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By Mariah Burton Nelson   Printer Friendly Version

Mostly, you've got to care about your subject and care about the audience

A speech is not a performance. Rather, it's a relationship that you create with a group of people. Like any good relationship, a speech requires caring, trust, openness, accessibility, and two-way communication. Whether you speak on the job or as part of community service, here are a dozen tips to help you transfer your people skills to the platform:

1) Be gracious and friendly: Greet audience members when they walk in the door, as if you're hosting a party. Shake hands. Make them feel welcome.

2) Dress appropriately: You're the guest of honor, but keep it simple; don't distract the audience with swooping scarves or noisy jewelry.

3) Put them at ease, literally. If an audience member has to turn her head to see you, she'll feel neck strain -- and eventually even get angry. Request curved seating ahead of time, and move chairs yourself if you must.

4) Get to know your audience. Ask the meeting planner who's coming, chat with folks beforehand, and poll them from the platform. The more you know, the better you can speak to their concerns.

5) Speak from the heart -- and the head. Choose a topic that you a) care about and b) know about. If you can't establish expertise, they won't believe you. If you don't care, they won't care either.

6) Communicate clearly. Choose one main point. What, exactly, do you want people to remember?

7) Involve the audience. Invite someone up on stage to demonstrate a point. Or ask them to think, imagine, remember, raise hands, take notes. The more involved they are, the more likely they are to enjoy your presentation -- and feel connected to you.

8) Get personal. Tell personal stories that illustrate your message -- and reveal something of your humanity. As in any relationship, self-disclosure will build trust.

9) Get close. Walk out from behind the lectern. This will make a tremendous impression since it will bring you closer, dispense with the lectern "shield," and differentiate you from most speakers.

10) Be lighthearted. Humor will relax the audience and make you popular; everyone loves to laugh. Even if you're not spontaneously witty, you can plan ahead to share stories (relevant, inoffensive ones) that you've practiced on friends.

11) Send thank-you notes. When you speak, you're not only creating a relationship with your audience, you're creating a relationship with the person who invited you.

12) Learn from the experience: Like any relationship, a relationship with an audience can teach you a lot about yourself. Take notes on the process afterward, continue to practice your people/speaking skills, and you'll create increasingly rewarding relationships with your audiences over time.

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