. The stage performer is at once himself or herself and the character in the play, movie, or television show. In the case of your public speaking, you have a similar ability to inhabit your personal motives while tapping into the desires and hopes of your audience. That's simply one of the essentials of good communication skills.
There are many paradoxes that exist in the world of the theater. Perhaps the biggest is the fact that audiences believe in the actor's performance as a character not through artifice, but through truth. We all know that Actor X or Actress Y is only performing a role—that he or she isn't really that person in the drama. But we believe it completely, because the actor is true to every moment of that character's life as it unfolds in the story.
Actors accomplish this feat through what is called "the illusion of the first time." Even if an actor is performing King Lear for the thousandth time, every audience member must believe that Lear is hearing dialogue and experiencing the events in Shakespeare's play as it's never happened before.
Stanislavski and the "Magic If"
Another tool in the actor's repertoire is even more closely connected to public speaking. It's a concept developed by the great Russian actor and acting teacher Constantin Stanislavski (1863-1938). As an administrator of the Moscow Art Theater, Stanislavski created an approach to acting based on believable emotions and physical actions that can help elicit those emotions. His famous System—imperfectly interpeted—became the model for the method acting approach of the Actors Studio in New York, whose alumni include Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, Al Pacino, and many other famous names in American theater and film.
One of Stanislavski's best known concepts is that of the "magic if". The actor asks in the early stages of rehearsal: "What would I do if I were this character in this circumstance?" By answering that question, the performer is able to approach the reality of the character's life from a standpoint closer to what the author intended than the actor's personal life. Of course, understanding your audience as a public speaker is important as well. Here's how to conduct an audience analysis to be clearer on your listeners and their needs.
Here's Your Chance to Be a Star!
Consider how Stanislavski's tool can benefit you in public speaking: It can help you live in the world of your audience rather than just your own.
Speakers who can't do this greatly hamper their presentations. They become wrapped up either in the information they are delivering, or their own self-consciousness and anxiety about public speaking—or both. And so they end up trying to accomplish the impossible: focusing their attention and energy on their own interests and desires rather than those of the people they're trying to reach.
The audience, of course, are the people you're trying to persuade, move, inspire, or influence in any of a number of other ways. But none of that can happen if you as speaker are living in the world of your own needs instead of the audience's.
So why not use the "magic if" to turn your focus around? Your thinking then becomes: "What if I were a member of this audience? — What would I be hoping to get from this speech or presentation?"
Imagine (a wonderful word!) how all the aspects of your talks would benefit: your preparation, your decisions on what material to include, your consideration of your audience's engagement and interest level, and the delivery skills you need to move your listeners.
What if you succeeded at that level with your audiences, every time? Wouldn't that be a formula that seems, well, magical?
Key takeaways from this blog:
- You're as much a performer as an actor when you give a presentation.
- When you speak, focus on your own desires and those of your audience.
- Like an actor, aim for truth and you'll achieve excellence.
- The "magic if" allows you to ask what your audience wants from you.
- Live in the world of your audience and you'll be a memorable speaker.
Combine your focus on your audience with effective body language, and you'll have the "full package" for dynamic public speaking! Discover how to get people to respond to you positively and view you just the way you want them to. Download my free cheat sheet, "Dr. Gary Genard's 5 Secrets of Powerful Body Language."
The above photo captures the supreme excitement of a political campaign better than perhaps any in history. It's Wendell Willkie, the Republican nominee for president in 1940 at a parade in his hometown of Elwood, IN. (To discover how to make what you say unforgettable, download my free cheat sheet, "5 Ways to Captivate an Audience.")
This week, I remembered that photo and a speaker's ability to excite a crowd with regard to a much more recent politial figure. The occasion was the dedication of George W. Bush's presidential library in Dallas. Of course, the younger President Bush never was much of a public speaker, and he didn't often generate enthusiasm from his platform skills. It was Peggy Noonan's article in the Wall Street Journal concerning the opening that made me think of speakers who embody true charisma. (Peggy Noonan, "The Presidential Wheel Turns," Wall Street Journal, April 27-28, 2013.)
One sentence in particular registered in my mind with great power:
Because their hearts are engaged.
Ms. Noonan was referring to speakers who show emotion openly on stage. Doing so is one of three ways you can achieve true charisma when you speak. I discuss each of those ways below.
