Hack Your Brain for Public Speaking

“There are always three speeches,
for every one you actually gave.
The one you practiced, the one you gave,
and the one you wish you gave.”
–Dale Carnegie

During my years as a public speaker, I’ve been asked countless times, “How can I get in the speaking business?” or “I’ve always wanted to speak in front of an audience but, how do I learn?”

I’ve coached those who have a serious desire to speak and are willing to put in the work. It all comes down to this. While it is true that some are born with the natural gift of speaking, most speakers have worked hard training and practicing for this skill.

I’m going to make an assumption. I assume you have something you are passionate about sharing with an audience, some information that will help others elevate their lives.

Given that assumption, here are two very important facts to keep in mind: Everyone in the audience wants you to succeed. And, people are comfortable around people who are comfortable, relaxed, self-confident and have something to say.

BE AUTHENTIC:

The American poet, May Sarton wrote, “We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.”

If it were up to me, everyone who wants to be a speaker would take a class in acting. My years of training as an actor taught me to be authentic. Authenticity will hold a different meaning for each of you. Some have a raging passion about their subject or a quirky sense of humor. If you watch a few TED or TEDx talks, you will see the endless variety of subjects and speakers. You will also see talks that are well rehearsed and straightforward. You don’t have to TRY to be an authentic speaker. You just become authentic, to be real, to be you.

PRACTICE, PRACTICE AND PRACTICE SOME MORE:

Is practicing fun? Not always, but it is mandatory. For every new program I create, I spend hours practicing, my notes perched on a music stand, visualizing my audience and speaking to a few empty chairs. I sometimes stumble, stop, make a few notes to course correct and move on.

The more I practice or visualize giving my talk, the more comfortable and confident I feel and the more freedom I have to improvise or take a question from the audience and smoothly pick up where I left off. Another amazing happening takes place as you practice daily. When you go to sleep, your subconscious mysteriously keeps working, coming up with creative ideas and suggestions to improve your presentation.

As the humorist Mark Twain wrote, “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”

BE GIVING AND CARING:

To paraphrase the American writer/theologian, Carl W. Buechner, “Your audience may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

This may sound a little harsh but, when you give in to fear, your focus is in the wrong place. Giving a superb presentation requires your focus to be totally on your audience. You are not on the platform to show off, be admired or patted on the back. You are there to educate, inform, inspire, entertain and, serve your audience.

I am fairly certain you can recall the circumstance when you counseled a friend. You focused. You listened and you responded. You wanted to help. Like a friend, your audience wants your information. Your job is to give it. Your job is to take care of them.

Here is a hint that cannot fail you. When you step behind the podium or in front of the audience, take a deep breath, let your eyes sweep over the audience, spot one person who looks friendly, absorb that feeling of support and then, embrace the whole audience through that feeling.

MAKE IT PERSONAL:

Deeply embedded in our DNA, we are storytellers. Elie Wiesel, the award-winning journalist and novelist said, “People become the stories they hear and the stories they tell.”

The brain is programmed to learn from stories and teach by telling stories. No matter the topic, audiences respond best when speakers incorporate personal stories. These can be stories ripped from the headlines or stories about someone who has overcome a tragedy, triumphed in the face of adversity. They can be stories that show the humanness, folly and humor within each of our lives. As an added bonus to making yourself human to your audience, telling stories will relax you.

Follow these four suggestions and I guarantee you will take your speaking to a whole new level of excellence. I leave you with a personal observation. The more fun I have, the more fun the audience has. The more interactive I make my programs, the more involved the audience becomes. Have fun!

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