How To Crush Public Speaking
June 10, 2021
Media communications professional Amanda Fox focuses her time on CEOs and people in the public eye to help them hone their messaging and communications. Here, she shares why messaging is the step one secret to good speech making and how to make an impact when speaking in public.

I began my career as a actor, where I studied how to tell a good story and how to capture people's attention and hold it in a variety of ways. As a journalist, I interviewed many people, from world leaders to celebrities to everyday people in extraordinary circumstances. I learned that a good story can actually cause change and I wanted to help people package their ideas better, to communicate with the media and get the stories that drive change out into the world.

One concept always holds true, which is if you don't have a strong handle on your message, a clean clear prioritized message, then you can't be a good public speaker. You should have two or three messages and always know what your key messages are at all times. What is the singular takeaway? If your audience were to leave with one thing today, you have to know what that is, and that has to be your driving force.

What is a good message?

It's your core brand message or the specific idea you want to get across in a particular moment in time, which should always be an extension of your core brand message.

1) Messages are concepts. They're not sound bites, or anecdotes. They are your drumbeat. They are a concept that you want to get across every chance you get. They are consistent ideas. They’re the concepts about your brand product or work, why it matters, what makes you different.

2) Your message needs to serve as a big enough umbrella to encompass all the different aspects of your brand or all your different program areas, but be specific enough to be your own and make you stand out. Your message needs to be simple. You need to be able to explain it in a sentence or two; you've all heard the adage, if you can't explain it to a six-year-old, start over. So that's what a message is. A message is a consistent concept that is differentiated and simple.

3) Connect with your audience. A good message makes an emotional connection using words that speak to the heart and sync with the values and priorities of your target audience.

4) Core messages are memorable, in order to make something memorable, it not only has to be differentiating, but also brief and clear. That's how you make something memorable. They also have to feel concrete. This is the part that I think a lot of people get wrong in terms of messaging. They need to feel concrete versus abstract. If you can picture it, it's concrete. Another way to think about concrete versus abstract is vague versus detailed. If you can't do these things with your messages, make an emotional connection, speak to the values and priorities of your target audience, make them memorable and concrete, then nothing else really matters. They have to be good and sticky before you can even think about the actual public speaking.

5) Repeat your key message. But while it can seem unnatural, the best way to have your message heard is to repeat it over and over again.That's how they get remembered. You can alter words slightly to not sound too repetitive. But you're there to do a job, you're there to deliver a message you're not there to make polite conversation.

6) Understand your audience. Your message is not going to change, but your frame is going to change all the time depending on who you're talking to. Meet your audience where they are and bring them to you. But you can't meet them where they are if you don't know where they're coming from. Always think from your audience's perspective and be direct, clear and confident.

Public Speaking Tips: Plan, Practice, Embrace it and Review + Repeat

1) Plan. Ask yourself, who is your audience? This is your planning stage before you begin to write your speech, before you write your outline, before you do anything. What do they know about you? What do they want to hear? What do you want them to do? You should have a goal. Your job is to deliver your message. Next create an outline. Do not write a speech, but bullet points. You want to memorize concepts, not specific content. You don't want to be thinking about exact words or phrases, you want to follow bullet points. Keep your outline short and sweet. What is the least you can say to get your point across? Establish clear messages you want to get across during that speech. Always think of stories you want to use to illustrate your point. Use stories to paint a picture. When I talk about stories, I don't mean long anecdotes. You can also think of stories as examples to illustrate your point and bring it to life; it’s a sentence that serves as an example to show people what you're talking about. Use humor. If you're comfortable cracking a joke before that's always great if you're good at it.

Include facts and figures sparingly. You can use a statistic or a number to add shock value or great drama or to add credence and credibility to what you're saying. But, if you rattle off a bunch of numbers that just bores people. Use them only when they add real punch, credit and clarity to your message.

2) Practice. The majority of great public speakers are not born with it, they become effective public speakers because they plan and because they practice. But when I say practice, I don't mean they work on their speech over and over and over again until it's perfect. I mean they practice delivery, they practice it on their feet. The messenger is as important, if not more important, than the message. Despite everything I've just told you about the importance of the message and how important it is to you to say whatever you're going to say, an audience decides in the first 30 to 60 seconds, whether they're going to listen to you.

