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Seven Secrets to a Successful Speech
By Brenda Nixon   Printer Friendly Version

"You have great eye contact!" she wrote in her evaluation. Her opinion caught my eye because "seeing" my audience as individuals is one of my goals as a speaker.
The eye is the pathway to the heart and when you look at your hearers you will create an engaging keynote address, workshop presentation or speech. Eye contact is a necessary platform mechanic for a winning presentation. Here are seven more:

Open your mouth.
Yesterday I took my younger daughter to the pool. While there I questioned one of the lifeguards, "Where's the clock?" He came back with, "Mumble, mumble." "What?" I asked. "It's mumble, mumble" he again replied. Now I'm not hearing impaired but I could not understand this guy's words. He barely parted his lips. Do you want your hearers to say the same about you? Get your lips involved, open your mouth and speak.

Breath deeply from your diaphragm.
When a speaker is nervous his breathing becomes abbreviated then his words sounds choppy. This detracts from the presentation because audiences get caught up in the sing-song rhythm of the speaker. Some audience members may wonder if the speaker lost his place. Right before and during my presentations I take in large breaths. This helps me relax and hopefully makes for a more fluid presentation.

Body language must be neutral.
When you're on the platform people see you as "the expert." I'm often called a "parenting expert" even though I resist that platitude. Being an expert is important however it can make some feel disconnected from you. In response to this universal assumption, try making your body language neutral and inviting. Stand with both feet firmly planted on the floor, legs slightly apart. This is especially difficult for women to master but necessary for a unbiased stance. Similarly, keep arms open, at your side, or use them. Resist the urge to fold your arms across the chest or hold them together in front. The latter is called the "fig leaf" and none of us is Adam or Eve requiring a fig leaf for coverage. Neutral body language sends the message that even though you're knowledgeable you are approachable.

When you make a point, don't.
Again, when you're on the platform and people assume you're "the expert" they may feel subordinate. To be less threatening or condescending, use four fingers to point rather than your one. Watch political leaders or persuasive speakers and you will see this technique.

Move around.
It's fun to watch a moving target. When I am sitting in an audience and the speaker stands in one position, I get bored. So as a speaker I move around the platform. I've seen some who dance, wiggle, and pace. And I know colleagues who diligently choreograph their movements -- I cannot be that precise. But I genuinely make movements to correspond to my point. Then I observe my audience and if I see a look of boredom, or worse, someone dozing off, I become more animated. Try putting some motion behind your emotion.

Speak deliberately and slowly.
This requires practice. I practice enunciation and pacing of words before going on the platform. It ensures each hearer understands and has time to let my words penetrate. Most of my audiences are feverishly taking notes. By speaking slowly I grant time to record "a real little pearl of wisdom!" as one responded on her evaluation. If you're giving a motivational speech you still might find some who are taking notes so don't rush through your words.

Drink water before and during your presentation.
Speakers lose about a quart of water while doing their craft. It's a thirsty business. We must re-hydrate by taking in water before and during our presentation. Watch professional speakers and you will witness this habit of self-care. Personally, I don't like my audience watching me take a sip, so I often assign a group activity and while they're briefly preoccupied I grab my glass.

My client and audience deserve my best efforts. With these stories and tips I encourage you to cultivate a professional and successful delivery at your speaking engagements.
©1999, Brenda Nixon.

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