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From Dr. Snyder's Tip of the Month December 1998
By Dr. Ken Snyder
Just as important as the speech itself, is the way the speech is presented.
A speech that is poorly prepared but well presented has a greater
impact on an audience than a speech that is well prepared but poorly
presented. This is by no means an invitation to forgo preparation;
but rather, to emphasize the importance of learning presentation skills.
There are many presentation skills and techniques. However, I have
found that this list can be narrowed down to what I call the Six Keys.
These keys are easy to master and will make any presentation dynamic
THE SIX KEYS
1. Eye Contact
2. Speak Loudly
4. Word Pictures
5. Vocal Variety
Key #1 Eye Contact
Studies show that a speaker makes five times the impact, or has five
times as much chance of getting a point across if he or she makes
eye contact. Professional speakers know that the audience acts as
a mirror. If, as a speaker, you pay attention (eye contact) to the
audience, the audience will pay attention to you. This is why it is
important that the speaker does not write out his or her speech word
for word and read it to the audience. A few moments into such a presentation,
the listeners will begin to gaze around the room, doodle or mind wander.
Their attention will be anywhere but on the speaker.
Here are some simple exercises you can do with your students to improve
their eye contact. Notice I mentioned WITH your students. I highly
recommend that the teacher take his or her turn with all of the exercises.
My experience has shown this will not only emphasize the importance
of the program, but will increase student participation and make the
program a lot more fun for all.
1. Give students a turn to come up, one at a time, in front
of the class. Have them visually survey the class for thirty seconds.
Then have them leave the room briefly. While they are gone, change
three things about members of the audience. Have three people change
seats, take off/put on or exchange jackets, take off eyeglasses, etc.
Then the student returns to the room and has thirty seconds to view
the audience and identify the changes. Successful or not, the student
has just made eye contact with his or her audience for at least sixty
2. This exercise allows the size of the audience to build
as the speaker's confidence grows. Divide the students in groups of
two. Tell them to imagine they have just won ten million dollars in
a lottery. They are to share with their partners their answers to
1.) What one thing would you buy for yourself?
2.) What one gift would you buy for a special person in your life?
3.) What charity or cause would you aid with your winnings? Initially,
the students share only with their partner . Then each group joins
with another group, forming new groups of four. Repeat the exercise
with the new group. You may continue the process one more time, if
desired, forming groups of eight. Finally have each student come to
the front and share with the entire class. By now they will be very
familiar with their responses and less threatened by an audience.
3. Have students come up to the front of the room one at a
time. They have just received two tickets to go anywhere they choose
in the entire world. They are to tell the class their name, where
they are going, and who they will take with them.Once again, the emphasis
is on eye contact.
Often student speakers (or adults, for that matter), will concentrate
on one or two individuals or a small portion of their audience for
the entire speech. Perhaps they see a few familiar faces and are afraid
to allow their eyes to explore the rest of the audience. Whatever
the reason, the rest of the audience will soon feel left out. The
next exercise is designed to give the speaker practice making eye
contact with the entire audience.
4. Again, have each student come up to the front of the room
one at a time. They are to state their name and answer the following
question: If they could spend an afternoon with anyone living, past
or present (it need not be a celebrity; a relative, neighbor or friend
is fine), who
would it be and why? Before they start, have four to six students
positioned at various points in the audience raise one of their hands.
They are to put their hand down when and only when the speaker makes
eye contact with that person. The object is for the speaker to get
all the hands down before they are finished speaking. As the students
improve, you can increase the number of hands raised and the difficulty
of their positions throughout the audience.
Key # 2 SPEAK LOUDLY
We have all felt the frustration of seeing students who are well prepared
get up to make a presentation, give a report, answer a question, etc.,
and fail miserably because no one can hear them. The student may have
done a great job with research, he or she may know their topic extremely
well, and may have spent ample time practicing their speech. It has
the potential to be one of the best. However, if you and the other
students can't hear them, it quickly becomes one of the worst. Straining
to listen puts pressure on the audience. Most listeners will not tolerate
this and will soon tune out. Let your students know how very important
it is that everyone in their audience be able to hear them. Once you've
put forth the effort to prepare, don't rob yourself of your just rewards.
When in front of an audience, a speaker cannot rely on his or her
normal conversation voice. This will not be loud enough. A speaker
needs to use an outside voice". This can be adjusted depending
on the noise level in the room (ie. air conditioning units, hall traffic)
size of the audience. A good rule of thumb is to pick the person farthest
away from you (the speaker) and speak loud enough so that particular
person can hear you. If they can hear you, all your other listeners
will be able to. When in doubt, it is better to error on the loud
side. At least your audience will be awake.
Just as important as speaking loudly, is speaking clearly. Three simple
rules will help with this.
1. SLOW DOWN! As I mentioned in the section on nerves, just
about all speakers will be at least slightly nervous. This is normal
and it is good. Nervousness is adrenalin, it is energy. This energy
will tend to make the speaker speak a little faster. Speak slow enough
so that you
can clearly enunciate every word and syllable.
2. NO FOOD! Nothing will make you mumble more than food or
gum in the mouth while speaking. Some students may find that their
mouth gets a little dry when they are giving a presentation. This
is due to nerves and will not occur as the student gains experience
and confidence. Still, gum, life savers and mints are a no-no. A small
cup of water at arms length can be used to alleviate this problem.
If necessary, an occasional sip to moisten the mouth will not distract
from the presentation.
3. DON'T LET YOUR VOICE TAIL. A common problem speakers have
is starting each sentence strong but then allowing their voice to
sag or tail off". With a little practice of making a conscious
effort to finish strong this problem is easily corrected.
A good exercise to encourage your students to speak loudly is to employ
the aid of the listeners. Whenever a student is giving a presentation
, answering a question, etc., have any listener who is having difficulty
hearing, simply raise their index finger as though pointing towards
the ceiling. This will act as a signal to the speaker that they need
to speak a little louder. The listener should keep their finger raised
until they can sufficiently hear. Impress on the listeners that this
is to be done subtly and with the purpose of helping the speaker.
An alternative approach is to strategically place one or two students
at the farthest points in the audience and let them be the signalers.
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