13 Rules-of-thumb For Giving Better Talks

Here are a few golden rules of thumb for public speaking. These have nothing to do with content or spirituality, but they should help all of us speak more clearly and accessibly. Better speaking means clearer delivery, and clearly delivery means that more people will get it. Winner!

1. Don’t commentate on your talk as you give it.

‘Oh, sorry, that was rubbish wasn’t it…’
‘Ah, it looks like no-one gets what I’m saying…’
‘As you’re all switching off, I’ll end with this..,’
‘Right, so, just like me, I’m going to be really controversial now…’

Commentating on your own talk swings between under-confidence and over-arrogance. It’s rarely helpful, and often distracting. Say what you planned to say, and let’s do the commentating later.

2. Ditch the intro.

If you don’t hook me in the first 30seconds, then to be honest I’m already starting to drift. The introduction is your time to set up the intrigue, grab peoples attention, and bring them into the ride safely.

Talking for five minutes about who you are an why you’re here does none of that! If you really must make an intro, then get the service leader to do it. Ditch the intro and get straight into it.

3. Fit an orange in your mouth.

I’ve been a public speaking voice coach for a number of years and two of the most consistent problems I hear are ‘I speak too fast’ and ‘I’m too nervous.’ A great way to begin to remedy both of these is to open your mouth wider.

Opening your mouth allows more airflow and stretches your facial and neck muscles. This oxygenate your system, gets blood flowing, and releases endorphins, which makes you less nervous. Opening your mouth wider also increases recovery time between words and syllables, so you speak slower.

How wide? Just imagine you need to fit a whole orange in your mouth, then practice in front of a mirror. You won’t look as silly as you think I promise you!

4. Check the mic like a ninja.

‘Check, check… can you all hear me?’ [tap] [tap] [tap]

This screams under-confidence and insecurity. A tip I got from a comedian friend is to just say ‘hello’ into the mic and wait to hear if you get a response.

Use some kind of phrase or breath to check the mic like a ninja, rather than making it obvious.

5. Leave your kids out of it.

So this is a little bit content related. The amount of times that I hear a speaker effectively bad mouth their own kids, or spouse, or parents from the front is terrifying. They are not fair game, and you will lose the respect of people in the room if you do. Even passive mentions should be checked with them first.

Personal stories and experiences are great, but be respectful in how you put them together or the people you’re speaking to will stop trusting what you have to say.

6. Pause. Breathe. Pause.

Using the right amount of empty space makes talks into great talks. Reflection moments, and time for a point to sink in are golden. However, in usual conversation we call these ‘awkward silences’ so we don’t tend to feel comfortable with them publicly, and therefore don’t know how long to do them.

Obviously learn to fit the pause to the point, but for now start with pause-breathe-pause. Say your point and pause for what feels right. Then breathe in deeply, and do the pause again. Then continue (It’ll probably be 3-5 seconds all together).

 

7. Walk. Stop. Walk.

Some inexperienced speakers are constantly walking around the stage, bobbing around like an excitable terrier, with seemingly little understanding of where they are, where they’re heading, or why. An actor once told me that power and authority comes from standing still and straight, while intrigue and informality comes from slowly walking around. The trick is to use both intentionally.

If you walk from your lectern/music-stand/pulpit to somewhere else on the stage, stop and deliver a line from your talk stood still before walking back. Walk with a line. Stop with a line. Walk with a line.

Again, these are best matched to the point, but its a good place to start and learn body control as your speaking.

8. Learn some technical stuff.

Public speaking is a vocation, an art, and a skill. It has technicality that is worth the time to learn. Technical stuff should never replace the need for solid content, but it is important to make that content heard.

I’ve already mentioned breathing and body awareness, but also think about matching your points to the right volume, pitch, pace, timbre, and register. Find what part of your vocal instrument matches the point to the audience and practice so you can control it.

You can learn some of this stuff online, but vocal coaches and singing teachers can help you best with this. I coach people all around them world through Skype – so there are options available. If speaking is a big part of your ministry, it’s worth some time and money to train specifically as a speaker.

9. Smile properly. Laugh lots.

Unless it really doesn’t match your content, a gentle yet active smile that reaches your eyes will keep people with you. Humans respond to subtle smiling features on a face – we recognise them subliminally and we emulate them. This also increases endorphins and blood flow – and it usually opens your eyes a little wider letting more light in. All of this makes you more comfortable and confident.

Laughing lots before a talk is also a great way of relaxing nerves and getting more oxygen to the brain. It’s well worth traveling down to your talk with some funny people in the car!

10. Get there early.

One of the best tips I was ever given for talks I was worried about was to get there early. This gives you the chance to do two very important things:

First, it allows you to meet the people. Make connections, shake hands, tell stories, and ask questions. If you’ve already made those connections then both delivering and hearing the talk will go much more smoothly. I’ve been known to stand with the welcome team in places I’ve not spoken at before, just to say ‘hi‘ to as many people as possible. It’s always well received and really helpful!

Second, it gives you space to test the mic, adjust the stand, and look up and around at the room to see where the dead spots will be. It dulls the surprise of coming in fresh when you’re about to deliver. Well worth the early wake-up call.

11. Pick out your players.

When I’m nervous (which is still – after 18 years speaking – all the time), I tend to just look at one spot and keep talking to it.

To remedy this, pick out four to six people in different parts of the room and go back and forth looking at them. I think of this like football; I pick out some players on the wings, and people in the centre and keep passing my talk to them.

Realistically, this keeps me speaking to the whole room, and not just a small cluster in it.

12. Ignore mistakes.

You may need to occasionally correct a sentence, but don’t linger on it. Correct and move on.

Drawing attention to your mistakes makes an audience loose interest, and it makes you feel less confident and competent. Move through it and move past it.

13. Ignore numbers 1-12.

These ‘golden rules of thumb’ are there to help you deliver a clearer message and to be a support for your point. If they become the main thing, however, then throw them out. Some of the best speakers regularly break these rules because their own character can make it work.

If these are helpful – great. Use them and enjoy. If they breakup your flow, however, or make you panic, or get in the way of personality, then get rid of them!

Have fun. Speak well.

If you want more on this, check out ‘Bizesize Messages: Nailing the one point.’

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