Tips From the Champions

Advice from World Champions - Summarized by Stephen Grant ATM-B

I have recently been listening to CDs of former World Champion Public Speakers offer their advice on becoming a better public speaker. While each one has a different way of saying things, they all cover the same points. Here is what I have learned form these CDs.

Four things that are necessary to become a better public speaker:

  • Make it a Conversation not a Speech.
  • Use Humor
  • Pay Attention to Structure
  • Practice

Make It a Conversation Not a Speech

Politicians deliver speeches; a good public speaker has a conversation with her audience. When we think in terms of “A Speech” it can have the unintended consequence of creating and artificial barrier between you, the speaker, and the audience. I suggest that the next time you sit down to write a speech write it from the perspective of having a cup of coffee with a friend. It will help you develop and deliver a message that creates a much more intimate relationship between you and the audience. Our perspective and attitude towards the audience will change when we think of it as a conversation and not a speech.

Use Humor

I’ll give you a personal example of this one. Last year I thought that I had written a speech that would help me advance in the International Speech Competition. It was a good speech with a powerful message. I had written about my brother’s battle against leukemia and what he taught me. It was emotional, it was personal and it was a poignant message. I didn’t win. I was angry, because the winning speech was not nearly as poignant and the message was not as powerful, and numerous people told me the same thing. After listening to former World Champions I have now understood why I lost. For one thing I violated the first point, it was a speech, not a conversation. The second thing I didn’t do was use humor. Initially I thought that my speech was such that humor wouldn’t fit. It always fits. Humor does a number of things in a speech: 1.) It helps you have a conversation; 2.) It helps the audience warm up to you; 3.) It creates natural breaks in the speech where your audience gets to relax and break the tension; and 4.) It helps ease your nervousness and helps you have a much more natural delivery. Always use humor, make it appropriate in both content and timing. Think about it when you first meet someone, you warm up to someone who is funny much quicker than you do someone who is dry and serious.

Pay Attention to Structure

All good speeches/conversations need to have structure. Again think of yourself, you can get tired very quickly of a speech or a conversation that rambles and appears to have no direction. There are a number of ways to structure a speech. For instance you could build your speech around a story, a list of things, or around one major point and a series of examples to support the major point. And make sure that there is a central theme to the speech/conversation that everything supports and links back to. For Max’s icebreaker speech today he used the theme of books throughout. As he described his journey he always used the theme of books to link the points and it was very effective in tying the various stories in his speech together. All good speeches have a hook that helps draw us in. This is the job of the introduction, it needs to excite us and draw us in right at the outset. Please keep in mind that a good title can do this as well, this point is often times ignored and neglected. The body of the speech is obviously where you will spend most of your time and hence you should spend most of your effort. Focus on quality over quantity, and help people remember the content by using humor. People tend to remember a funny story that makes a point rather than the point itself. The conclusion is often something that is overlooked, but it also needs to be as powerful and attention grabbing as the opening, even more so because by the time you get to the end of the speech people will have forgotten your intro.

Practice, Practice, Practice

In the words of one of the former World Champion Public Speakers, one of the most important things is Stage Time, Stage Time, Stage time. You have to practice, if we think of all the things we are good at very few if any of them we were good at the first time we did it. Make sure you take advantage of all the stage time you can get. As I said in the meeting, I want someone to challenge me for all those impromptu speech opportunities. The first time Thomas Edison made a light bulb it didn’t work, the 50th time he made one it still didn’t work. We all know the story; it wasn’t until he had practiced making a light bulb for the thousandth time that it actually worked. Stage time, Stage time, Stage time.

More Things to Consider

  • Use personal stories in your speeches they are much more interesting and they make a better connection with the audience.
  • Always respect the audience; this applies to timing, content and preparation. Nothing will leave a worse impression with the audience than when a speaker shows a lack of respect to that audience. And in Toastmasters the feedback you get will only be worthwhile if you have put the effort into the speech.
  • Write your speech out in full, only then will you get a sense of the timing.
  • The best and fastest way to improve is to videotape your performance.

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