What’s the first thing to work on if you want to improve your public speaking?
It depends on what your current strengths and weaknesses are.
If starting from scratch most people focus on things that relate to their delivery such as managing nerves, voice, gestures and other body language. Indeed, much of the public speaking and presentation training out there is focused on performance technique.
The problems with a technique-only approach are:
- Most people don’t have the skills to properly apply the techniques
- It ignores the substance of the message
When people ask me to evaluate their speech, they are often surprised if I start with how they can improve their content instead of their delivery.
Here’s why sometimes that’s where you need to start…
If there is a problem with WHAT you are saying, you have huge problems before you even get started.
The most common problems with content are:
- Trying to cram too much information into the time allowed
- Too much ‘cold’ information such as facts and figures, not balanced out with ‘warm’ content such as stories and examples to illustrate points
- Lack of structure
- No organised material – trying to ‘wing it’ and either rambling aimlessly or getting completely lost for words
- The presenter actually has little knowledge of what they are speaking about
- There are large gaping holes in the presenter’s argument
When the wheels fall off a presentation, it’s more often than not because the speaker has not connected with the content themselves, they haven’t considered their content from an audience point of view, or they straight up have no authority on the topic.
If you know what you are talking about and you have solid well-planned content, that in itself will give you more confidence when it comes to your delivery.
So, what about delivery?
Content and delivery are both important. However, so is the way you prioritise them…
If you are a paid professional speaker there is an expectation that you will deliver a polished performance. For everyone else, audiences will forgive a lot of flaws as long as you are giving them good information they can understand and relate to (content first got it?).
However if the flaws in delivery become a distraction from the message, then you have a problem.
The most common issues with delivery are:
- Lacking enthusiasm – if you’re not interested in what you’re saying why would anyone else be?
- Overly animated – trying too hard
- Trying to imitate other speakers they have seen rather than being themselves
- Speaking too fast
- Speaking too loudly or too quietly
- Excessive use of fillers – ums and ahs
- The presenter talks to their PowerPoint slides instead of to the audience
Once we’ve dealt with those issues, we can then start looking at a range of basic tips that are within the abilities of the average person to help enhance your delivery and add impact to your well-structured message. These might include:
- Using pauses for effect
- Purposeful gestures
- Varying the rate of speech and volume of your voice
- Eye contact
- Using visual aids, such as slides, for a purpose
These are simple things that can be very effective and that most people can master with a little practise – without being concerned with taking on a lot of performance techniques and trying to be someone they’re not.
So when it comes to effective public speaking, content and delivery are both important. However, so is the way you prioritise them…
Figure out what to say first, then concentrate on how best to say it as the best possible version of yourself – not like a bad actor trying to be someone else.
Owner, Wise Words Communications