Crash course in ...

Public speaking. Great new job - just one catch. In your new role, you're going to have to get up on a podium and speak. The fact that the thought fills you with dread...

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Seek help. This is one area where coaching really helps and you could do worse than consult MT's past 'Speaking Out' columns by Khalid Aziz (www.azizcorp.com). Finding your best voice is largely a matter of mechanics, but you need somebody to watch, listen and tell you where you are going wrong.

Plan it. Sounds obvious, but start by deciding your key message. This enables you to make a structure (eg, tell them what you're going to tell them; tell them; tell them what you told them), which is a first step to dispelling your nerves. 'A clear structure is the skeleton that keeps everything together,' says Liz Banks, MD of specialist training firm Skillstudio (www.skillstudio.co.uk).

Relax. 'I'd start with breathing,' says voice coach Alan Woodhouse (www.woodhousevoice.co.uk).

'It provides the power behind your voice, and enables you to achieve what we call "active relaxation" - so that you are not nervous but are in control.' Most people need to slow down their delivery. Advises Banks: 'Take time and enjoy the words.'

Give your voice a workout. The aim is to get your voice firing on all cylinders, so you achieve good enunciation, projection, variety of expression and so on. You want to engage the audience, not sound boring. 'It's a purely physical thing,' says Woodhouse, 'like going to a vocal gym.'

Put it in points. It's time to write what you're going to say. But avoid having your speech scripted down to the last word - the audience will switch off. Bullet points, mnemonics and cards are useful devices. 'I recommend people learn the first three sentences off by heart,' says Banks.

'It means you won't start off by um-ing and er-ing.'

Cut out the funny stuff. Unless you're a natural comedian and you know the audience well, it's best to steer clear of jokes. 'If your joke falls flat, it's much harder to pick yourself up, and you can easily offend someone,' says Banks. Better to include lots of examples - they add colour and engage the audience's imagination.

Practise, practise, practise. You can't rehearse too many times.

And on the day? Arrive early and familiarise yourself with the space.

Don't drink alcohol beforehand, but make sure you have some water to hand.

When you step up on stage, says Woodhouse, 'don't think about how you're feeling, think about the job you have to do'. And if you panic, remember the golden rule: 'When in doubt, breathe out.'

Do say: 'First, let me tell you what I'm going to talk about today.'

Don't say: 'Before I start, has anyone heard the one about the Muslim, the Christian and the Jew who went to a lap-dancing club?'

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