How to Give a Great Speech . . . Without Passing Out, Throwing Up, or Drawing a Blank
Copyright © 2018 by Roger A. Reid
All Rights Reserved
With the exception of brief quotes used in reviews and articles, no part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system without written permission.
Table of Contents
PART ONE – TAMING YOUR NERVES & MAKING ALL THAT ENERGY WORK FOR YOU!
The Secret to Controlling Your Nerves
PART TWO – DEVELOPING YOUR SPEAKING SKILLS
Step One – Learn From Others
Step Two – Use Memory Pegs
Step Three – Tell a Story
Step Four – Incorporate the Presentation Techniques of the Pros
PART THREE – DESIGN A PERSONAL PRESENTATION
What’s the Objective?
Is the Purpose of your Presentation to Instruct or Inspire?
The Purpose of Your Speech Determines the Expectations of your Audience
The Inspiration Talk
Don’t Overly Complicate the Message
Transition Your Audience into an “Emotional Mode”
Use the “Power of Three”
Make Reference to a Member of the Audience
Use a Quote or Two
Close Your Speech by Making it Personal
Give the Audience a Reason to Make an Emotional Connection
PART FOUR – FORMATTING YOUR SPEECH
Popular Formats for Shorter Talks & Spontaneous Requests to Speak
Speaking in the Work Setting
Should I use a Set of Notes or Try to Memorize my Speech?
What About Presentations in Which I Must Read my Speech Word for Word?
PART FIVE – USING YOUR VOICE TO ADVANTAGE
Volume and Tone
The Pitch of Your Voice is Every Bit as Important as the Volume
PART SIX – FINISH STRONG
Summarize Your Key Points
Tell a Concluding Story
Develop a “Maybe You Haven’t” Close
Thank Your Audience and/or the Sponsor
Simply Tell Them You’re Finished
PART SEVEN – PUTTING THE FINAL TOUCHES ON YOUR PRESENTATION
Rehearse on Camera
What Should You Wear?
Sound Systems, Microphones, Lighting & Props
Using a Podium (Speaker’s Stand)
How Much Do You Tell an Audience About Your Background?
PART EIGHT – MOVING UP TO THE NEXT LEVEL
Getting Your Audience to Like You
Remove the Invisible Barrier Between You and Your Audience
Increase Rapport by Suggesting a Commonality
What About Starting Out With a Joke?
What About Humor in General?
Vocabulary, Slang and Jargon
Using Techno-speak to Create “Implied Authority”
There is No Single Best Method of Presentation and Delivery
Get Better With Practice
Maybe you’ve been asked to be the best man at a friend’s wedding and you’re afraid you’re going to end up tongue-tied when it’s time to make the traditional speech. Or you’re sure you’re going to be called on to “say a few words” at your high school reunion, and the thought of standing in front of the room and speaking to your old classmates makes you break out in a cold sweat.
Don’t worry. You’re not alone. In fact, you’re in great company.
There are plenty of excellent professional speakers who also experienced that same gut-wrenching fear the first time they faced an audience.
And let’s not forget the worst possible situation—when you’re asked to speak right out of the blue, without warning, and without time to prepare. It can happen during a lunch meeting of a charity group, at work, at church, during a birthday celebration or an anniversary party. My own first-time speaking experience is a good example:
I was right out of college with only two weeks into my new job as an engineering sales rep for a large electrical manufacturing company. One afternoon, my manager asked me to accompany him to a company-sponsored training session conducted at our distributor’s place of business. Since this particular distributor would soon be my account, tagging along would give me the opportunity to meet the management and key salespeople.
There were about forty people in the room. Their job functions varied, but most were involved in some aspect of sales.
My boss went through his usual thirty minute session, talking about new products and their application, and then reviewing an upcoming promotion sponsored by our company. As he brought his presentation to a close, he introduced me as the new account rep.
And then he did the unthinkable: He invited me to the front of the room to “say a few words.”
For the first few seconds, I couldn’t move. Caught completely unprepared, I had no idea what I was going to do. But as forty pairs of eyes began turning toward me, I realized I had no choice. Slowing rising from my chair, I felt the blood begin to leave my brain. Reaching for the table in front of me, I tried to steady myself. I wondered which would be less damaging to my career . . . passing out on the way to the podium or waiting until I was behind it, after the audience had seen my face frozen with fear and my hands shaking like twin jack-hammers.
It was bad. And in that moment, I realized how accurate the old adage is: “Fifty percent of the population would rather face death than be forced to speak in public.”
But I could see my hesitation was becoming obvious. Everyone was waiting—on me. I was expected to say something. And I had to do it now.
I put one foot in front of the other and began moving. I had about fifteen seconds to put together a quick speech.
I decided what I said was more important than how long I spoke, so I began thinking about what this particular audience would expect to hear.
First, I was the new guy on the block. That was important. In fact, it was why I was here, to meet the salespeople who would be counting on me to provide them with technical backup during sales calls.
So this meeting was all about the relationship we would build to help them grow their business.
Arriving at the front of the room, I looked out over the audience and paused, not because it was the right thing to do, but I needed a few seconds to find my voice.
