by Andra Searles
“Public speaking is a skill, not a talent,” said Allison Shapira, President of Global Public Speaking LLC. “And luckily for all of you, that means there is always room to improve.”
At Global Public Speaking’s May 6th conference, “Speaking with Confidence: A Workshop for Women,” I listened as Shapira explained the significance of public speaking in all things we do, and how it takes on a whole new level of importance for women. From discovering an inner voice to channeling leadership and commanding respect in a male-dominated field, sharpening public speaking skills is a continual effort.
As a classically trained opera singer setting out in the professional world, Shapira quickly noticed that much of the same breathing and confidence-boosting tricks she would employ in her theatrical career actually remained relevant and highly applicable in the world of business and politics. This realization led her to begin teaching workshops and offering private coaching on how to speak best publicly. Listening to her speak, I quickly related to her message: I thought, “I, too, have a background in singing, and have practiced all of the techniques of stage presence that come with it, but for some reason, I still think public speaking poses unique challenges.” Here are my major takeaways from Shapira’s workshop on how to foster the best public speaking skills.
How to Write and Deliver a Speech
When it comes to the perfect speech, it all comes down to content and delivery. While writing an important speech, you should always ask yourself three questions:
- Who is my audience? – Do the people I am trying to get through to speak my language? Will they understand acronyms, jargon, jokes, concepts, etc. or will I need to adjust my speech to be more accessible to them? Knowing and anticipating counterpoints can help you get through to those who might be opposed to your idea.
- What’s my goal? – What concrete action do I want people to take as a result of my speech? Does everything in my speech reinforce this objective? The audience should walk away from your speech at least knowing what your goal was, even if they don’t acquiesce
- Why me? – This is critical. Why is this subject so important to you that you are the one delivering this speech and no one else? If the topic is not very important to you, finding something tangential to tie it all back to you will make your message all the more powerful. Most importantly of all, understanding the “Why me?” reinforces your perceived right to speak to your audience, bolsters your authority as a speaker and grants you a greater sense of confidence.
Finally, as Shapira explained, it’s incredibly important to “write your speech with your ear, not just with your eye.” Readability is more beneficial than borrowing your vocabulary from a thesaurus.com…
Three Areas of Delivery
Once confident in your content, the name of the game is delivery.
- Eye contact – A good speech feels like a conversation. The goal of eye contact is to build relationships, and thereby trust, with individual members of your audience.
- Body language – Lead with intentional movement with your hands, legs and facial expressions. Unintentional habits (i.e. pacing, wringing your hands, playing with your hair, etc.) can seriously detract from your message and credibility. Training more positive intentional movement—such as gesturing “1,” “2” and “3” with your hands, walking during transition points in your speech, or finding a natural “home base” for your hands at your sides or with elbows bent—can capture your audience and deepen the impact of your messaging.
- Voice – Sometimes, it’s not the words that strike a chord with your audience, but it’s how you say them. Letting your voice be natural and expressive is key. In fact, women who use “uptalk,” or who speak in a way that makes their statements sound like questions, actually come across as though they are questioning themselves, rather than compelling their audience. Avoid this.
Public speaking isn’t easy, but empowered by the insight above, you now have the tools you need to conquer insecurity and make your ideas heard.