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You Can Be An Effective Public Speaker
Part 1

Jeff Keller, Guest Author
Photo of Jeff Keller

Public speaking. Just the thought of it sends shivers down the spines of so many. In fact, when people are asked to identify their greatest fear, public speaking is typically the number one response.

If you think I'm going to tell you that public speaking is simple and that anyone can become an accomplished speaker overnight, guess again. It's not that easy. But at the same time, I'm not here to discourage you. The truth is you CAN become an effective speaker, no matter what you think of your current speaking ability - or lack of it! Naturally, it will take some effort and preparation. But developing your public speaking skills is well worth your while. Here's why.

Organizations are always looking for effective communicators, so when you demonstrate that you can speak persuasively in public you'll advance more quickly in your career. You'll also build confidence and self-esteem, which will carry over into everything you do. You'll be more influential in your interactions, both personally and professionally. You'll be able to contribute to the lives of others by informing them, entertaining them and inspiring them.

After nearly 20 years as a speaker, I've come to the conclusion that you need two things to lay the groundwork for an effective presentation. You must be knowledgeable about the subject matter and you must be passionate about the topic. Everything else can be learned, but if you don't have these two things, you won't be very effective.

First, let's talk about knowledge. You don't have to know everything on the subject. However, the audience should feel that you've done research and/or have personal experience in that area. In short, you should know what you're talking about. That said, knowledge alone is not enough. You can be extremely knowledgeable, but if you aren't enthused about the subject, the audience will feel itŠ and tune you out. Great speakers have a passion for what they're expressing.

At this point, I know many of you are still thinking, "I'm just too afraid to speak to groups of people." You may find this hard to believe, but fear has nothing to do with your ability to speak effectively. Unless you're paralyzed to the extent that you can't even open your mouth, fear is irrelevant. It's okay to be afraid. It's okay if your voice is shaking a bit. You can still be a tremendous speaker.

I know many professional speakers who are terrified before they go out and speak. You'd never know it, and they do a fabulous job each time. I have some nervousness before I speak, but it doesn't get in the way of my presentation. On the other hand, I know many speakers who are perfectly relaxed every time they speak. Here again, they captivate the audience consistently. The point is, fear is not what separates good speakers from bad speakers. And fear is not what's preventing you from being a good speaker.

The only thing standing in your way is technique. There are several techniques that great speakers use to be effective communicators; ineffective speakers seldom use these methods. Here, then, is Part 1 of the keys to success for delivering effective presentations of five minutes or longer.

Speak from notes - not from a verbatim script - (I told you there was going to be preparation and work involved!) There's nothing wrong with having notes to remind you of the main points you want to include. On the other hand, when you read from a prepared script, you "disconnect" from the audience and people get bored. You should know the topic well enough to speak from notes. At the beginning, you'll be nervous and you may need to look at your notes a lot. That's fine.

As you speak more often, you'll rely on your notes less and less. Another suggestion: put your notes on both sides of an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper. It's better than having a bunch of small index cards that you need to keep flipping.

Before your presentation, rehearse over and over with your notes. Stand up and deliver the presentation from your notes as if the audience were in the room with you. There are a few exceptions to this rule about speaking from notes, most notably commencement addresses and eulogies. In these instances, it's best to have your presentation written out word for word.

Keep it conversational - Most people think they have to use big words or alter their normal speaking style when they speak in public. Not true. Use simple words and convey them just as you would if you were sitting with friends in your den. You'll come across as "real" and establish rapport with the audience. It's okay to pause or to be less than perfectly articulate. After all, isn't that the way you speak at home? Of course, if you say "um" or "like" consistently, that's something you have to work on. But don't feel that you need to be absolutely perfect.

Don't stand behind the lectern - When you stand behind the lectern, you create a barrier between you and the audience. The moment you get rid of that barrier, you connect with the audience at a deeper level. What do you do with your notes? Have a small table next to you where you can set down your papers. Stand to the side of the table, not behind it.

Don't tell them everything you know - Let's say you have 30 minutes for your presentation. Most novice speakers will try to cram everything they know into that period. However, the audience can digest only so much in this span. Select a few main points that you wish to make. You can always come back and share more of your information in another presentation.

In Part 2 of this article, I'll cover more techniques for effective public speaking, including how to open and close your presentation, how to use stories, humor and much more!

Click here to read part 2.

Copyright © 2002 - Jeff Keller. - Reprinted with permission. Jeff Keller is a motivational speaker and author of the best-selling book, Attitude is Everything. For nearly 20 years, Jeff has delivered uplifting presentations to businesses, groups and trade associations. His new audio program, "Success from Soup to Nuts", contains 50 motivational messages on CD. For more information and to sign up for Jeff's free monthly e-mail newsletter, go to www.AttitudeIsEverything.com.

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Relationship books by Larry James:

How to Really Love the One You're With:
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Words That Make Music for Two Hearts Dancing

Red Hot LoveNotes for Lovers (Career Assurance Press).

Author Larry James is a professional speaker. He presents "Relationship Enrichment LoveShops" nationally for singles and couples. More About Larry James

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