Knock their socks off with a killer speech! Karen Juanatas, of the Qatar Toastmasters, shares ten tips to help you go from a nervous wreck to the next Barack Obama.
So you’ve written the perfect speech. What’s next? A “perfect” speech is only that if it is delivered correctly and timed precisely, and nerves don’t get the better of you. For me, delivering a speech is harder than writing one. So to make sure you don’t waste your well-written speech either at work, at a function, or in whatever other manner you are conducting your oration, here are some tips to ensure it goes as well as possible.
You can practise in your head, out loud, in front of the mirror, or in front of friends or family, but it is essential you do it as much as possible. You can also record your speech to see where you need to improve. How you stand, the gestures you make and facial expressions can also make a massive impact on the quality of your speech. Recording will also let you know if you are speaking within the given time limit, if there is one.
2 Keep calm
It’s perfectly normal to experience stage fright before and while delivering speeches. Relaxation techniques help calm those nerves – stretching, shaking your arms and trying to loosen your muscles help. My mother always told me that whenever I’m nervous, I should take three deep breaths and we all know that mothers know best. You can also picture yourself delivering a successful speech. Visualise the steps you need to get the result you want, including what might go wrong, and then have a Plan B. Chances are you won’t need it because you are already mentally prepared. Preparation is the key to confidence.
3 Organise your speech
It is important to have an introduction, body, and conclusion. They are like a road map so you don’t leave your listeners lost. Structuring your speech helps you remember it better. You can start off with a question, a quote, a story, or even a joke – something that will “pack a punch” or “hook” the audience. Short sentences are easier to remember and deliver. It is better to have personal stories or anecdotes to support your points in the body of the speech. People remember the first few minutes and the last few minutes, so you have to make them count. Make your speech one they won’t forget easily.
4 Do not read your speech
Reading from notes will make it monotonous. You will sound robotic and lacking energy and emotion. Make it look like you are having a natural conversation with the audience. Looking down at a piece of paper disconnects you from your audience because you lose eye contact. You can use cue cards with bullet points if you need prompts during your speech. Keep your bullet points to a minimum number of words – your notes should not be a full script.
5 Use body language properly
Body language such as movements, gestures and facial expressions are essential. Use them in a way that makes you look relaxed, comfortable and natural. Non-verbal behaviour affects the audience’s perception of a speaker’s credibility, competence, worthiness and character. While speaking, you can also act out what you are saying, but be careful not to overdo it. Control your nervous mannerisms and avoid unnecessary movements such as putting your hands inside your pocket, twirling your hair or tapping your foot on the floor. Never cross your arms while speaking unless it helps to prove your point and always move with a purpose.
6 Don’t rush
Sometimes, when we panic, we often speak faster than normal. In turn, the audience might not grasp what you are saying. When this happens, slow down. Don’t forget to breathe. Pauses might make you uncomfortable but they are extremely powerful in public speaking. Use properly timed pauses to keep your audience engaged and before an important point for greater impact.
7 Keep it simple
Focus on the key message you want to convey to your audience. People forget most of what they hear so it is best if you stick with a single message and provide stories that support that message. Two to three examples of stories that help reinforce your message would do. It’s important not to overwhelm your audience with too many examples, facts and figures.
8 Engage with your audience
Make eye contact – this establishes a relationship between you and your audience. Work the room – involve everyone in your speech. Imagine yourself dividing the audience into three and looking at each of those three sections from time to time. Don’t scan too fast like a lighthouse beacon – a few seconds is enough. You can also ask questions or pose problems to keep your audience thinking and, of course, listening. Humour, done well, is very beneficial. If you can make your audience smile or laugh they will remember you.
9 Control your voice
Use your voice to emphasise important points. Use vocal variety – change the rate, volume and pitch to make the speech lively and deliver your message more effectively.
10 More practice
As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect,” so keep rehearsing.
Qatar Toastmasters Club meets on the first and third Sundays of every month. Radisson Blu Doha, Intersection of C-Ring Road and Salwa Road (3369 5874).