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Mastering Powerful Public Speaking

Although speech is one of the earliest skills that we develop, public speaking is a skill that very few people master. It can feel uncomfortable, stressful, halted, and unnatural to stand in front of a group of people and present in a meaningful, impactful way.

The most common reasons a speaker doesn’t feel confident about public speaking include lack of preparation, lack of practice, or distorted views about the expectations of the audience (perhaps imagining that the audience expect a laugh a minute, when they really value the information more than the entertainment value).

In September 2022, WiBA members enjoyed a fantastic masterclass on giving powerful public presentations; no matter the subject matter, setting, or qualifications. It was hosted by the Toastmasters 2021 World Champion, Verity Price.

What Makes a Presentation Powerful?

There are several elements that, when skilfully combined in the right proportions, make for an excellent speech or presentation. These are:

  1. Organisation – ensure that your talk is well structured. Be careful of jumping from one point to the next without guiding the listeners and allowing them to follow the narrative. You should be able to state the core message of your presentation in 10 words or fewer.

  2. Create connections – to be successful at public speaking, connect with your audience by touching on subjects that apply to us all (having an easier life, making more money, solving problems, self-fulfilment, achieving goals, health and safety, or hope for a better future).

  3. Structure – an intriguing introduction draws the listener in, keeping them interested in what is to follow. To do this, ask a question that they’ll want answered, offer a problem that needs a solution, or tell a story that you'll conclude right at the end. The main body of your talk should be easy to follow, answering the questions or resolving the issues raised in the introduction. There should be between 3 and 5 main points only. Your conclusion must be powerful, summarising the main points in an impactful way that they simply won’t forget. It should highlight the solution, answer, or resolution to the story.

  4. Eye contact – keep the attention of your audience by making brief eye contact with each person over the course of your presentation. The length of your eye contact should span just a few words or seconds; don’t stare at one person and make them feel uncomfortable.

  5. Gestures - use the natural hand gestures and facial expressions that you would when in a normal, relaxed conversation. This puts your audience at ease and allows them to focus on the message, rather than on you as the speaker.

  6. Humour - humour can be very effective when used appropriately and in limited amounts. Try not to overdo the jokes in an attempt to get laughs. This can become exhausting for a polite audience that wants to laugh to keep you encouraged, eventually only leading to awkward silences.

  7. Language – the proper use of language helps listeners to focus on what you’re saying and not how you’re saying it. So, in most cases, it’s appropriate to use a professional, conversational tone – not too proper and not too casual.

  8. Delivery - your delivery is how you actually get your presentation across to your audience. The energy and style in which you share your message and content. This includes your pace of speaking, use of notes, your energy and enthusiasm. It can also include your PowerPoint or visual aids and how casually or formally you speak and dress. Pay attention to every aspect of your delivery as the audience are making decisions about you before you even open your mouth.

  9. Authenticity and passion – when you’re passionate about your subject matter, you incite your audience to get passionate and enthusiastic too. This needs to be genuine to be powerful and effective.

Build Confidence for Public Speaking

Often, our greatest hurdle to giving a memorable and powerful presentation is our personal aversion to or hesitation around public speaking. But a confident delivery is a massive part of your presentation’s success.

The secrets to building confidence for your speech or presentation:

  • Take time to practice - it can be tedious and time-consuming. But practice is essential to being comfortable with the content of your presentation and to feeling ready to give it.

  • Breathe it out - calm your stress hormones with effective breathing techniques. For example, inhale for 4 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds, exhale for 6 seconds, then pause again for 2 seconds before starting again.

  • Get comfortable - ensure that the podium is at a comfortable height, wear comfy shoes, ensure that your screen or print is visible. Do whatever it takes to be as comfortable as possible so that you’re not distracted.

  • Strike a power pose - slightly widen your stance, straighten your back, and keep your chin up to feel confident. When you feel powerful, you sound powerful.

More Public Speaking Tips

  • Use supporting material to establish your credibility (including stats, quotes from experts, or experiences from others).

  • Include a goal at the start of your presentation that your audience is invested in to hold their attention.

  • Begin each major point with a significant quote or a picture.

  • Surprise the audience with unexpected statements / ways of saying things.

  • Be prepared and informed enough to handle difficult questions from the audience.

Join Our Next Masterclass

If you’re not already a member of WiBA Continuum, be sure to sign up to benefit from the October masterclass. It will be hosted by Nicolene Schoeman - Louw and is entitled “Dealing with Poor Performers”. To sign up as a member, click here.

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