Most people spend hours getting the content perfect, which is important, but very little time on the delivery itself. So put down the pen and play with your content on its feet. Do it over and over and over again until you're super comfortable. While you're practicing, what are some things you should think about? Number one, be yourself. This might sound trite, but you need to be authentic. Think about the speakers you've enjoyed and admired. They're not wooden, whether they're exceedingly warm or a bit quirky, they are themselves, you can feel their passion and their emotion. They're breathing human beings who care about what they have to say. So drop the facade and just be yourself.

What are some ways that we can undermine ourselves? One is talking too fast. The biggest tip is to breathe. When we're searching for something to say, or we're organizing our thoughts towards our next point, we feel awkward leaving empty space, so we fill it. Don't fill it. Just stop and gather your thoughts and go to the next step. Don't be afraid of silence; silence is good. It's much longer for you than it is for them. Also, use the pace as a tool, slow down or speed up to make a point as you would when telling the story to a friend.

Don't allow your voice to go up at the end of a sentence. Unfortunately, this is a problem pretty unique to women. That we let our voice go up at the end of the sentence like we're asking for permission, or we're not sure about something. I don't mean that to sound condescending. I have done it myself. When you're delivering a statement, don't ask a question. You're not asking permission for anything.

Body language is important. You have to practice that too. That's why we practice on our feet. Plan your approach. Are you going to stand in one place? Are you going to move about? Do you want a podium? Most people think podiums are necessary, I don't think they are. No matter how nervous you are, plant your feet firmly and comfortably on the ground so that you feel stable. That means not wearing shoes that you're not comfortable in or that you wobble in at all.

Do what feels comfortable. Don't be afraid of gestures. Just don't fidget. Every motion needs to be clean and clear and in service of what you're saying. Never move unless you know why you're moving. There's no such thing as too much action or too little action in my opinion, but every action has to have a point and support what you're saying.

How does all this work in the zoom world? Clearly, body language is different. But it's not as different as you might think. You can't pace or make huge gestures, but you can still use your hands in simple non-fidgety gestures to make points. Just think about where the camera cuts you off. These are the same tips that I give people who are doing television interviews: know where the cameras are cutting you off, look in your little box and either don't gesture with your hands, or make sure you gesture in a place where they'll be able to see you.

3) Embrace it. By the time you show up, the speech should be in your body and feel natural. Arrive early, adjust to your surroundings, get comfortable in your space. Obviously, if you come in late and you're stressed, that will completely throw you and impact your delivery. Also, if you arrive early, you can talk to your audience beforehand, do a little meet and greet. gauge their sense of humor, and feel the room. Also, nerves are good. I know this sounds strange, but they really, really are. Understand that being nervous before you speak is natural and good. It would be odd if you weren't. Don't judge it; it doesn't mean you're not going to be good or you aren't cut out for this. Channel those nerves into positive adrenaline and enthusiasm. Use them as jumping off points to fuel yourself and take deep breaths.

Then come out swinging. First impressions really count. The audience is giving you 30 to 60 seconds before they make a judgement about you. Start strong with a story or a powerful, provocative statement. Do not spend those precious first few moments on thank you’s, that's boring. Get their attention. Then move on with your message as soon as you can, engage with your audience. That's how you keep them hooked. Let go of the idea of public speaking and just think of it as a conversation between you and the audience. If you can carry on a relaxed conversation with two of your friends, you can do this. Make it feel intimate. Give good eye contact. Pick a couple of people in the audience and move from one to the other, look at one and say a couple of lines, and then move to another one and say a few lines move from one to the other, but not the whole time for a certain section of your speech. Don't move from one to the other too quickly; ease into it and ease out of it. Don't overthink it. Talking to one person versus thinking about talking to everybody really helps with nerves.

When questions come in, answer them concisely and stay on message. Answer the question with a message that comes back to your original message, make your point and then stop talking. The biggest mistake people make is they make the point and then they keep talking, because they feel like they didn't say enough. A good rule of thumb is if you say something and then you pause, and you don’t feel like you need to say something else, stop at the pause.

4) Review and Repeat. Hopefully your public speech is recorded and you can watch it and give yourself feedback and have other people do the same. If there was someone in the room when you spoke, ask them for feedback. Take a little notebook, write it down and open that again the next time you plan and practice for your speech.

Find Amanda Fox on LinkedIn.



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