I could never make an impromptu speech without several hours to practice it.
The other day, I ran into a friend at the grocery store. She was stressed about what to me seemed like a great opportunity. “I’ve been asked by my Women’s Club to say a few words at the next meeting, and I don’t know what to do! I can’t speak on a podium or in front of a group….I’ve never done that!”
I calmed her down and promised to help her prepare for the event. But, her reaction got me thinking. Whether it’s doing an FB Live, making a presentation or speaking at an event, there are so many of us who need to speak to audiences, both large and small, but hesitate out of fear of failure. Brian Tracy, an experienced public speaker and professional coach, once said “It is not failure itself that holds you back, it is the fear of failure that paralyzes you.”
The key, therefore, is in understanding that the fear may be actually unfounded. When you speak, you really cannot fail.
You fail only if you fail to open your mouth and speak. Once you speak, you’re in the game. From there, it can only get better.
As entrepreneurs and professionals, communication can be our leading asset!
Small business owners often speak to individuals or groups who could be potential partners or clients, or even sponsors. And it’s not just about delivering a speech. You also want it to be interesting, effective and if it’s for professional reasons, and ultimately meet its purpose.
How can you prep for successful public speaking?
So, how can one best prepare for a small presentation, a business speech, or an informal small talk like the one my friend had to give?
Here is a fail-safe three-step process garnered from my extensive public speaking and training experience. Follow this process to deliver a speech/talk/presentation with which not only work for you, but will also receive positive comments.
Step 1 – Organize your speech
As the song goes, “Let’s start at the very beginning.” What is the purpose of your speech? Are you speaking to share information or to persuade others to your point of view on a topic? Think through what you want to say, and write it down. Don’t worry about using fancy words or sentences, keep it simple and straightforward. Start with jotting down points around your main topic, in any order.
Once you have an initial list, move to creating a draft. Follow this simple ABC format, to create the outline of what you will talk about.
A is for Attention.
How are you going to get your audience’s attention? Answering this question effectively is the best introduction you can make to your speech. You can start with a ‘bang’ – i.e. hook your listeners with something funny, perhaps a recent occurrence, or even a thought provoking gesture. You could plan cues to involve the audience by asking questions. When people know they are expected to respond, they usually pay more attention.
A sample opening could be “As I came to this event today, my friend Susan commented on ….” You’ve introduced an anecdote, and related something linked to the present. Great way to capture attention. “Waiting in traffic on my drive over here today, I noticed that the car in front of me had a sticker that read Connect on a human level.”
Another opening could be “As I was preparing my talk with you, a thought occurred to me. What if, today, we all committed to doing a daily act of kindness.”
It’s true that a job well begun is half done. Spend time thinking through how you will begin. Imagine what the audience reaction to various scenarios could be. Will they laugh? Why or why not? Perhaps you want to strike a serious note. How would you do that?
B is for Body of your speech.
Now that you have the attention of your audience, you have to capitalize on it and make your point.
Start with identifying the focus of your speech?
Write down the one thing you want to say – and it should only be a single key idea. What is the main takeaway which you want people to remember? It could be the one USP of your product or service, or it could be the exceptional partnership opportunity you are presenting.
Next, review the list of points you made earlier. You will find some ideas can be consolidated and linked into a main point. Use not more than two or three points to support your main focus statement and keep each one distinct or separate. Add evidence or data to support the point you are making. Presenting facts, and not just your opinion, reinforces your position as an authority on the subject at hand.
Explain the significance, or add a quote. Sell the benefits related to your point – clearly articulate what’s in it for the audience. Do this for each point.
C is for Closing.
Closing sentences should be more than a summary, they should underscore your message.
Start by reading the main focus sentences you have above. How can you reinforce what you have said without being repetitive? Perhaps you could share statistics proving success. Or you could quote an endorsement from someone. Ensure you project your focal point positively and with support.
Lastly, create a call to action. What do you want your audience to do as result of hearing you speak?
