The Power of Public Speech: A Short Guide To Impressing the Masses

Who has watched a Tedx Talk? Interesting people have presented some fascinating ideas on that stage. However, it is their skill of oral communication that keeps us captivated throughout a 20-minute talk.

You don’t have to have watched a Tedx Talk to appreciate that public speaking is one coveted skill. Some of the greatest leaders, ranging from Winston Churchill to Barack Obama have had the ability to eloquently communicate their ideas to the masses in an impactful and sustained way. This magic can be recreated by anyone to achieve success in the workplace, school and in other areas of life. However, it takes practice and persistence.

Although I had always been a talkative kid, my words didn’t channel into anything productive until I entered the 7th grade. I joined the Speech and Debate team at my school, entered numerous competitions and was fortunate to win some awards. In university, I started coaching various levels of speech and debate as the Northern Alumni Representative for the Alberta Speech and Debate Association. Since I believe that public speech is an extremely powerful communication tool, necessary for every profession, I’ve remained active in developing my skills in this area.

Dynamic public speaking arises from lots of practice. So no matter what field you’re in, you should exploit all possible opportunities to speak in public. If you haven’t had too much experience, here are a few pointers to get started.

Capture the audience from the get-go:

  • Use a statistic, a shocking fact or even a short personal story! It entices the audience and brings them into your perspective. Once this is done, you’re well on your way to delivering a powerful speech. Examples of this could include:
  1. “A couple of weeks ago, I was working on…” (Personal Story)
  2. “Flipping through the paper this morning, you may have noticed…” (Current Event)
  3. “Every year, About 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year..” (Statistic)
  4. “Did you know…” (Interesting/Shocking Fact”)

Use enthusiasm with your delivery:

  • If you are able to choose your topic, pick something that excites you! Your passion will come across in your delivery and keep your audience captivated.
  • Vary your vocal volume; monotony is the quickest way to lose an audience. Additionally, speakers should monitor their volume to ensure that they’re not speaking too quietly or too loudly.
  • Pause for dramatic effect, slow down to make a point, and speed up to display energy.
  • When making an important point, step away from the podium and towards your audience. Invite them into your discussion!
  • Use body language effectively, but don’t let it distract your audience. All of your movements should have a purpose.
  • Show appropriate facial expressions and vary them according to what you are speaking about.
  • If you’re looking for an excellent sample of all of the above in action, check out the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered by Barack Obama. He is one the most eloquent and passionate speakers in the world.

Structure your speech:

  • A constructive speech should have no more than 2-3 points. Each point should have appropriate support through definitions, statistics, or testimony.
  • Make sure you “sign post”. Outline the points you will be addressing at the beginning of your speech and restate them at the end!
  • Tie your points with transitions so the audience can keep track. (Examples are firstly, secondly… finally…) Also maintain a flow of ideas, so they may be easily understood.

Include your own story:

  • It’s always nice to add a personal touch so the audience may connect with you on an emotional level.
  • Try to include at least one “story” per topic; this could even be a case study of someone else. It will add a human element to your speech.
  • With these stories, always make sure that you answer the questions: who, what, when, where, why and how.

All content should be memorable:

  • Cater to your audience. If you were addressing elementary students, you would vary the complexity of your language, ideas and support, compared to if you were talking to high school students.
  • If your speech is persuasive, use the testimony of experts to add weight to your arguments.
  • Use key statistics to emphasize the seriousness of your content. All the content you use should deepen your case.
  • If appropriate, consider using some humour in your speech. It may lighten a serious topic and make it a little more audience-friendly. Try to keep any humor you add short. A one-liner can go a long way!
  • You could also include a funny story about yourself; it may make you more relatable. Keep it short; funny stories can lose their charm if they are too long. Also, when using humor, make fun of yourself- never the audience.

Maintain eye contact:

  • If you face a small audience, try looking at each person for a short time. If it’s a large audience, divide them mentally into chunks and rotate through each section.
  • A lack of eye contact causes the audience to be disengaged. Always look to your audience before you speak.
  • Don’t read your speech; this is the best way to maintain proper eye contact. Practice enough times beforehand so you can focus on maintaining eye contact with the audience.
  • Use small cue cards with key words, statistics, or phrases on them. They won’t shield your face or ruffle as loose papers would.

Leave the audience with something to think about:

  • Your conclusions are the last point of contact you have with an audience. Make them count!
  • Summarize your main points and the objectives you wished to communicate.
  • Leave the audience thinking, with a question or an analogy. Try to provoke a discussion when you conclude.

Becoming an excellent public speaker requires lifelong practice. However, it is a skill that you will find useful no matter what career or path you decide to pursue.

Hopefully the above points will help you become an outstanding speaker who can impress the masses. If you’re looking for more help with public speaking, I’m an NYL who can mentor you. Feel free to schedule a chat!

Photo Credit: Barack Obama via photopin cc


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