Cuban leader Fidel Castro, known for his oratorial skill, has confessed, "I have stage fright. I don’t like making speeches.
The governor of a western state, now a presidential hopeful, was taken to task by a local newspaper columnist for his nervousness on the campaign trail: "Your nervousness showed. Your speech was halting. Lots of ‘ahs’ like when the doctor looks down your throat, run-on sentences, swallowed words...too bad because the speech was substantive...forceful words a Mario Cuomo could use passionately were flat. No feeling, no pizzaz. I hope you can bring style up to the level of substance. With both, you might just make it.”
So many people who are giants at their desks become pygmies at the lectern. They usually wait too long to write their talks. The memorable one-liners and moving phrases that go down in history don’t come from last-minute bursts of inspiration. The most polished, smoothly delivered spontaneous-sounding talks are the result of many hours of long, hard work. Mario Cuomo started ten days before the convention and worked a total of sixteen hours to write his memorable keynote address for the 1984 Democratic convention.
Begin preparing your talk at least three weeks ahead of time. "I haven’t got the time!” you’ll say.
A cartoon in The New Yorker showed a man standing at the lectern saying, "And now I should like to depart from my prepared text and speak as a human being.”
Most talks written by speakers or by their speech-writers suffer from one common fault. They’re put together in written, not spoken, language. A talk or presentation whether to ten or a thousand people must be spoken, not read or memorized.
Use short sentences.
There are three parts to your talk or presentation: the introduction, body and conclusion. Make a folder for each section and as you gather research, quotes, anecdotes, evidence, put the information into the appropriate folder.
Don’t use words you cannot pronounce.
Open with something that’s unpredictable; Anecdote, quotes; Spoken Speech; Example or Evidence; and a Socko or Significant finish. If you include these in your preparation, you won’t be wondering about the content of your talk. That’s one less reason to be nervous.
Why is it so important to use anecdotes?
If you tell me, I may listen. If you show me, I’ll pay attention. If you involve me, I’ll learn. Anecdotes and quotes liven up your talk. You can never have enough of them. Collect them greedily. Whenever I hear an anecdote my ears prick up. Recently Nancy Reagan said: «A woman is like a tea bag. You don’t really know what she’s like until she gets into hot water.” I’ve filed that one away. So keep your eyes and ears open for anecdotes and quotes that make a point. Get in the habit of collecting them when you read or hear them. Build up a quote and anecdote file - it’ll pay off.
What’s a good way to close your talk?
A closer is to talk what a high note is to an aria. Its cadence should trigger applause. Quotes can be excellent closer. Here’s the closer of a talk to top management about planning for the future: "So let’s take the advice of Ted Turner who said, ‘Lead, follow, or get out of the way.’ ’’ If you don’t have a strong quote or a point-making anecdote to end with, use anaphora. Anaphora is the repetition of the same word or words at the opening of consecutive phrases.
How important is appearance when making presentation?
Some people are born with presence. The rest of us have to create it. How? Simple. It’s really more physical than psychological. If you play tennis, what happens to the muscles in your body in a serve at the moment of impact of ball? They contract and create tension, not tenseness, generating the power to smash the ball over the net. Use that same kind of "serve” tension when you "serve” yourself up at the lectern.
Try this at home. Stand in front of mirror. Look at the way you’re standing. Does it say Presence? Now stand with your weight evenly distributed on the balls of both feet. Carry your rib cage high and contract your stomach muscles. How do you look now? You automatically stand taller and straighter. This gives you the look of authority. It’s not military posture, it’s the bearing of confidence.
Even when you’re listening at a meeting you’re being observed. You look alert and involved at meetings if you sit with rib cage held high, inclined slightly forward. If you’re at a table modify your mother’s adage: "Willie, Willie, if you’re able, keep your elbows off the table.” Put your forearms on the table edge midway between your wrist and your elbow, your hands clasped(not fidgeting). This gives you the look of authority at a conference or panel.
Should I smile when I give a talk?
Have you ever noticed how many CEOs and presidents of corporations appear in public with their faces in "executive neutral,” communicating absolutely nothing? The listener is distracted by this noncommunicating face and responds in kind.
The face you give the listener is the face you’ll get looking back at you. If you animate your face, you’re more likely to see animated listeners. Animation is the greatest cosmetic you can use, and it doesn’t cost a cent. Animation is energy in the face. The message it gives the listener is : I’m glad I’m here, I’m glad you’re here.
There’s a difference between animation and "smile”. "Smile” makes you look insipid. A smile can turn into a grin the way it did with Jimmy Carter.
Animation involves the whole face. It’s action that comes not only though the eyes, but around the mouth and the whole face. It tells the listener you’re at ease and glad to be right where you are –at the lectern, around a conference table or across a desk.
New research shows that the expression on your face also can influence the way you feel. At Allegheny College, researcher Patricia Ruselli recruited volunteer subjects to watch a sad slide presentation. She told half the objects to frown while they watched it, the other half not to frown.
When the slide show was over, Ruselli reported, the frowners felt sadder than the non frowners, and their depression lasted for a few hours. What does this mean? It may mean that the brain receives sensory information from facial muscles and skin. Our faces may be telling us what to feel instead of being the reflection of our feelings.
So put "love apples” –that’s what I call the little mounds around your cheekbones –into your cheeks and get two benefits for the one action. You’ll show joy and ease, and the face you’ll get looking back at you from the audience will say, "I’m glad you’re here.”
What about gestures?
In The Art of Speaking we read,” The arms of the speaker are not to be heedlessly thrown out as if he were drowning in the pulpit or brandished after the manner of the ancient boxers exercising themselves by fighting with their shadow to prepare them for Olympic contests. Nor, on the contrary are his hands to be pocketed up, nor his arms to hang by his sides as lank as if they were both withered.”
Stand at the lectern, your weight equally distributed on the balls of both feet, rib cage held high, both hands resting on the lectern. The left hand should be following your text. Your peripheral vision can inform you where your eye is due next. The other hand should be on the other side of your page, ready to slide it noiselessly aside when you’ve finished with it.
I don’t teach hand gestures. I’ve never seen a good talk made better by gestures or a bad talk made good by hand gestures. If you use your hands well, use them. Hand gestures should anticipate and never follow your words.
The way you tell if your hand gestures work is to look at your listener’s eyes. If his eyes are focused on your hands instead of your face, they’re detracting from your message. Don’t use them.
When you’re not speaking at the lectern or making a presentation, hand gestures can take the place of words in communicating your message.