The Art of Public Speaking
By Emma Pomfret, PA Features
As Britain's top politicians gear up for the forthcoming General Election, their public-speaking skills will be pushed to the very limits as they try to persuade voters with their velvet-toned rhetoric and grand gestures.
But unless you are a trained public speaker or have a natural talent for captivating an audience, most people tend to dread standing up in front of a crowd - fortunately, a few simple pointers can make sure you shine on stage rather than sending your listeners to sleep.
"Public speaking creates anxiety in all of us - even those who do it all the time,"
says Robin Chandler, founding partner at Impact Factory, a professional and personal development company specialising in tailor-made public speaking and communications.
"Every trick people use when they are preparing to speak in public is tied up with sound bites, gestures, tone of voice and focusing on grabbing people's attention rather than giving them information.
"Tony Blair, for example, uses a certain 'look' when he pauses in speaking, which acts as a stopper and gives you a poke to make you wake up and listen."
Another great technique, according to Chandler, is to ask rhetorical questions during your speech to make sure that your message is communicated as clearly as possible.
"For example, 'So, why are we doing this? I'll tell you why', which has a certain challenge in it as well as a question," he explains.
When planning your speech - whether it's a Best Man speech or a work presentation - you also should be looking to use gestures which you know are your own, he says.
"The only decision you have to make is whether to make the gestures big or small, and it is important for people to remember that they don't have to learn new stuff.
"If you want to really affect people, work out what your natural style is and then alter it slightly - so if you're chatty, smiley person then take your smile away, become less chatty and slightly monosyllabic at certain points, and that 'No More Mr Guy' approach really grabs people's attention," he advises.
"The most important thing to remember is that repetition is death in terms of public speaking," says Chandler. "Repetition of a gesture is guaranteed to upset people and repetition of vocal tone will make your audience fall asleep.
"If you do something that others can actually see you doing, they will no longer listen to you or take you seriously," he says, picking out false gestures or overworked phrases as ones to avoid. "However, it stays just below the level of their conscious awareness, then it works."
BEING UNCLEAR ABOUT YOUR MESSAGE
Politicians tend to talk a lot about being on or off message, and Chandler says deciding on your own message is vital - something that many amateur public speakers overlook.
"Decide exactly what you want them to be thinking and saying when you stop speaking," he says.
OVER-USING POWERPOINT AND SLIDES
During a work presentation, don't rely on PowerPoint or lots of slides. "By hiding behind it, you are really saying that the slides have more personality than you do. PowerPoint can't present and you can - the best thing you can do is to turn it off," he laughs.
TRYING TO BE FUNNY
You should never attempt the use of humour if you are usually a stoical, un-smiling person, Chandler adds. "If you need to inject some humour bring someone else on who can make people laugh - there's no shame in just bussing them in!"
BECOMING MR OR MRS MONOTONE
Successful public speakers always make sure that their speeches are loud and varied in tone, he points out. "Never use the same tone of voice all the way through - vary tone so that it goes up and down frequently, and remember that gestures are also very important aids to precipitate changes in your voice.
"You can actually make a difference to how you sound so that if you point a finger, stand up, or smile - the physical changes the vocal."
TOP TIPS FOR PUBLIC SPEAKING
MOVE AROUND A LOT
"Don't get stuck in one place - there's nothing worse than seeing somebody rooted to the spot with terror," jokes Chandler.
"If you simply take something with you, such as notes or a glass of water, and put it down somewhere it demonstrates that you occupy the space and it's yours.
"It also gives your body something else to do - when standing on a stage often people suddenly become super self-conscious and find they have hands on the end of their arms which they have no idea where they came from!" he smiles.
BEND YOUR BODY
"One of the most important ways to relax is to bend in the middle of your body beforehand - what this does is release the muscles around your midriff and lower back, which are the ones that are stuck.
"You will physically loosen up and you'll be off and running."
STAND OFF TO ONE SIDE
"Never go centre stage - you'll be in trouble as everyone will look at you and you'll feel like a rabbit in the headlights."
CONCENTRATE ON YOUR OPENING AND CLOSING
"Don't over-rehearse but do make sure you get your opening and closing right - this will make a lasting impression on people and ensure that you don't just dribble off at the end," Chandler says.
SAY THANK YOU AND TAKE A BOW
"Whether you think you've done well or badly, always take a bow and say thank you - you can actually fool people into thinking you've done better than you have by doing a good walk-down."
ALWAYS TEST OUT TECHNICAL EQUIPMENT BEFOREHAND
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Public Speaking Training
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For anyone interested in
"More than six months on, I still consider and share examples with colleagues about what I learned from that day at Impact Factory. Before this workshop, I would have been terrified to talk in front of just a few colleagues…I now speak confidently to large groups of people with ease."
Heidi Williams, Senior Programme Officer, NHS Confederation
"I did three presentations in the week after the course and used a number of the tools from the day. In particular focusing on ‘the conversation’ and involving the audience allowing me to remove self-generated anxiety."
Irvine Magowan - Professional Capability Manager - Royal Bank of Scotland
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