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Tuesday, March 28, 2017


Written by: Marie-Therese Phido

This weekend we attended a program we had all been excitedly looking forward to. The topic was very catchy and relevant to all of us from various perspectives. Everybody wanted to get their own message and start acting on the recommendations and experience from the speakers.

The session had two speakers. Each speaker had been assigned the responsibility to speak on a particular area of the discussion. When we got to the venue, the first speaker was invited to start his presentation and given twenty-five minutes to present his topic.
He commenced with the usual opening speech of being grateful to have been invited and wishing all of us well. Then his slides were a few minutes delayed.

Our first observation was that he could not start without his presentation. The second was that fifteen minutes into the presentation, he was still going through the introductions. By then, many people had started to fidget and were wondering when the meat of the presentation would start.

At the twenty-five minutes mark, we were still struggling to understand the message. Extra time was given to him to ensure that he passed his message across but it was almost impossible. Many of us left his session with different interpretations as questions were being asked about what each person understood by what he said. Nobody really got a clear understanding and each person conjectured their own takeaway.

The contrast with the second speaker was like night and day. He started immediately, went straight into the topic, brought out the salient points with relevant examples and illustrations and even tried to cover up for the first speaker because he knew that the first message was not coherently delivered.

If we had not had a second speaker, many of us would have felt cheated and left upset because of the precious time that would have been taken out of the limited hours we have on weekends.
I am sure many of us can relate to the situation above. Where we have listened to speakers who are very ineffective.

I remember my very first presentation with Dick Kramer. We were preparing for a strategy session and had to have dry-runs to get ready. After my dry-run, I knew I had not done very well, so I told my immediate boss then, Ifueko Omoigui about my poor performance.

The night before the presentation, Ifueko helped me dry-run and gave me learning points. When I delivered my presentation the next day, Dick came to me and said, “What happened? Are you the same person? The contrast was remarkable.” Since then, I have attended additional training to hone my skills.

From my narrative, you can decipher the difference between the first speaker and the second speaker. Comments from participants about the first speaker were: lack of subject matter knowledge, presentations skills and articulation. While the opposite was the case for the second speaker. Maybe if the first speaker had taken the time to learn how to speak, he would have been more effective and we would not have felt cheated about the waste of time and the expended emotion in looking forward to the event.

How do we ensure that we become confident, compelling and strategic speakers?

According to Mind Tool:

• Plan appropriately - plan your communication appropriately. Your paramount objective at the beginning should be to grab the attention of your audience. You need to intrigue them by starting with powerful openers like storytelling, statistics, headlines or facts that are relatable to the topic.

Planning will also help you think on your feet, especially when unexpected questions are asked or you have to start without your slides like the first speaker.

• Practice – you cannot be a confident compelling speaker without practice. Volunteer for speaking opportunities, whether formal or informal. It is also an effective tool to sell and position your business. Speaking opportunities are invaluable to your personal brand.

• Engage with your audience – Ask leading questions. Encourage your audience to ask questions. Limit the use of words that reduce your power as a speaker ‘such as’, ‘I think’. They reduce your authority and conviction. Other words are ‘actually’, which conveys submissiveness. In addition, be conscious of how you are speaking because talking too fast may convey nervousness. 

Learn to gather your thoughts and pause. Pauses make you sound confident, natural and authentic. Avoid reading your slides or speech verbatim. Instead, make a list of important points and memorise them.

• Pay attention to your body language – Your body language gives clues to your audience about your inner state. Pay attention to how you stand, your breathing, eye contact and smile. Avoid leaning on one leg or using gestures that feel unnatural.

• Think positively – Don’t be afraid. Fear make us slip into negative self-talk, especially right before we speak. Use affirmation and visualisation to raise your self-confidence.

• Watch recordings of your presentation – Record your presentations and speeches. You can improve your skills dramatically, by watching yourself speak. As you watch, notice verbal stalls like ‘um’ or ‘like’. Look at your body language: are you swaying, leaning on the podium, have your hands in your pockets, or leaning heavily on one leg? Are you looking at the audience? Did you smile? How did you gesticulate and so much more.

Becoming a strategic speaker as you can see from the above, is learnable and doable. You can be trained to become impactful and effective. Let’s work on honing our skills and elevating our public speaking to the next level.

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