Give them a thought to process which will provoke action. That, by itself, creates a huge recall in the minds of the people listening to you. For example, you could say “Having heard me talk so passionately about how we can work with NGOs and create a better small business future, I challenge you to find an NGO close to you, which you can partner with.”
If you are speaking at a promotional event, for example, offering a free consultation could get you sign-ups.
Step 2 – Practice it out loud
With the written speech on a sheet in your hand, say it out loud. You do not need an audience – yet.
You need to hear yourself speak and know that the words, as you have strung them, will flow from your tongue and not trip you up. This, to me, is the best way to edit what you have written. As you speak out what you have written, you will find yourself automatically shortening or editing your sentences, substituting words, and cutting out redundant ideas and thoughts. You might also find gaps where you need to substantiate with data or an anecdote. For critical self evaluation, you could even video yourself. That really helps in identifying and eliminating filler words like ‘umm’ and ‘uhh’.
In speaking it out loud, you will pinpoint both verbosity and conversational laxity and strike them out, to make your speech concise and focused.
Do this twice, preferably with a break in between. This will help you zero in to what you might have missed the first time or can be improved during a fresh read.
Speaking aloud what you have written is more than editing. It also builds a connection between you and your text.
You are creating a flow of words, a familiarity with what you have written, which will grow as you re-read. This gives you comfort and from that comes confidence.
Also Read: Confidence- 3 ways to become a stronger You!
Remember, at this time, you are not practicing to perform – you are simply familiarizing yourself with your words. By doing it in complete privacy, there is no judgment other than by your own self. And helps you knock your inner turmoil out of the ballpark.
Step 3 – Build in feedback
Finally comes this step, where you do a trial run on what you plan to say. A viewer can sometimes think of aspects which may not have occurred to you, and this can be very helpful.
Find a friend or family member, someone who is likely to be non-judgmental and offer advice along with encouragement. I often ask my grown children – not only do I get honest feedback, I get a different perspective (that of a millennial) which helps me think of how my mixed demographic audience would react. I then tailor my speech accordingly.
When practicing, I advocate creating index cards – one for each of your key points.
You do not need to memorize your speech and produce it verbatim – remember, no one, other than you, has read the original written text.
Take the pressure away from needing to rote learn. It’s your content, and you are talking about things that are important to you and matter to you. If you have the key points written down in front of you, that’s sufficient for you to expand upon as you speak.
Feel free to mark your sheet with little things such as pauses – my trick is to insert a ‘slash’ where a pause is needed. This slash reminds me that I have to pause, and acts like a useful prompt. Another trick that works for me is highlighting words I want to emphasize when speaking.
Similarly, you can make any annotations which you think will work – create your own memory-jogging techniques as you go along. But don’t do too many, or you won’t remember them all. I suggest no more than two or three personal annotation styles.
You goal should be to appear natural and authentic, not rehearsed. Don’t feel that you have to practice over and over. You are not preparing for a contest. Do what feels comfortable to you. Ultimately, know your topic thoroughly, be yourself and speak with positivity, life and emotion.
And there you have it. Preparation, planning and practice will help you win this, just like with anything else you set out to do. Importantly, they help you cross the hurdle of “what am I going to do”, and reach the winning point of “I can do this!” As for my friend, she used my three step guideline and presented to her club with confidence. If she can do it, so can you!
Supreet Bains-Sharma is an award winning public speaker and trainer. With over 20 years’ experience in coaching, mentoring, learning and development, she has delivered training and coaching sessions on Leadership Development, Business coaching, Presentation styles and Public Speaking, Train the Trainer, among many others.
She is an Advanced Leader Bronze with Toastmasters, and also a Senior Certified Professional with the Society for Human Resource Management. She also serves as VP, Mentorship at her local Toastmasters Club, and believes mentoring to be a key instrument in growth and development.
Supreet has a creative approach to delivering strategies to help individuals and organizations grow their communication skills and is passionate about inspiring others to grow and achieve results. She provides a variety of services through her company, Ark Consulting Services.