MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: Be a brilliant public speaker

There's no need to use staid techniques like picturing people in their underwear to be a confident speaker, says Sarah Lloyd-Hughes. You just need to be yourself.

by Sarah Lloyd-Hughes
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

We’ve all borne witness to that cringe-worthy moment when a public speaker stops, coughs nervously, refers to their notes and then falls apart. So much of public speaking training starts with being someone you’re not: don’t do anything funny with your hands, don’t say anything unprofessional, don’t forget your lines – and definitely don’t be nervous. But if anything, that approach increases nerves, taking away the natural talent we all have to inspire and persuade – when we’re feeling comfortable.

We asked Sarah Lloyd-Hughes, founder of Ginger Training & Coaching and author of ‘How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking’, how to take a different approach…

1) Start with why your message is important
If you can’t see why your message is important, it’s not worth speaking. Connect your message to something important – the change you want for your company, the person you want to be seen as in the workplace, etc.

2) Be authentic
Level with your audience, allow your strengths and weaknesses to show and they will resonate more with your message. A speaker automatically takes a position of authority by being on stage, so you can also afford to let that ‘professional’ mask slip.

3) Show passion
Enthusiasm sells, so if you want your audience behind you, pull a Steve Jobs and rave about your product, your team, your finance meeting or whatever else you’re talking about. I often hear audience members complaining about boring speakers, but I’ve not once heard, ‘that speaker was just too enthusiastic’.

4) Think not of yourself, but your audience

What does your audience know already? How are they feeling towards your topic? How would they like to receive information? What are their challenges, and how can you solve them?

5) Ditch the Powerpoint. Oh, go on
The mind stereotypes when it sees a familiar format. When you whip out another powerpoint, you’re already preparing your audience to remember less of what you say. Think of other, more creative formats that make your point.

6) Get playful!
Once you’ve freed yourself from the clutches of Powerpoint there’s a world of possibility in your speech or presentation. What if you use a prop? Involve an audience member? Start a debate? Tell a story? Draw a picture?

7) Go out with a bang
What’s the key moment in your talk? Rather than having one stream of information, structure your talk to emphasise this key moment and once you’ve reached a crescendo – wrap up quickly.

8) Focus on your core message
So much public speaking has no obvious message, or too many. Whittle your information down to the one thing you want your audience to understand. Relate everything you say and do to your core message.

9) Don’t believe your nerves
Chemically, nerves and excitement are basically the same thing. The difference is your own anticipation; whether you’re expecting something terrible or wonderful to happen. Refuse to believe the unreasonable voice that tells you the world’s going to end if you mess up.

10) Get a stage persona
If you’re particularly nervous, design yourself a heroic stage persona to step into when you speak. Perhaps you’re a mighty chief, an energiser bunny or a Shakespearian actor. A persona helps you to be more than your nerves tell you is possible.

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