I began slowly, repeating what my boss had already said as he’d introduced me . . . where I was from, the fact that I was fresh out of college, and how I was looking forward to learning more about their company and customer base.
I told them we already had a lot in common. I’d chosen to work for Cutler-Hammer, and they’d chosen to sell the same brand to their customers. Then I asked the forty or so people in the room to have patience with me. In return, I promised to help solve their challenges with competitive pricing, technical presentations to their customers, and to always be available for joint sales calls, hoping it would add credibility to their representation of our products.
My “speech” lasted less than two minutes. It was a bit awkward and contained an unnecessary pause or two, but I got through it. Most important, I didn’t pass out, throw up, or wet my pants. And when I returned to my seat, I had the most unexpected realization . . .
I enjoyed it!
The following week, my boss asked me if I wanted to teach a series of training classes for a dozen distributor sales people. Prior to my forced introduction to public speaking, I would have made one excuse after another, hoping I could talk my way out of it. Instead, I accepted immediately.
With every presentation I made, every training class I taught, I became more confident. Eventually, I could give an hour-long product presentation or half-day seminar on selling skills without needing any prior notice or preparation.
My relaxed manner and matter-of-fact delivery seemed to work for the sales-oriented people who made up the majority of my audience. My manager noticed and “volunteered” me to conduct training classes at the regional and national level. After receiving letters of appreciation and commendation from both customers and division product managers, my company eventually awarded me the status of “Best Company Trainer.”
It’s important to understand that speaking and training were not my primary responsibilities. I was a sales engineer. My job was to call on architects, engineering consultants, and industrial users to resolve application problems and provide engineering back-up to distributor salespeople who actually sold the products to the customer. Speaking and teaching was ancillary to my job assignment. I didn’t receive any additional compensation, nor was I given any kind of bonus consideration for the extra time I had to put in. But it paid off in other ways.
My customers saw me as someone who contributed extra value to their business. And their salespeople learned the direct relationship between their product knowledge and their income, which gave us a mutual, monetary-based interest in the outcome of our efforts. Most important, by making them more familiar and proficient with the product, they naturally chose our brand when asked to make a recommendation.
How important is the ability to speak in public? Responding to a speaking request can boost your career, increase your standing in the community, and enhance your personal credibility and social status. Answering a request to make a comment or two will get you remembered as someone who rose to the occasion, didn’t hesitate, and had the courage to take the lead.
The flip side? Turning down the request will also leave an impression—as someone who had nothing to say when others were willing to give you their time and attention. You let them down, and left them disappointed.
Whether it’s a three-minute speech of congratulations during an anniversary party or a half-hour presentation to a board of supervisors during a zoning meeting, those who rise to the occasion to speak are seen as leaders.
Here’s the big question: Will you be ready?
And that’s a key point, because it’s going to happen.
You can start your preparation now by using this guide. The first thing you’ll learn is how to conquer your nerves so they serve you, and to use that nervous energy to deliver a lively presentation while being more responsive to your audience.
In addition, you’ll discover how to organize your research material into an interesting and personalized presentation. So instead of someone who stands behind a podium and reads from a script like a talking head, you’ll develop the confidence and skill to deliver your speech with authenticity and sincerity.
The process isn’t difficult and the rewards can have a huge impact on both your career and personal life, so let’s get started!
Taming Your Nerves and Making All That Energy Work for You
You’ve seen them. Calm and collected, they rise from their chair and walk to the front of the room with an expression of absolute confidence. They take the mic, look out over the audience, and then . . . Magic.
The words just seem to flow.
These are the people who know just what to say and how to say it—and they can do it in front of any size group. They don’t appear to need preparation, and welcome any opportunity to speak. It’s as if they’ve found the secret to being confident as well as eloquent when all eyes and ears are on them.
Want to know the truth? Ninety-nine percent of all public speakers admit to fighting a case of nerves when facing an audience—no matter how many presentations they’ve done. Some book authors have passed out at the podium, and many business owners outright admit they’re scared to death as they step up to face the crowd. Some even relate personal stories of hiding in the bathroom until the last minute so no one can see them doing push-ups to calm a nervous stomach.
So when you see that guy or gal walk to the front of the room in complete confidence, the overwhelming probability is their stomach is doing flip-flips, their heart is pounding like a jack-hammer, and they’re hoping no one can see the beads of sweat running down the back of their neck.
In truth, their collected and professional appearance is part of the presentation. In other words, they realize their speech starts from the very moment their name is called, and as they rise from their chair, it’s already fully underway. By presenting an image of confidence, they’re portraying a sense of personal authority that sets the mood for what comes next.
I know what you’re thinking . . .
If professional speakers have to fight butterflies in their stomachs, how am I ever going to control my nerves to the point I can say something without looking like I’m scared to death?
It’s all about getting those butterflies to fly in formation.
The Secret of Controlling Your Nerves
Speakers make great speeches not in spite of their nerves, but because of them. They’ve learned to harness all that nervous energy and use it to their advantage. In fact, most welcome the rush of adrenaline as they hear they name. They know how to channel and direct it to energize their presentation and to make them a better presenter than they could ever be without it.
