Switching on your power of speech

SO, you're not always the life of the party. You didn't captain your debating team in school, and you are turned on more by figuring differential equations than by a crackling recording of Churchill's wartime speeches.

This won't block a sparkling career, but, let's face it, if you could give a scintillating presentation, you would be one happy camper. We all need persuasive skills to rope in money and supporters from time to time. Like it or not, a knack of communicating in public is vitally important.

Having been a 150-times-a-year yakker, for-profit, I offer this advice:

1) Practice makes better. Obvious as it sounds, too many ignore it. There are damn few natural composers, golfers or racecar drivers. And there are no natural speakers - at least I have never come across one. You get better at speaking by speaking and speaking. It takes 10 years of training to become a journeyman physicist, so why should you expect to pick up sophisticated presentation skills "by the seat of your pants?"

2) Join a group where you get a chance to speak. In the US, Toastmasters International is the Alcoholics Anonymous of the speaking world, grouping generals, pastors, politicians and thousands of scared speechless engineers, accountants, supervisors and vice presidents.

The core idea is sound: you learn to get over stage fright by starting small and practising.

3) Forget the conventional rules - save one. Frankly, most laws of speechmaking (keep your hands out of your pockets, don't say "uh" and lead off with a zinger) are garbage. But there is a golden rule: stick to topics you care about, and don't keep your passion buttoned inside your vest. An audience's biggest turn-on is the speaker's obvious enthusiasm. That's as true for a pitch to purchase a $200,000 computer system as it is for a plea to save the environment. If you are lukewarm about the issue, forget it.

4) Stories, stories, and more stories. Charts and graphs have their place, and a prominent one in many sound business presentations. Nonetheless, even an analytically inclined audience will remember a key comment from a survey respondent - such as, "this company really doesn't listen to the likes of us" - long after forgetting your multicoloured bar chart which shows the firm's "openness to ideas" at 2.62 on a seven-point, sociometrically valid scale.

The best speakers, president or chief chemist, illustrate their talks with short and striking vignettes. In fact, the most potent speeches are often little more than strings of such vignettes, loosely linked by an outline.

5) For heaven's sake, don't write it out. If spontaneity isn't everything, it verges on it.

That hardly means you should just wing it: careful preparation begets spontaneity. But it does mean never write it out in full. When you do, you become a slave to your exact wording and inevitably lose 75 per cent of emotional impact.

6) Don't even think about getting it "right". After decades of giving speeches, from five minutes to five days in length (with breaks), I have yet to be satisfied with one of them. But tomorrow is another day.

Forget the "this is my only chance" feeling. If you're worth a damn, you will get plenty of chances to shine - and that one, 10-minute appearance in The Boardroom won't decide your career. But if you believe that "this is it", you'll be so tight you'll swing before the bowler even finishes his run-up.

7) Breathe. I am no expert when it comes to meditation, and I get flushed and breathless before any speech, to this day. One answer is to close your eyes (or not) and take five or 10 deep breaths (even in front of others) before going on stage to chair that big meeting.

8) Walk away from that podium. You're probably not a stiff round the office and almost certainly not at home, so why be a stiff when you're making an important presentation?

Make notes on index cards (in bold letters if your eyes, like mine, aren't getting younger), and don't nail yourself to the lectern. Wander about the platform, around the table, even into the crowd. Look comfortable and your audience will be more comfortable.

9) Loosen up - you're not going to convince them anyway. Speeches aren't about turning enemies into cheering supporters. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech hardly converted George Wallace into a civil rights champion.

A presentation is mainly an opportunities to reassure those who already agree with you that you're a horse worth betting on. The heart of board or committee work is one-on-one discussion before formal discourse. Try to relax and enjoy yourself, to present the "excited you" as excited you - which is just what the audience wants.

TPG Communications

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Guru Careers: Management Accountant

£27 - 35k + Bonus + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Management Accountant is needed ...

Guru Careers: Project Manager / Business Analyst

£40-50k + Benefits.: Guru Careers: A Project Manager / Business Analyst is nee...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power