It’s been said there are two times in life when you are truly alone: just before you die and just before you deliver a five-minute speech. Stage fright can be terrifying, but it needn’t be paralyzing.
Delivering over a thousand speeches teaches a person a thing or two about getting through to the audience. Because I am often asked for advice from nervous speakers, I have developed my ABCs of public speaking:
A is for audience. Learn about those who will be in attendance and tailor your remarks to hold their interest.
B is for body language. Move around, gesture and use facial expressions to demonstrate your enthusiasm.
C is for creativity. Don’t be afraid to use props, PowerPoint or audience participation to add spark and surprise.
D is for delivery. Have a focused message that leaves the audience with significant take-home value.
E is for eye contact, a critical feature of an effective speaker. Connecting with your audience can’t happen without it.
F is for feedback. Ask for immediate, unfiltered responses so you can continue to improve your skills.
G is for grammar. Pay attention to the language you use. Make certain it is correct.
H is for homework. Study the organization you are addressing: What are the problems, issues, concerns and opportunities? Mispronouncing names is unforgivable.
I is for introduction. Make sure that the person introducing you is a real pro. Provide a prepared introduction with your pertinent information.
J is for jokes. Try them out on several people to make sure they are appropriate and amusing. Humor, anecdotes and stories add much to a speech.
K is for knowledge. Speakers have to demonstrate a real grasp of the subject at hand in order to be taken seriously.
L is for lighting. People laugh more and retain more in brightly lit rooms. Dim the lights only if using PowerPoint presentations.
M is for masking tape. Seal noisy door latches to avoid distractions. Block off the back rows of chairs to keep the audience up front.
N is for noise, a real attention killer. After-dinner speakers especially have to compete with clearing tables and clinking glasses. Consult with the host organization about minimizing noise.
O is for opening. A spectacular opener will grab the audience’s attention immediately.
P is for practice, practice, practice. There is no substitute for preparation.
Q is for Q&A. Take questions five minutes before you are ready to close, so that you have the last word.
R is for room size. Insist the room seat only the planned size of the audience. A room that’s too big destroys rapport.
S is for smile. Let the audience see that you are pleased/happy/honored to be asked to speak.
T is for Toastmasters International, the organization that I recommend for anyone wanting to hone their speaking skills.
U is for unforgettable. Make your speech memorable, clever and well-organized.
V is for voice. Listen to yourself on tape so that you can adjust tempo, tone, timing and inflection.
W is for wisdom. You want to teach and inform.
X is for experience. (Yes, I know it starts with an “e.”) The best way to become a better speaker is to speak as often as you can.
Y is for you. Take pains to look your best.
Z is for zip it up. A smashing closing is as important as a gripping opening.
Another speaking tips handout, “Harvey Mackay’s 35 To Stay Alive,” is available at www.35toStayAlive.com.
Mackay’s Moral: The best way to sound like you know what you’re talking about is to know what you’re talking about.
Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or firstname.lastname@example.org.