The Secret to Public Speaking

When I ask audiences what the key to public speaking is, they almost always respond with “preparation”. Makes sense, right? The more you plan your message, the better you’ll be at delivering a smooth presentation. I agree with planning being a key.

However, planning, in itself, does little to attract listeners to our message. For this, we need something else. And that “something else” is what our speaking effectiveness hinges on. That “something else” is the secret to public speaking. Some speakers know this intuitively. Others must become aware and then learn the power of it.

Before I share the secret to public speaking, consider the following.

There are 3 core areas of our presentation, from our listeners’ perspective. One area is speaker ease and confidence, the first thing listeners notice about any presentation. From the moment we walk in the room, stand up to speak, or take the stage, listeners get an impression of how our presentation will go based on who we are. Our behavior, poise, sense of self as well as sense of them as listeners communicate volumes.

The second thing our listeners notice is our message. They notice whether it makes sense. They notice if it is clear. They notice if it’s comprehensive. This is the piece we plan for. We want it to work. It therefore is key that we take the time to plan it. Yet, as already identified, our message is only one of 3 areas of our presentation.

The third area our listeners pay attention to is how well we relate to them. Is our message relevant? Have we shared story that speaks to their experiences? Are we looking at our listeners? Are we allowing interaction to happen with them? Are we responding to them? If we stay in our head, only focusing on our message, only on what we want to say, we have lost a valuable opportunity to connect.

Once again, planning, in itself, does little to attract listeners to our message. It simply focuses our attention on what we know about a topic before we speak on it. That’s not good enough.

The secret to public speaking effectiveness is the same as the key to the workplace environment, to leadership, to marriage and to family structures. The best public speakers are the ones who know how to relate. Essentially, public speaking proves how well we relate. And it effects all 3 areas of our presentation.

Our listeners will notice we’re self-conscious if we appear nervous, which leads us to distance ourselves from them unless and until we look them in the eyes. Instead, the more willing we are to be with them, to connect to them, to pay attention to them, the more at ease we become and the more they are at ease with us.

Our listeners will notice we are selfish if we talk about things that matter only to us. But if we clarify our ideas’ importance to them, if we speak in language they understand and about those things that matter to our listeners, they will  tune into us and wonder at how well we understand them.

Finally, when we take that extra step to make them a part of our message, to say things like, “I don’t know about you, but this is what I experienced” or  “You’re probably better at this than I am. Here’s what I did…” or “How would this work for you?” then we prove that what we are talking about has to do with them and their experiences.

The key to speaking well is to establish a sound relationship with our audience and work on building it while we are in front of them. It’s about breaking down barriers. Just like so many roles we play, being a speaker is also about being a listener, an observer and someone who understands human experiences. Make sense?

If so, here’s what I want you to do. Plan only messages that speak to your listeners’ experiences, keeping it simple. Then listeners will appreciate your honed, clearly articulated message. If relating to your listeners makes sense, then get out of your head and pay attention to those around you. What listeners will notice is a confident, willing speaker. Finally, take your relationship skills the final step and don’t waste time on whether you’re good enough, smart enough or prepared enough to speak. If you’ve done the previous work, then shift from the selfish mindset of focusing on yourself and start connecting with those around you.

You’ll not only be using the key of planning well, but you’ll have a secret in your public speaking tool box that makes you really effective.

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