This is an interesting time for budding public speakers. On one hand, the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have prevented most public gatherings from happening, turning public speaking as we typically understand it into a non-starter — and that might not change for some time yet. Anyone hoping to stand in front of a large audience will surely be waiting a while.
On the other hand, all the downtime has given people ample opportunity to cultivate their skills behind closed doors (writing speeches, perhaps talking into mirrors), and plenty of those canceled events have moved online, having speakers talk through video conferencing using VoIP software. It isn’t the same, obviously, but it’s something.
Maybe you have big plans for post-lockdown public speaking, hoping to firmly establish yourself as a fixture in that world as it reopens — or perhaps you’re joining various virtual gatherings as a way to get some practice and show your adaptability in a tough time. Either way, you want to nail your next public speaking gig. Here are five great tips for doing just that:
Offer actionable tips
There are plenty of other reasons for someone to attend a public speaking event (maybe they know someone else who’s going, or they’re just bored), but the most common reason is to learn something. It could be an event for their industry, or for a topic that interests them. Either way they’re hoping to leave with some valuable information that can actually help them.
With this in mind, don’t just try to be entertaining (though being entertaining is certainly useful). Build your speech around actionable tips. When you regale attendees with an anecdote, move it towards some takeaways they can use. It might be a good idea to provide a handout (or download) with your main tips: tips are shareable and can be great for social promotion (per Gray Group International, they’re key for content marketing).
Be suitably expressive
You could look directly at your audience, hold that gaze, and drone on and on monotonously about your chosen topic. You shouldn’t, obviously. Your goal isn’t to be robotic: it isn’t even to be “professional” or anything so outdated. Your goal is to get people invested in what you have to say, and that requires you to be expressive. If you don’t care, the audience won’t care, and you must show you care by getting excited, gesturing, and generally having suitable body language.
Project a memorable character
Like it or not, a huge part of being a successful public speaker is cultivating a persona that grabs the audience’s attention. You can have a great speech lined up, but if no one knows (or cares) who you are, they’ll probably miss much of it. There isn’t much you can do about that initially, but you should start laying the groundwork by projecting a clear character.
Maybe you’re naturally charismatic with the right set of quirks and traits to have people hanging on your every word wherever you go — but you’re probably not, because people like that are very rare. Most of the attention-grabbing people you encounter have worked on their personas. One great way to shape your own is to imagine that you’re writing a book protagonist (there’s a handy character development template at Jericho Writers that can help) — is your persona interesting enough to make you a good protagonist? If not, people won’t care about it.
Choose your words carefully
Whether you’re speaking somewhere in person or addressing an audience through a video conference, you need to be extremely careful about how you speak. Years ago, you could flub a line and see it forgotten by the time the speech was over: today, digital recording and social media ensure that flubs are never forgotten. It only takes one mistake to earn the ire of the online world, and that ire can ruin your reputation.
Use the audience for guidance
It’s harder to give a good speech when you’re talking to people online because the feedback is vastly reduced, particularly when there are a lot of attendees and you can’t see any of them (it doesn’t make sense to have video enabled for so many people), but you should always find some way to gauge for people are receiving your speech.
In person, you should go with your gut feeling about how engaged people are. Are they starting to look away, use their phones, or talk amongst themselves? Online, pay attention to text chat: encourage everyone to leave their questions and comments in the text chat, and use that rapid feedback to guide you (if people haven’t understood a point, you can immediately revisit it).
Public speaking, whether it’s in-person or online, is a skill that needs to be carefully cultivated. These tips should help you nail your next gig and start establishing yourself as a speaker who’s always worth inviting.
Image credit: PickPik