anked above death or being buried alive as one of our greatest fears, public speaking is no walk in the park. When mastered however, the unpopularity of this niche-but-necessary aspect of corporate life can set one above the rest, purely through demonstrating the will to jump in the deep end of a task, when most wouldn’t be willing. It’s common for those who are not speaking to support the speaker (the notorious chant of “speech, speech!” springs to mind), but even in a controlled and prepared setting, Tom Lamont of the Guardian argues that the continued support from a crowd actually comes from a reverse sense of relief that someone else is taking the reins, leaving you to “suck it up and do your best”. No pressure.
Public speaking roles can range from a personal presentation to representing your company at an event or pitching to a board for an ongoing project. Whilst they vary in their audience size and business impact, like any pain point in the workplace, the more something is rehearsed, the easier it will become – and the more marketable you will be as an employee. Whilst practice makes perfect, rehearsing in front of a mirror will only get you so far, held back by the uncomfortable and frankly, unnatural experience of looking yourself in the eye as you talk to yourself. To translate a great speech on paper into a convincing and passionate delivery, stick to these seven points to win the audience over, with grace, integrity and style.
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Do Your Homework
Reflecting on the immortal words of Mark Twain, “there is no such thing as a new idea…we simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a…mental kaleidoscope”. A good speech combines a split ratio between inspiration and original content; building the foundations of your speech with the bricks from the word of others. Bear in mind, public speeches to nations are a little oversized for boardroom or client-pitch delivery so refine your research. Take inspiration from leading university graduation speeches and IPO launches from industries that are relevant to your audience; study the delivery and variety of topics covered in the speech as well as the pace of their performance to lay the foundations of inspiration for your own.
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Practise Makes Perfect
A mantra that still holds true, especially in the domain of public speaking. Whilst practising is an essential part of perfecting a speech, the most efficient and effective way to embrace a new and perhaps intimidating task is to jump in with both feet and make it a habit. The Muse writer Chloe Mason Grey advises familiarising yourself with listening to your own voice, simply to become comfortable with the feeling of speaking openly and coordinating your body at the same time. Just how revision is the process of making ‘new’ knowledge, current knowledge in your memory, the pace and delivery of your speech – not to mention the speech itself – should be common ground by the time the date rolls round. “Even if you feel you’re not entirely ready, actively seek out speaking opportunities and take each one that comes your way, whether it’s simply presenting to a few colleagues or giving a talk to a room of 30 people.” Use technology to your advantage here; record yourself on your phone and rigorously critique your verbal performance, laying checker points for the next step…
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If there is one thing that elevates a speech, it’s eye contact. Keep it varied – look to all angles of the room and distribute your intention to make everyone feel inclusive of what you’re saying and to maintain attention. “When you look a person in the eye, you communicate confidence and belief in your point of view” says Sims Whyeth, CEO of professional development firm Sims Wyeth & Co. Linking fundamental instinct to our basic psychological links of trust, eye contact delivers a message of authenticity, something Cornell University discovered in marketing research when analysing eye contact of the characters on cereal packets. " When you don't look people in the eye, they are less likely to look at you. And when they stop looking at you, they start thinking about something other than what you're saying…they stop listening.”
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The importance of body language makes all the difference in a speech, not just in the way others perceive us but also in how we perform. James Clear’s 2-minute rule in ‘power posing’ taps into the idea that ‘priming’ ones ’self for power before an important meeting makes a significant impact in out self-belief and confidence. Something as simple as holding the Wonder Woman pose before your speech, in which you “make yourself big” physically opens up your body and forces you to relax by default. Stand up straight, breathe deeply, relax your shoulders and smile in order for your internal mind-set to mimic your external state.
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Tone of Voice
Known for his emotive and pioneering films, director John Ford stressed a huge emphasis on tone in his productions, reiterating the ethos, “you can speak well if your tongue can deliver the message of your heart”. A fluctuating tone captivates your emotions as well as points of importance; punctuating your speech with a tone that changes like the crescendo in a symphony to keep the audience engaged. Divide up your speech into portions, with points that indicate focus and points that indicate reflection, with tone being the indicator, to avoid a monotone and disengaging speech. Define points of value in your speech, where your tone can drop to stress a point of realisation, allowing the audience to learn something in the process to digest on their own accord.
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Timing is Key
Pauses are another powerful tool. 3-8 second pauses at key moments – just before a bold statement or just after an anecdote – and let your words sink in with the audience, enabling them to make a connection with the point. A speech without pauses shifts the energy of the deliverance from you onto the audience, who will struggle to keep up with what you’re saying and miss out on key messages. The beauty of a pause is that it provides the audience with a point of process, in which they can take and translate what has been said, in relation to the overall message. Or as American opera singer Dorothy Sarnoff stresses, “make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening” – wield them to your advantage.
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Dress for Success
Never has personal presentation mattered more than when in the public eye. Although your audience is likely to be on a modest scale, the impact on your delivery will be just as sizeable, if anything, on your career. Drawing on research from the Centre for Work-Life Policy, the importance of the workplace dress code is more relevant than ever when in the corporate environment. Of the 1,000 employees questioned, half the women surveyed and 37% of the men considered appearance and ‘executive presence’ to be intrinsically linked; they understood that if you don’t look the part of a leader, you’re not likely to be given the role. Although a speech isn’t necessary a turning point for a promotion, it certain lays down the foundations for building a better career – not to mention smashing one of the work-place greatest fears so it’s only fitting that you look the part. Whether your power piece is a perfect tailored suit or you prefer the classical elegance of a well-cut dress, combining the elements of comfort, style and confidence is easy if your outfit is composed of that what makes you feel your most powerful.
Words by Emily Freund