Chances are, if you’re a newbie like me, you’re not going to get tossed into the arena with masses in attendance. You’ll have twenty or thirty folks to speak to in a relatively cozy setting and enough light everyone can see the sweat circles under your arms.
Here’s a few ideas to keep those sweat stains from happening:
Arrive early. Get a feel for the place, make sure your set-up will provide what you need, meet some other early arrivers. This last is vital: meet some of the people, ask them questions about themselves, get them to talking and listen intently to what they say. Then, as you speak, find a way to address them personally. During one of my speeches, someone I met before the meeting had a better example of one of my points than I did. As I was speaking, I called her by name, walked toward her side of the room, and with a wave of my hand in her direction, provided her example. This is a great way to engage the audience. If one of your anecdotes occurs in a place a listener is from, motion to that person as you tell it. If someone shared a joke, share it with everyone. Present yourself as personable, and everyone will relate to you.
When you start talking, look people in the eyes. Some will consistently look back into yours. They’ll be the ones you’ll establish contact with as you work from one side of the room to another. And you have to work all sides of a room to keep everyone involved. If you speak only to those directly in front of you, you’ve lost those who are listening from the sides. Worse, though, is picking a spot above everyone’s heads and addressing it the entire time. Gain and maintain contact. You’ll find that many of your listeners are willing to encourage you as you go.
Someone–often several “someones”–in the group is expressive, either in facial expressions or body language. Be alert to them. Are you not speaking loudly enough? Someone’s expression will let you know. Are you going to fast? Watch the body language for signs that someone isn’t catching everything you’re saying. Are you confusing? You’ll see it written all over someone’s face. Pay attention, watch, adjust.
Don’t use the podium as a crutch, and especially don’t use it as a barrier between you and your audience. Get out from behind it and walk closer to the crowd. Stride the floor. Use hand and arm movements. Movement attracts, but it is also a wonderful outlet for nervous energy. When I’m talking with my hands, few people notice how badly they’re shaking; when I walk, they can’t see my knees knock. What the audience sees is natural movement involved in speaking. What they see is someone who is personable and approachable. What they don’t see is nervous jitters.
If you combine an excellent, entertaining speech with an excellent, entertaining delivery, you’ll be invited back. You may even pick up more opportunities.
But we’re not through, yet. What happens after the speech? You’ll see in Part III.