1. Engage Your Heart and Show That to Your Audience. We hear a lot about charisma and stage presence with regard to public speaking. Too often, it seems, we treat it as a commodity, as though it can be manufactured and produced on stage like a magic trick. It can't. True charisma always emerges from a heart that's engaged with the needs of one's audience, and not oneself. And that can only emerge from dealing with one's listeners honestly (more on that point below).
Delivering "key" information as information not only runs the risk of becoming a sterile exercise; it is never the reason you speak. Engagement, interest, and ultimately, action taken on the part of the audience constitute the purpose of your speech or presentation. To learn how to speak for true leadership in this way, download these 5 essential speaking techniques. That means telling a story the audience can relate to, whatever the specific information you inpart. And stories can only come to life if they beat with a human heart. Iago in Othello may not have liked to wear his heart on his sleeve, but you as a speaker must.
One of the essential ways to do this is to use emotional language: "love" not "like"; "exciting" rather than "interesting"; "kick our competition's ass" instead of "become the market leader." Here, for instance, is how to give your audience a greeting they'll remember. To borrow again from Shakespeare, this time from Macbeth: "Be bloody, bold, and resolute." Notice even the emotional overtones in that phrase? The second method of reaching listeners emotionally is to:
2. Be Present in the Moment and Watch What's Going On. Anxious public speakers—and even those uncertain of themselves—often wear blinders. Self-consciousness, nervousness, and the desire to "get it all over with as quickly as possible" means that the speaker sometimes delivers a talk in spite of an audience rather than because of it.
When this happens, the speaker's presence is quite literally lacking. Whether or not the presenter really wishes he or she were someplace else, that's partly the effect. The speaker is only half trying to influence the audience, while also inhabiting the end of the presentation (where he or she really wants to be). The presentation then becomes an impossibility: an attempt to move listeners by a speaker who really isn't all that involved with them!
If you're one of those speakers, learn to focus with 100% of your attentiveness and not anything less. You must notice how audiences are responding to what you're saying if you're to remain flexible. That way, you can bring in elements or approaches to the story you're telling that will keep listeners with you. This is the true sense of "presence," and is precisely why it can't be constructed ahead of time. Interestingly, it's also the best way for anxious speakers to learn not to flee the speaking situation mentally but to embrace it and enjoy it. One thing that true charisma requires, then, is the need for speakers to:
3. Learn to be Vulnerable. Presenters who fear the speaking situation look for ways to protect themselves. So do speakers lacking confidence, if not experiencing outright speech anxiety. They don invisible armor; or carry a fearful look in their eye. They use body language that "covers" them, creates a protective barrier with hands or arms, or leaves them stiff and even statue-like. It's all a desperate attempt to not call attention to themselves. An irrational response indeed for anyone giving a public presentation! Here's how to become aware of the body language you're broadcasting. And here are the 5 key body language techniques of public speaking you need to know about.
As in interpersonal relationships, however, audiences reach out to presenters whom they feel are vulnerable. To give a speech in public is to be emotionally naked, and wishing that it weren't so won't change that fact. Such vulnerability is necessary, however, is you want to honestly achieve a beneficial influence on your listeners. Influence in this sense means to provoke change in the hearts and minds of your audience; and for all of us, change isn't easy. If you want it from listeners, you must show it yourself first.
Audiences know they can't reach a speaker who's wearing a suit of medieval armor. And of course this lack of openness and therefore influence works in the other direction as well. To speak with real charisma, combine the three approaches given above: emotional engagement, 100% presence in the moment, and vulnerability that proceeds from openness. You'll never have to worry about "achieving" charisma again.
Key takeaways from this blog:
- True charisma can't be achieved without honesty and being fully present.
- Stage presence isn't a magic trick. Be engaged and show it to your audience.
- Watch what's going on so you can be flexible and adapt to your listeners.
- Speech anxiety creates defensiveness. Be on the lookout for it!
- Engage emotionally, be 100% present, and remain open. That's charisma!
These are some of the words used to describe "the screech in the next cubicle" in a recent Wall Street Journal article (Sue Shellenbarger, "Is This How You Really Talk?" Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2013). Along with the reminder that few people like to hear themselves, the piece discusses how your voice affects other peoples' perceptions of you. (To boost your influence in professional settings, download my free cheat sheet, "5 Key Tools of Vocal Dynamics").
It's a hugely important issue in terms of your influence, from likability to believability to success in business.
