How to become a skilful and authentic public speaker (online or in-person)

By Lyn Roseaman, Toastmasters International

To deliver a successful speech or presentation, you need connection, change and confidence.

Whether you’re speaking in-person or online, there are different areas of speaking where you can build your skills.  By actively focussing on your speaking you will be able to delivery authentically and sincerely in different settings

Connection

Without connection you might as well be talking to yourself!

When you connect socially you probably make good eye contact, smile etc. and come across as likeable. What you say is also important and the fastest way to create a connection is to talk about subjects you care about and which interest others.

Unless you are talking to a group you know well, it is a good idea to find out as much as possible about your audience ahead of time.  It’s your job is so answer their “‘What’s in it for me?” question.

To do that, you need to ‘deep research’ your audience. It’s not just about their name and job title. Depending on whether you’re talking to a larger, conference-style audience or debriefing a project team via Zoom, key questions might cover the goals of the event, other speakers, audience profile, what they do/know/expect/how they talk and what do they most want from you.

The more you know about your audience, the stronger your ability to connect with them and influence their thinking and behaviour on their terms, i.e. answer their ‘What’s in it for me’ question.

— Lyn Roseaman, author of ‘Now You’re Talking!

Knowing your audience gives you strong pointers about delivery – whether you need slides and how many stories to include, vocal variety appropriate levels of energy etc. Body language still applies even if your audience only sees your head and shoulders online.

Change

Speaking provides opportunities to share your knowledge and drive change. Having researched your audience, you’ll have a good idea of what information and message they will value.

When preparing start at the end! What do you want your audience to think, feel or do differently after they hear you speak? What is the one message you need them to take away? Jot it down in large letters in fewer than ten words and keep it visible. Any content that doesn’t support your message doesn’t belong in this particular talk.

Confidence

Confidence allows your listeners to relax and engage with your message, not worry that you seem nervous. Confidence confirms your authority and credibility as a speaker.

Confident speakers are frequent speakers. Take every opportunity to speak up and to practise different techniques, e.g. voice projection, storytelling, opening a session with impact. Invite people to give you specific feedback on what they liked and any improvements they would welcome to improve their experience.

A huge part of confidence comes from being true to yourself. So how do you remain authentic?

  1. You care, we care

When you talk about something you care about, your personal passion will shine through. Assuming you’ve taken care to choose a topic that’s relevant to your audience, they will happily connect and engage with you.

  1. Your voice

Your voice is part of who you are. Your accent is part of your identity. Authenticity is not about changing your voice. It’s about being proud of your voice and learning to use it effectively. Consider the pace, pitch and volume of your voice and how to project it so that your words are clear, interesting and meaningful. Use pauses for impact or, for instance, to give your audience time to reflect on what you’re saying.

  1. Your body language

If your words don’t match your facial expressions or hand gestures, audiences will believe what they see over what they hear.

Finesse your body language. For instance, too many hand gestures can become distracting; try dialling it down by letting your hands relax at your side. You want to use gestures and expressions that feel natural and reinforce your words and meaning. Notice your everyday body language and bring that authenticity to your talks. Scale it up for a large conference style, dial it down for a small video meeting.

  1. Sharing stories

In prehistoric times people shared stories around the campfire. Storytelling continues to connect us as human beings. Opening a talk with a well-crafted and relevant personal story will captivate an audience. And because it’s personal, it’s authentic and uniquely yours to tell.

Stories are also memorable and create and far more impact than facts and figures.

  1. Authenticity is the road to originality

Nowadays, we live in a world that values authenticity. We encourage transparency and openness. We want to hear each other’s stories and we embrace vulnerability. The bonus of being authentic is that you don’t have to work out how to be someone you’re not. Furthermore, it often feels as if there is so much information available to us that it’s difficult to come up with something new and interesting to say. Being authentic in everything you say and do helps you come across as original and unique.

Authenticity is at the heart of bringing what I call 3Cs (connection, change, confidence) to life.  I hope these tips will help you to speak with skill, authenticity and sincerely and get your message across to all your audiences.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lyn Roseaman, DTM is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org

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