Effective public speaking skills are a valuable asset, and getting good takes practice. However, it is crucial, as your technique improves, to always remember the primary goal of public speech in the first place: to convey thoughts from your brain to others’ brains.
You have a message to deliver. A point to make. An effect to cause. At least you should. And anything that distracts from that mission should be eliminated from your speaking. Great public speaking is not about flash or tricks or showmanship. Great public speaking is about focus.
A classic mistake when speaking in front of people is to try to put on a show. Wear super attractive clothes, do your hair in a compelling way, or develop some cute, unique method of delivery. And that is okay, if you want the audience to remember you as a person and nothing else.
But the real pros know that is not the point. The real pros want you to walk out remembering their message. The next morning they want you talking about their message. Weeks after the event, they want you driving down the road still thinking about their message. And they know the crucial way to do that is to focus on the message, not themselves. So, in every public speaking opportunity, it should be your goal to maximize the message and minimize the messenger.
Here are a few tips to draw attention away from yourself and help your message really hit home:
1) Wear boring clothes
If your audience can remember your shirt color when they leave the room, you did not have their undivided attention. Every moment they are thinking about that snazzy new tie or fashion forward blouse is a moment they were not thinking about your message.
A caveat here: You should wear clothes that are boring to your audience. If you are speaking to people with neck tattoos and brow piercings, do not show up in a three piece suit. If you are talking to a senior group, dress appropriately. In other words, blend in with the crowd. This is not the time to be a snowflake.
Now some of you out there are protesting. You are saying your individuality matters more than anything to you and that you should not be expected to change who you are for other people. To that I would say, you have every right to wear what you want in front of whomever you want. Just don’t expect them to remember a single word you say. Your choice.
2) Know. Your. Stuff.
We speak most comfortably, and effectively, about the subjects we know best. When you are not well versed on your message, nerves take hold and drive you to incorporate distractions, like vocal pauses and nervous ticks, into your presentation. Your language and delivery will naturally smooth out if you have command of your topic. So, make every effort to know your material down pat.
Think of it like this. Do you have kids or a favorite pet? How hard is it to talk about them? Right. It is easy to communicate about what we know really, really well. So, whatever the topic of your public talk, become that familiar with it and your message will come through.
3) Use the one sentence test
As you prepare your remarks, before you start practicing your delivery, write out the takeaway message of your talk in one full sentence of 15 words or less. Make yourself do this. If you cannot condense your message into a single sentence, you either have too much material or do not know your material well enough to speak on it. Every point you make, illustration you muster, and conclusion you draw should support that one sentence. It will keep you on track and reduce drag on your all important central message.
4) Polish your language
This is not some My Fair Lady exercise (the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain), but you should endeavor to eliminate little vocal ticks from your speech. Record your speaking, and if you hear a lot of “uh, well, ya know, like, ya know, uh” type stuff, practice until you do as little of that as possible. It’s important to record yourself here. It is not comfortable, but you don’t know you have those messy vocalics until you hear them.
5) Tell as few personal stories as possible
Telling stories is a super way to convey a message. Illustrations and anecdotes are indispensable in this regard. However, have you ever heard a speaker who mostly tells stories about him/herself? It is unbecoming, and maximizes the messenger. Tell great stories, but choose ones about other people. Again, this takes the focus off of you and puts it on your message.
Public speaking is an exercise in telepathy. You are trying to convey your thoughts to other human beings, and that is not easily done. So don’t complicate an already difficult task by drawing attention to yourself and away from your central message. Use these techniques to bring laser focus to your topic and eliminate your biggest distraction – you.