As the article points out, new research indicates that the sound of your voice "strongly influences" how you're viewed. In fact, according to research by professional communication analytics company Quantified Impressions, the sound of a speaker's voice can matter twice as much as his or her content.
Communication specialists have been arguing over this point for decades, concerning the primacy of nonverbal communication over verbal content. Whatever the exact percentages may be, one essential fact remains true: the way you say something can matter as much or more than the words you're using. In other words, the how of spoken expression can have more of an impact than the verbal content.
The Child in the Street Scenario
Consider the situation of a child who takes a few steps off the sidewalk into the street while her mother chats with a neighbor on the front porch. In one scenario, the street is in a sleepy part of town with hardly any traffic at any time during the day. The mother says to her daughter, "Melinda, get out of the street," with no particular urgency in her voice. The child may or may not step right back on the sidewalk, having correctly interpreted her mother's state of mind as lack of real concern from the tone of her voice.
Now imagine it's a street in a busy part of town with lots of traffic. As soon as the mother sees her daughter step into the street, she shouts, after darting quick looks up and down the street: "Melinda, GET OUT OF THE STREET!" The child immediately gets back on the sidewalk, and if the tone of voice frightens her enough, may start to cry. Once again, she has accurately heard and processed her mother's state of mind from vocal clues over and above bare content. Same words exactly, but an entirely different meaning and message are conveyed.
The Role of Emotions and Perceptions
I use those scenarios to point out to my speech coaching clients that human beings are hard-wired to respond emotionally to the sound of another's voice. Some responses, in fact, have nothing to do with content. Instead, they depend upon a strong emotional undercurrent affecting whether listeners enjoy being in the presence of that speaker and whether they trust what that person says.
As Ms. Shellenbarger's article points out, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Voice, people can make important value judgments based solely on a speaker’s voice:
People who hear recordings of rough, weak, strained or breathy voices tend to label the speakers as negative, weak, passive or tense. People with normal voices are seen as successful, sexy, sociable, and smart.
At my company, Public Speaking International, we consider the link between vocal skills and audience perception to be vital components of a client's success. Trouble often arises, however, when speakers in business or professional settings actually change their vocal style due to anxiety and self-consciousness over public speaking. The relaxed and effective voice of a person in a social setting can become the tense, defensive-sounding voice used in the high-stakes speech or presentation. If that's the case with you, here's how to calm your nerves before speaking, even if you only have 5 minutes to spare.
Can You Change Your Voice?
Vocal improvement, if you have weak or unattractive aspects to your speaking style, starts with awareness. You may know that your voice isn't what you want it to be, either from self-awareness or feedback from others. Or you may have recently developed self-knowledge from seeing yourself on video or listening to yourself in a recorded phone conference or webinar.
Whatever route you may come by concerning voice improvement, you don't need to change your voice—in fact, it's not advisable that you try. But chances are you can become more skilled in your vocal choices and performance. Speech pathologists are available to help with issues of anatomy and certain speech deficits. Speech coaches, especially those trained in theatrical performance, can help with vocal performance and overall confidence.
There is much you can do on your own, however, to use your voice more effectively and productively. Ask for help from colleagues or family members, or videotape yourself delivering a presentation. (If vocal issues are a priority, I recommend listening while the clip is playing but not watching yourself, since visuals can easily absorb your attention.)
Take care of your voice as you would the rest of your body to keep it fit and energized. Get enough rest, and drink sufficient amounts of water during the day. Take an acting class to hear what your voice is capable of when you take chances and explore its range. Above all, learn to breathe diaphragmatically so your sound is supported and resonant. And use this approach for a more pleasant voice for business communication. The career you boost may be your own.
Key takeaways from this blog:
- From likability to success in business, your voice is a vital tool.
- How you say something can have more impact than the actual content.
- Listeners' emotional response to your voice affects their perception of you.
- You shouldn't try to change your voice, but to overcome specific deficits.
- Take care of your voice as you would any part of your body.
Now that you've improved your voice, do you know how to speak for leadership? Whether it's one-on-one, in a boardroom, to potential clients, or delivering a speech to a large audience—you need to go well beyond delivering information. True leaders move others to action. To reach the next level of powerful communication, download my new cheat sheet, "Leadership Skills: The 5 Essential Speaking Techniques."
