You’re at a huge networking event. Nervously, you glance around the room and see many familiar faces. Some of the faces are new and are even smiling. These are the faces of your fellow club members. You have talked to them many times on many different occasions. So why should this be any different? Why do you have a big knot in your stomach? Why do you have an overwhelming desire to run? Why? Because tonight, YOU are the speaker. This is the first time you’ll formally speak in front of your peers. Are you ready?
1. READY, SET, GO
When does your speech actually start? When you arrive at the lectern? Does it begin with the first utterance of a sound or word? No. Your presentation begins the minute the emcee begins to talk about you. The audience automatically sweeps the crowd searching for the speaker. Keep poised and confident. Remember all eyes are on you!
2. RISE TO THE OCCASION
The emcee announces your name, and the audience breaks out into applause. Now it’s time to rise to the occasion. All eyes are on you, watching you. Gracefully rise out of your chair, stand tall, and slowly walk toward center stage. Take your time walking. The more time you take walking, the more status your audience will subconsciously give you. Let the audience’s clapping carry you to the stage as if you were gliding on a magic carpet. Remember to watch where you are walking. There could be cords and wires on the ground or chair legs in your path. Any one of these obstacles could cause you to have a nice trip. If something awkward should happen on your way to the lectern, remain calm and use humor. Using humor connects people and is more effective than using self-deprecating remarks. Let your audience know that there’s nothing to worry about, you’re okay, and the show will go on. I remember seeing Robert Allen, famous author and millionaire, fall off the stage moments after he arrived. Instantly, he jumped back up on stage and poked fun at the hotel stage lighting, which had caused his fall. Allen’s humor set the audience at ease, and they roared with laughter at his quick wit.
3. THE MOMENT BEFORE
Now, you can see your way clear to the lectern. The closer you get, the more nervous you feel. Not to worry, I have a theatre secret for you. Ever wonder how actors can just walk on stage as if they’re already in motion? It’s easy; they use techniques. One popular technique is called the moment before. The moment before is a trade secret actors use to create action before they walk on stage so they enter already in motion. The moment before is that moment right before you walk onto the stage. Actors create an action or simply a thought to propel themselves into the moment. So to keep your butterflies in check, as you are walking to the lectern, use this technique. For example, an actor might be thinking, Yuk, I see a big spider! For the speaker, you might be thinking to yourself as you hear the applause, They love me; I’m going to give a great speech! These simple statements will do two things. First, you’ll already be active and ready to deliver your speech. Second, you’ll give your mind something to do other than think about how nervous you are. Consequently, you’ll eliminate any signs of nervousness“ for the time being anyway.
4. LECTERN VS. PODIUM
You made it to the lectern. Before we continue, let me say this about the lectern. The lectern is not a podium, and a podium is not the same thing as a lectern. The most common mistake speakers make is calling the lectern a podium. Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary’s defines a lectern as an upright desk or stand with a slanted top used to hold a text at the proper height for a lecturer, whereas a podium is an elevated platform for an orchestra conductor or public speaker. Podium comes from the word Podiatry, the profession dealing with the care of feet. An easy way to remember this is to think of a podium as a platform where you put your feet. This trick could save you from the embarrassment of confusing the words podium and lectern.
5. WHEN YOU ARRIVE
Okay, you have finally arrived at the lectern on the podium after what seemed like a very long walk. Before you utter a word, take time to adjust the microphone and prepare yourself. Stand 10 to 12 inches behind the lectern. Take a moment to scan your audience with your eyes as if in one smooth, wave motion with a genuine smile. Take a beat before you speak. Breathe and then start with your opening line. Taking this moment will instantly put you at ease and help you to connect to your audience.
6. THE OPENING
The first words out of your mouth should be an attention grabber! The best speeches are organized into three parts, a beginning, a middle, and an end. Your opening line must grab your audience’s attention and arouse interest in your topic. Examples of a good opening are
- Enrolling questions
- Staggering statistical statements
- Statements of declaration
Once, I heard a speaker begin his speech with I’m late, I’m late, I’m late! He said it with such emotion that the audience could actually feel his frustration with being late. Another statement of declaration used by a young college student was, I’m tired of being a grunt! That one turned heads. Whether you choose to start with a statement of declaration, enrolling questions, or a staggering statistical statement, make it appropriate for your audience and tie it back to your speech topic.
