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Seven Habits of Highly Effective Speakers: Use Them And Set Yourself Apart
By Marjorie Brody   Printer Friendly Version

More people fear giving a presentation than dying. Unbelievable? Maybe, but it's true. Making a presentation -- whether standing in front of a large group or just sitting with colleagues across the conference room table -- can be a source of stress for even the most experienced speaker. Being perceived as credible, and conveying your thoughts in a clear, concise and powerful way can enhance not only your personal image, but that of your company or organization. Conversely, being perceived as awkward, ill -- prepared, or even uncomfortable can do your image -- or your career -- great harm.

I have developed a method for successful speaking that really works -- based on the hundreds of hours spent preparing and delivering presentations, and the thousands of training and coaching sessions I have conducted. If you follow the seven habits below when preparing for your own presentations, you would be able to feel confident and secure when facing your audience -- whether you're a first-time speaker or a still-not-quite-secure repeat performer.

1) KNOW YOUR PAL™: Purpose, Audience and Logistics. If your purpose is to inform the audience, then you need to provide new and useful information. If, however, you want to persuade people, then you need to make them believe in your message or call them to action. Be very clear about your intended results. In other words, begin with the end in mind. You also want to ask yourself: Who is in the audience? Are they colleagues, or prospective clients? Why are they there? What are their demographics (Where are they from? How old are they?). What is their attitude toward your objective? What knowledge do they have and do they need? The "right" information to the wrong audience limits your chance of achieving your objectives.

Find out as much as you can about your audience before preparing your speech. Even seasoned professional speakers sometimes forget to do all their homework and wind up feeling foolish. There have been numerous examples of speeches given with information that was either too far above or too far below the knowledge level of the audience.

Knowing the logistics is important, too. Are you part of a team or panel of speakers? What will the other speakers be discussing? How large is the audience? What visual equipment is available? How much time do you have to present? What time of day will you be speaking? The answers to these questions are crucial factors in helping you tailor your presentation.

Once you have determined your PAL, write your overall objective in one sentence or less. This helps you maintain focus during the preparation process.

2. PREPARE ADEQUATELY: Once you clarify your objectives, it's time to prepare the presentation. The first step is to collect the material. Unless you plan on a "data dump," look for analogies and metaphors, stories, examples, audience, involvement techniques, case studies to support the facts and figures. After collecting the material, begin to organize it so there is a logical progression of ideas. Limit the points, keeping the message simple. Writing out transitions helps to reinforce the ideas and to repeat without being redundant.

Write the introduction and conclusion after the body of the presentation is completed, being sure to start with impact including the benefit of the presentation to the audience and ending with strength and something memorable.

3. CREATE A USER FRIENDLY FINAL DRAFT: Imagine what would happen if you created a masterpiece ... only to have the briefcase it's in stolen. Always leave a copy of the final draft at home or in the office for someone to fax to you in an emergency. This user-friendly final draft should be in outline form on note paper, minimal 18 point boldface. Highlight the must know, should know and could know materials in different colors. Avoid using note cards; they can cause you to do too much shuffling. Only write on the top two thirds of the page, otherwise your eyes and voice will drop, and you will lose your audience's attention.

4. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE: At least three to six times, out loud -- saying it differently each time to keep the spontaneity. Practicing in your head where you are eloquent won't work as well than actually saying it. If you will be delivering your speech standing up, then practice the same way using a similar room setup. If you can't practice in the actual room where you will be speaking, improvise. Set up the chairs in the way they will actually be used. If you can practice in front of someone, their comments will help you to refine your presentation. Tape record yourself. Remember, if you don't find your presentation interesting no one else will either.

5. ARRIVE EARLY: Make sure the room is set up correctly, the microphone is working and check any visual aids you may be using. Bring extra bulbs, cords, etc., to prepare yourself for technical difficulties. If possible, be available to introduce yourself and shake hands with your audience as they arrive. This will help them to be more receptive to you as a speaker. Limber up by doing breathing and stretching exercises, it will control the adrenaline and relax you.

6. DELIVERY TECHNIQUES: As an effective speaker, you want your audience to be receptive to the communication signals you will be sending them: the three V's -- Visual, Verbal and Vocal. While all three are important, for some audience members, what you say may not be as important as how you say it. For other audiences members, the way you look and the facial expressions you use will influence their impressions. Your ultimate credibility as a speaker will be determined by your mastery of the three V's.

Visual - The old adage that "Clothes make the man" or woman, is still valid. The first thing your audience members see is your appearance. Before you get a chance to say a word, some of them will already have judged you based solely on how you look. If you are presenting at a business meeting, proper business dress is called for. If you have been invited to speak at an "off-campus" event, check with the event organizer. You can never be faulted for looking "too professional," even if the audience is dressed down. Be certain that your outfit and accessories don't detract from your presentation. Avoid anything that makes noise or looks flashy, like jangling bracelets or earrings.

Both men and women should check that their clothing fits well, and that they can move comfortably in it.

Your body language will also send the audience a message. Don't cross your arms or fidget. Use gestures to emphasize points, but be careful not to flail your arms around. The most effective stance is a forward lean, not swaying back and forth or bouncing on your feet. Effective speakers make regular eye contact with audience members, holding the connection to complete an idea. This helps draw listeners into your speech. Nodding to emphasize a point also helps make a connection with the audience. If you nod occasionally, audience members will too -- creating a bond.

Vocal -- If you have ever listened to people speaking in a monotone, you know how difficult it is to pay attention. There are six vocal cues to remember: pitch, volume, rate, punch, pause, and diction. It is also important to speak clearly and enunciate. If you rush your delivery or speak softly, the audience will have to work too hard to pay attention. Vary your tone and speed and tailor your delivery rate to accommodate any regional differences. Keep your chin up while speaking, don't bury it in notes. When you look down, your voice drops. Emphasize or "punch" certain words for effect, but don't forget to incorporate pauses to give the audience time to let important points be understood. Proper diction is also essential -- if you're not sure how to pronounce a word, look it up or don't use it.

Verbal -- There are three verbal communication rules to remember:
Use descriptive, simple language; use short sentences; and avoid buzz words and jargon.

7. HANDLE QUESTIONS & ANSWERS WITH TACT: Having prepared your speech thoroughly, you will be ready for most questions. Answer them as briefly and concisely as you can. It's best to paraphrase the question before answering it. This will help to clarify it in your mind and to make sure you understand the question. At some time you may encounter someone whose only objective is to stump the speaker or put you on the defensive. If you don't know the answer, say so. Don't try to make one up. Tell the questioner that you will find out the answer and get back to him or her. Knowing how to create and deliver effective presentations will enhance your ability to project a positive image. These secrets are a head start toward helping you gain the competitive edge when presenting.

Article copyright© Brody Communications Ltd. 1999

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