Whenever you speak, your content rests on the surface for all to see. But underneath that visible surface, a strong river of influence is flowing. That's the undercurrent that audiences can't as readily identify: the powerful undertow created by nonverbal communication. (To learn how to speak powerfully to stakeholders, download my new cheat sheet, "Leadership Skills: The 5 Essential Speaking Techniques").
These elements of perception and influence predate language. In some ways, we can't name them or identify their precise power at all. But they're always working alongside and beneath the identifiable parts of our speeches and presentations.
Among the strongest of these is body language. Every good speaker must learn how to use body language to advantage, for the body is an essential tool of communication. Click here to find 3 ways to create a stronger self-image in terms of body language. As speakers, we are bodies moving in space, and audiences react as strongly to what they see and perceive about us from body language, as they do to any other element of our communication.
Here are four ways you can use body language to speak with greater power to persuade, motivate, and inspire audiences. Three of these tips are concerned with the type of speaking you do in terms of your presence. The fourth involves an essential practice concerning body language that you must use in every in-person speech, talk, or presentation you give.
For Speaking when You're Standing
- Ground Yourself. Stand with your feet apart at armpit-width to create a stable and steadfast presence. In performance, you get part of your energy from the earth. Don't deprive yourself of that power.
- Move Purposefully. Too many speakers wander, pace, or move without purpose. Choose parts of the stage for each main point you discuss, and use visual aids and even the audience to give physical expression to your message. To boost your presence and charisma, learn these 6 skills building exercises for effective body language.
- Make Strong Limited Gestures. The singular gesture that amplifies an important point is the one that adds to meaning. Make it clean and limited. Too frequent or weak gestures give no physical expression, per above.
- Use Facial Expressions. Listeners decide in part whether to trust someone from facial expressions and the look in the speaker's eyes. An expressionless speaker is giving an audience too little to go on.
For Speaking when You're Sitting
- Move Off the Back of the Chair. Getting too comfortable in a chair is a trap when you're speaking. When you need to display engagement and passion, you have to heave yourself forward, which is awkward.
- Sit Up and Lean Forward. Good posture while seated shows professionalism, and adds to authority. Leaning forward is an important clue to your listeners that you're engaged and interested.
- Open Yourself Up. A common mistake among speakers sitting at a board table is to clasp the hands together or gather the arms in a "locked" position. That creates a physical barrier between you and your audience.
- Gesture. Just because you're sitting down doesn't mean you can't gesture. Too many speakers become talking heads and include no amplying or supporting gestures. Use your arms and hands!
When You're Speaking Virtually
- Stand and Move. Audiences that you speak to virtually or on the phone will hear the physical expressiveness you use when you speak. If it's necessary for you to fully involve yourself when you speak in person, why eliminate movement when you're speaking on the phone or in a webinar?
- Use Headphones. Not only will headphones free you to move and gesture, but they make your voice seem warmer and nearer. Once you get in the habit, you won't want to be without them.
- Ask Questions. Since listeners can't react to the visual clues you're giving them (such as when they should respond), you need to give these clues vocally. Both you and your audience will feel like you really are connected. And you'll keep listeners from multitasking!
- Use Plenty of Vocal Energy. In the absence of vital visual clues, your vocal energy must take up the slack. With no gestures for listeners to see, they need your voice to do the pointing up and emphasizing. Here are the 5 Key Tools of Vocal Dynamics to help you make more powerful speeches and presentations.
Observe Your Audience's Body Language
- Direct Your Energy Outward not Inward. Body language coming from your audience is as vital as the nonverbal communication you're sending their way. Don't worry about how you're doing—watch to see how your listeners are responding.
- Watch How Listeners Respond. Once you notice those movements, gestures, eye contact, and jiggling feet, pay attention if the patterns change. That's often a sign that you're losing listeners' engagement.
- Change Your Pace and Approach when Necessary. If that happens, change what you're doing. Tell a story if you've been speaking in generalities; give an example; or switch out of the technology you're using or start using one if you've been talking for too long.
- Build in Interaction. Above all, keep your audience active. That may mean literally using body language, to get them on their feet or involved with an activity. Audiences are always more persuaded, motivated, and inspired when they're doing, not just listening.
Key takeaways from this blog:
- Content is visible. But nonverbal communication can be more powerful.
- These elements of perception and influence predate language.
- Audiences respond strongly to visuals, so body language is essential.
- Keep yourself open, move with purpose, and use facial expressions.
- Your audience's body language can tell you when you need to shift gears.