7. DON’T LET THEM SEE YOU SWEAT
Whatever you do before, during and after your speech do not apologize! A common mistake new speaker’s make is to begin their speech with an apologetic statement. Sorry, I’m late. Forgive me for not being prepared. I’m so nervous. These statements are self-sabotaging. Don’t do it. No one has to know that you’re nervous and, quite frankly, the audience won’t know it unless you tell them. Furthermore, most symptoms of nervousness don’t even show. For instance, your audience can’t see your sweaty palms, hear your heart racing, or feel your soaring butterflies in the pit of your stomach. So don’t tell them.
There are many techniques to reduce nervousness and many books written on the subject. These books are full of tricks as simple as deep breathing exercises to the more complex methods such as hypnotherapy. However, I believe there is only one technique that really works. Remember the three rules of real estate? Location, location, location. The three rules of public speaking are practice, practice, practice. The best way to reduce and eventually eliminate nervousness is practice. Get up and speak whenever you get the opportunity. Rehearse your speech and get up and deliver it to your audience. The more you speak, the less nervous you will be. So remember, don’t ever let them see you sweat, even if you are.
8. TREAT THE LECTERN AS YOU WOULD A CHILD
Never leave the lectern unattended. You would never walk away and leave a child alone in a supermarket or in a train station, would you? No, that would be absurd. Yet, how many times have you seen emcees announce the speaker and just walk away? Every member of the audience feels this public display of awkwardness. Not to mention the speaker having to either cover up or make up for the lack of interaction. And how about the speaker who ends his speech and marches off the stage, leaving the lectern alone? The emcee quickly and perhaps awkwardly rushes to take charge of the situation. When the speech is over, the speaker should return the lectern to the emcee. It works both ways.
In either case, this poor protocol can easily be avoided if you remember to treat the lectern as a child and never leave it unattended. Let me make myself clear. I’m not saying that you should deliver your entire speech from behind this wooded barricade. No. When the lectern is turned over to you as a speaker, you are free to move about, returning to the lectern from time to time as needed. I’m referring to when you are finished with your speech. Wait patiently at the lectern, enjoying the applause, until the emcee takes charge of the lectern. Think of a relay race where the runner passes a baton to another runner before slowing her pace. Once the baton is passed, the passing runner is finished.
If your job is to introduce the speaker, after you announce his name, stay at the lectern until he arrives. In the United States, it is customary to shake hands as a professional courtesy. Stay at the lectern and greet your speaker; then gracefully leave without upstaging your guest. Since not all emcees and speakers will have read this article and know what to do, tell them; explain it to them before the event and eliminate a potentially awkward moment.
Never touch the lectern inappropriately. Most of us would never dream of hitting, grabbing, or leaning on a child. Yet, I see speakers sprawled all over the lectern as they speak. Often new presenters are so nervous they grab the edges of the lectern so tightly their knuckles turn white. Then there are those people who beat or pound on the lectern to drive a point home, leaving the audience feeling very defensive. The major problem with treating the lectern this way, outside of offending your audience, is that it distracts your audience and prevents them from hearing what you have to say. It helps to stand 10 to 12 inches behind the lectern to avoid the temptation of touching it inappropriately.
9. LOVE MEANS NEVER HAVING TO SAY THANK YOU
Remember Love Story? It was a popular movie made in 1970 starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw. In one scene, Ryan’s character, Oliver Barrett IV, and Ali’s character, Jennifer Cavilleri, have a love spat and Jennifer takes off. After combing the city all night looking for Jennifer, Ryan finds her sitting on the doorstep of their apartment. Oliver apologizes. Jennifer with tears streaming down her cheeks looks up at him and says, Love means never having to say you’re sorry. That’s right! And when it comes to thank-yous, the same is true for speakers. You have just given a brilliant speech. The audience loves you. The audience wants more. And you end it with thank you. Thank you? Why are you saying thank you? It’s the audience that should be thanking you! End your speech with a powerful statement that moves your audience into action. Develop an ending your audience will remember. Create an ending that compels your audience to say thank you to you. Or better yet, an ending that already says, You’re welcome.
These are just a few of the secrets that professional speakers use to deliver powerful presentations. By using these simple techniques, you too can command your audience’s attention, keep their interest, and move them into action. You’re now ready to speak.
Arvee Robinson, is a Persuasive Speaking Coach, Master Speaker Trainer, International Speaker, and Author. She teaches business owners, service professionals, and entrepreneurs how to use public speaking as a marketing strategy so they can attract more clients, generate unlimited leads and grow their businesses, effortlessly.