One of my most requested workshops is called “Turbotalk — How to Speak with Power and Impact”. I teach graduate courses on communicating and teaching the Bible and have a life-long interest in public speaking. Last week, I gave a 50-minute seminar on communicating and I’m also blessed and challenged by the amount of feedback and the number of follow-up requests that I receive after I address this topic.
So today’s “Listomania” is a more serious one that gives you ten “tricks of the trade” that will help those of you who speak publicly whether it is occasionally or regularly — professionally or casually.
1. Use your first 30 seconds
You have approximately 30 seconds from the moment you step to the lecturn, pulpit or front of the room to gain everyone’s attention for the next 3 minutes. Whether or not you have their attention with that first 3 minutes will determine whether or not you will be able to keep if for the next 30 minutes. So think threes — 30 seconds to grab their attention, 3 minutes to earn their respect, 30 minutes to communicate your content.
2. Fake Confidence if you don’t have it
The worst thing you can do is to use your first 30 seconds lower people’s expectations. Don’t announce you are nervous. Don’t make excuses. Don’t notify everyone that you don’t do this a lot. Don’t complement everyone else who has spoken for you and lick their boots in the process. Jump up and take charge. Tell them with your confidence that you are worthy of the next 30 minutes of their life. If you don’t have it naturally — then fake it. Chance are they’ll never know the difference.
3. Avoid repetitive movements, words and phrases
Don’t pace. Don’t pull at your tie or twist your hair. Don’t stand on one foot and rock. Don’t keep saying “um” or “as I said before.” Don’t use pet phrases like “this day in time in which we live” or “at the end of the day”. Don’t start every illustration with “I remember when/one time…”. If necessary, have someone help you break the habit by counting how many times you do or say something. I once developed a penchant for touching my glasses. I had one of my associate pastors literally count how many times in a sermon I would touch them until I had it reduced to a normal number.
4. Varying your speed
The mind works faster than you can talk for most people. If you are slow of speech, you will frustrate intelligent people. Pretend you are the little mechanical rabbit at the dog track that stays just far enough ahead of the greyhounds that they still want to catch him, but never lets them actually catch him. Use bursts of speed followed by a sudden drop to a slower speed to capture attention. If you chronically speak slowly, you can count on losing 30-60% of your audience to boredom. You’ll simply wear them out as they wait for you to give them something to “chew on”.
5. Use inflection
Ben Stein parodies the boring speaker better than anyone I know, but let’s face it — monotone equals boring. Practice pitch “runs” raising your voice and then dropping your voice. Inflection includes tone, intensity, pitch and accentuation. All of these are important tools for the effective speaker.
6. Leave them wanting more
When you end a sermon, seminar, lecture or speech in such a way that people are shocked, look at their watch as in “how fast did THAT go by”, seem to want a little more — you’ve done a good thing. Don’t close your presentation 12 times and drag it on. Remember that the average person has an attention span equal to about 1 minute per year of age capping out somewhere between 30-40 minutes unless the speaker is simply exceptionally gifted. Make them want to come back next week and hear some more.
7. Gestures are your friend
Motion attracts attention. By using your hands wisely and effectively, you will encourage people to watch you as you speak and to listen more attentively. Motions should be gauged according to the size of the audience. When conversing to one or two people, flailing one’s arms as if one is attempting flight is distracting and odd. However, use those same motions in a room filled with 100 people and you’ll captivate the audience with your full-bodied presentation and enthusiasm. Avoid repetitive, stiff or awkward gestures — they should flow naturally and comfortably.
8. Be a storyteller
The next time you are listening to an effective speaker watch the response of the audience as he/she speaks. Note that any time the speaker uses an illustration, story or anecdote, the audience will often lean forward slightly, stop writing or wriggling and will tune in to what the speaker is saying. Why? Because everyone loves a story! That’s why the Master Teacher, Jesus, used parables and stories. He knows that many great lessons are taught through an effective morality tale.
9. Beat the Theme
What is the ONE THOUGHT you want your audience members to remember 30 minutes after your presentation is over? We overload our audiences by trying to teach them everything in one shot. Thus, we cover reams of material and they remember nothing. But give them one pithy saying and they may well remember it for a lifetime. Try to condense your theme into one memorable phrase and then say it over and over in your presentation. They’ll remember you as effective.
10. Give them something to do
The objective of teaching is to change behavior. So if you teach for thirty minutes and they students leave with nothing changed — then you’ve failed as a speaker. Ask yourself, “What do I want my students to DO with this Truth/lesson/message?” It should be practical and clear. If they can’t identify how they can use what you taught — then you haven’t finished your job.
I’ve got loads of other tips, but ten’s enough for one day. Public speaking doesn’t have to be a white-knuckled ordeal. Give a few of these practical hints a try and see if they don’t just help you!