As I said before, a rise in energy level just before giving any kind of performance is a common occurrence. Even after hundreds or even thousands of presentations, many of very best speakers admit to still having the jitters before walking on stage. As they hear their name called to take the microphone, they feel their pulse quicken, their stomach tighten—just like they did the very first time. But now, they not only expect it, they welcome it. In fact, they depend on that surge of nervous energy to insure their level of performance is enthusiastic, in-the-moment, and meets their standards of professional delivery.
And that’s what you’re going to learn, too.
While the intention of this guide is not to turn you into a professional toastmaster, don’t be surprised if it does just that. It’s designed to give you a flexible structure in which to prepare a public presentation—whether it’s a formal event (like a wedding), or a spontaneous request “to say a few words” to your customers, fraternal organization, or church group. It will also give you the tools you need to be more comfortable when speaking in a work setting, whether you’re the designated leader or a contributing member of the team.
How do you convert your fear into excitement? By assuring yourself you need that nervous energy to boost the delivery of your presentation. It becomes an expected and reliable tool to give you that something “extra” that makes people sit up and pay attention.
And yes, there are specific steps you can take to turn those feelings of dread into positive energy and enthusiasm.
1. Make sure you’ve prepared the content of your speech right down to the last pause and period. That may sound like I’m pointing out the obvious, but you can’t imagine the number of people who believe they can make their first speech by jotting down a few notes on some index cards and winging it. Unless they have previous experience in front of an audience, they typically end up forgetting half of what they planned to say, ramble through a disconnected thought or two, and fill in the embarrassing silence with lots of “ands” and “ah’s.” Worse, I’ve heard a few actually apologize by saying, “I wish I’d practiced more,” or “Sorry I’m doing such a poor job at this.”
Being prepared—knowing you’re ready—raises your confidence. You can’t fail because you can do it in your sleep. Even if your brain begins to shut down, your memory will feed the words to your mouth because you’ve practiced so many times it’s become second nature.
The key is to practice until you can launch into your speech from any point in the beginning, middle, or end without needing to think about what came before or after. In other words, you know exactly what you’re going to say by heart, and can deliver it on demand. How much practice is enough? Depends. Everyone is different. For me, the magic number is about fifty rehearsals. Yes, I could do it with less drill, but that degree of preparation gives me the latitude to stop, start, go off topic, accommodate a question from the audience, then resume my place in the presentation as if the interruption never happened—and do it with absolute confidence.
2. Don’t forget to breath. I discounted this advice for years, not understanding the connection between the body, brain, and the importance of deep, rhythmic breathing. Taking deep, controlled breaths is a relaxation technique inherent to most meditative practices. It can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and stress levels. Not surprisingly, irregular, shallow breathing can add additional stress, making your situation even worse. Incorporating a series of deep breaths during the final minutes prior to your presentation will provide you with a natural, easy-to-activate method of lowering your stress, calming your mind, and sharpening your mental reflexes. Remember to use it!
3. Imagine the worst that could happen and ask yourself, “What are the odds?” I had a business colleague who approached each speaking opportunity with the idea that if everything went to hell—if he completely forgot what he was going to say and was booed off the stage—it wouldn’t matter, because life would still go on. His friends would forgive him, strangers wouldn’t care, and a week later, very few would even remember what happened. So in a worst case scenario, he would live to speak again. With this thought firmly in place, he would ask himself, “What are the odds of forgetting my presentation and looking like a complete idiot?” He knew they were about zero. Even experienced speakers will have an occasional memory lapse, but they fill in the missing information from the context of their subject, or simply move on to the next part of their speech. So the odds of a total mental meltdown are next to nil.
The outcome of this mind game? Knowing his worst case performance was too remote a possibility to actually happen neutralized his fear. Sure, he might fumble over a phrase or forget a reference or a quote, but if he did, he was prepared to ask his audience for help. By approaching his presentation based on what he knew he could do, it eliminated his fear about what he would never do.
The result? A natural, flowing rhetoric that seemed spontaneous and appropriate for the occasion and the crowd.
If you feel like you’re on the point of losing it (passing out, throwing up, or freezing) and you’re already behind the podium and/or in front of your audience, tell them how excited you are to be there, and you’re really looking forward to hearing their feedback after you finish.
Use these exact words and notice what happens. Most beginning speakers experience an immediate change in physical state, allowing them to move forward and continue with their presentation.
If possible, meet members of the audience beforehand. That way, you’re not speaking to a room full of strangers. Just before you move to the front of the room or take the stage, try to locate where they’re sitting and direct the initial part of your presentation to them, as if they are the only ones you’re speaking to.
Finally, don’t even think about using alcohol or drugs to “take the edge off.” There are plenty who’ve tried it and they end up regretting it. It’s like trying to get maximum performance out of a sports car after poking holes in the tires.
How To Give a Great Speech . . . Without Passing Out, Throwing Up, or Drawing a Blank is available in eBook on Amazon and B&N
(Review copies are available to book reviewers who have a blog or website platform. Please inquire at RogerReid@SeasonoftheLion.com)