Speaking to an audience creates stress for even the most seasoned speaker. By adequately preparing your message and empathising with your audience, you will have more impact on them.
This is part of a longer article that was published on MT Magazine (Premium article for subscribers)
Writer Mark Twain, who was never shy of a tasty quote, already knew: ‘There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars. ‘
Every speaker gets nervous when he or she needs to talk to a large group and that is very normal: we speak with a purpose, we want to have an impact, convince people, but we do not know our audience. Or maybe we do know our audience and that makes us even more nervous. Because in any case, you are vulnerable as a speaker.
Keep the tips below in mind and you will address your audience more calmly and with more impact.
1. Prepare yourself well
Failing to prepare… is preparing to fail. You may already be a gifted speaker or think that you are, you do well to prepare every speech.
Think especially well about what message you want to convey. ‘Limit yourself to one main message, and optionally add two additional topics,’ says speaker coach Elizabeth Van Den Bergh (photo).
‘Whether you write out your speech beforehand or not is up to you: do as you feel comfortable, but you must have rehearsed it in advance. Ask yourself: What does my audience think, know and feel right now, and what do I want them to think, know and feel after my speech. That question will provide ideas for what you are going to say and how you are going to say it.
Suppose you have to give a New Year’s speech as CEO after a bad year, but despite the disappointing results, you want to motivate your team and send them a positive message.’ What are they feeling now? Doubt, fear, disappointment? What feelings do I want them to have in 20 minutes from now? Enthusiasm and trust.
2. Map resistance and tangent points
Of course, you need convincing arguments when you speak to people and want to convince them of your message.
If you as CEO want to get your board of directors and investors so far as to take out their wallets for the innovation you’ve been planning for so long, it is very important, according to Van Den Bergh, that you examine the common ground with your audience, but also where you’re on different levels and thus where the possible resistance could be.
‘You should definitely define that and incorporate it into your story. Because if you bring a one-sided positive story, you are guaranteed to get all the tricky questions afterwards at the Q&A’, she says. ‘You can easily anticipate that in your speech with phrases like ‘I can see you think, Carl, that…’ And that’s also how you lower any tension. And avoid annoying questions afterwards.’
‘If you bring a one-sided positive story, you’re guaranteed to get all the tricky questions afterwards’
Since he founded TED in 2002, Chris Anderson has seen many speakers at work from the first row. He has a clear view about what a good speaker should do.
During both your preparation and your speech you should build up your message incrementally, with concepts that your audience already understands. Their position is your starting point.
‘Speakers often forget that many terms and concepts they use every day, are utterly unknown to their audiences. Metaphors can play a crucial role in showing coherence, as they reveal the desired pattern shape, based on an idea that the listener already understands, “he advises future TED speakers in a video message.
‘A vivid story delivers a satisfying ‘aha experience’ when it takes its place in our brains. That’s why you need to test your speech with friends you trust and discover at which point they get confused.’
3. Breathe calmly
How you breathe is a crucial part of speaking. Those who control their breath can give calm speeches. Especially at the start of a speech, controlled and quiet breathing proves to be difficult for many.
‘I like to compare the beginning of a speech with someone who jumps in the pool during their holiday’, says Van Den Bergh. ‘You know that the water is cold, and yet you jump. Your breath is cut off for a moment. That also happens when you step on the stage.’
‘That is not the moment to start speaking, but to take the time to breathe calmly. So that you can start in peace and with sufficient breath.’
If you don’t, you will speak too quickly and make a nervous impression. You run the risk of losing your audience from the outset. As in any other context, your first impression when you speak is essential. Those who feel comfortable will also leave a better impression on their audience.