FIRST, The Rule against Rules: Tips can help, however each speaking situation is unique. Instead of following rules blindly, try to observe the situation: the stage, the context, the audience, the atmosphere, and find the best speaking solutions, even if they contradict some of the recommendations. Every rule has its exceptions: for instance, most of the behaviors-to-avoid mentioned here may have wonderful comic effect on some occasions! Persuasion has many faces and often the most unpredictable choices work better than a thousand tips.
Be ready: it is rare to be able to perform a public talk spontaneously. Most of the talented speakers you see are hard workers – they practice their speech to perfection. There are various techniques we practice in workshops in order for you to master your speech while also being flexible, not automatic, and ready to improvise.
Warm Up: public speakers are not actors or singers. Nevertheless, they too need to warm themselves up before speaking. When your body and speaking organs are warm, mistakes, coughs, dryness and other disturbing phenomena may be prevented. After a good warm up you will feel more alert and ready. You can learn some warm up techniques in a public speaking workshop.
Mind the Edges: The beginning and the ending of your speech are usually its most important parts. Even if the speech is not perfect, the start and finish will provide a supporting wrap-up. Plan them carefully, and avoid a hesitant tone and delaying discourse markers (“ummm…”, “ok…”).
Opening Effect: The opening of your speech is crucial. It is your only opportunity to draw immediate attention and capture your listeners’ attention and curiosity. In workshops we practice various openings that would match your specific issue and audience. However, remember: opening with a personal experience or anecdote immediately earns you attention.
Hesitation – No, Ambiguity – Yes!: While you should try to avoid a hesitant tone and multiple delaying discourse markers, you don’t have to be totally decisive. You can definitely question your own statements and expose weaknesses, thus demonstrating self-awareness and attentiveness to opposing voices. A completely decisive speech may create the impression of arrogance and distance.
Love Surprises: Unexpected occurrences during your speech can be seen as irritating distractions or as priceless opportunities. Embrace the disruption: use it to illustrate your argument, and if it is not possible, relate to it with humor.
Don’t be afraid of Humor!: Humor is a powerful rhetorical tool. It lightens the atmosphere, attracts attention, and can be used in some cases to overcome embarrassing moments. It can also help in creating trust when conveying difficult or controversial ideas. It shouldn’t, however, take over your argument and become the center of attention.
Use Concessions: Concessions are highly effective rhetorical structures that allow you to present potential resentments before you present your own argument. show that you have already considered opposing voices in the form of: True….. However….
Timing Is Everything: Listening to someone that hasn’t planned their time right might be somewhat irritating. If you reach the end of your slot and haven’t reached the middle of your speech, you have a serious problem. A good sense of timing comes with experience, but practicing can really help, and in workshops we focus on some helpful techniques for time-planning. In any case, if you see that you don’t have enough time left, avoid making an issue of it and do as well as you can to wrap-up your talk elegantly.
What am I Actually Saying?: Try to observe what subtext every sentence/idea in your speech conveys and match a suitable tone for implying this subtext. A few examples of subtext: “what I’m saying is very important,” “that idea is completely new,” “this claim is obvious.”
Record Yourself: It is vital to watch as least a few documentations of your practices. It might be embarrassing at first, but as long as you don’t judge yourself too harshly, it will be a highly productive experience.
Controlling Technical Devices: Technical details are often conceived as a minor aspect of lecturing as opposed to the “real” content. However, if technical problems constantly disrupt your talk – they effectively become its content. Make sure that you completely master the operation of technical devices such as your presentation, videos, microphone, etc. Remember that technical problems are very common; be as ready as you can.
Mind the Audience: You might want to dedicate some thought to your prospective audience and adapt your speech accordingly. What is the expected common knowledge of the listeners? Is the audience homogeneous or heterogenic? In workshops we practice techniques to work with even a highly heterogenic audience without downgrading our level of discussion.
Get Rid of Papers: If you are brave enough to try, give yourself a chance – get rid of your notes and speak by heart. Talking with no papers may tremendously help in gaining the listeners’ attention and trust. It might, however, also be a very stressful experience that requires great familiarity with your material and a high level of concentration. In workshops we practice various techniques that will enable you do this successfully.
Move your Body: Try not to be still while you talk. Movement has some significant advantages: it attracts attention and focus, and if done right it helps you concentrate and gives the speech a sense of rhythm and flow. Walk along the stage while you talk, or at least direct your body to different directions.
Use your Hands: Hand movement is particularly important – it helps us illustrate our ideas. We usually know how to use our hands naturally and intuitively, if we don’t freeze them and let them do the work.
Eye Contact: It is extremely important to keep eye contact with your listeners. Try to locate a few strategic points in different locations in the audience and alternate your gaze between these points during your speech.
Using Our Own Words: Except in cases of especially official speeches (and actually, even then), a more informal speech in a spoken language is preferable to highbrow style. A balanced use of free language will not detract from the seriousness of your content, but rather increase your reliability.
Feel Free to Play: There are many worn-out speech conventions. Instead of duplicating them blindly, try to be inventive and innovative – nothing catches the attention and raises interest more than the unexpected.
Alternate the Pitch of Your Voice: Everything sounds the same when you use a monotone voice – it doesn’t allow your listeners to differentiate between parts of your speech, the important from the marginal, and the obvious from what requires increased attention. Try to alternate between high and low tones throughout the speech, in accordance to the content of course.
Distraction before Performance: Most speakers feel that rereading your notes and concentrating exclusively on the projected speech before it begins is vital to its success. In fact, the best way to calm ourselves down and get ready is actually to stay distracted, make small talk with a friend or colleague, listen to others speak or even hum a favorite tune. Obsessive preoccupation with the speech materials only increases anxiety and doesn’t help you become more prepared.
Speaking in a Foreign Language: Speaking in a language which is not your native tongue naturally makes public speaking harder, and you might want to consider consulting a language and accent specialist. Different languages have different rhythm and style, which should be taken into consideration while speaking. You don’t necessarily have to strive to sound like a native, but you should practice in order to be fluent and understood. For people who need to speak in English as a second language, I warmly recommend accentsway.com
Minimalism: It is tempting to design a colorful, animated presentation. However, as a matter of fact, in most cases a simple, clean presentation is preferable. A clean design will help the listener concentrate on you and avoid distractions, and will also imply that you are a confident, elegant speaker.
Material: Many speakers tend to include extensive materials in their presentation such as long texts, lengthy repetitions of what is already said aloud and many visuals, while a good presentation contains the minimum. It is impossible for the listeners to follow you and the presentation at the same time, thus your presentation should be complementary and illustrative to your speech, not replace it or repeat it. Include only short headlines, short citations, simple diagrams and good quality pictures. Ultimately, you should even ask yourself if the presentation is absolutely necessary. Not every lecture require a presentation.
Citations: Listening to lengthy citations can be exhausting. Try to paraphrase citations in your own words or present only short citations. If you present a citation – always read it out loud and don’t assume that the audience will read it while you continue. Listeners can’t follow you and read a text at the same time.
Technical Tips: Many speakers think that opening their emails at the beginning of the lecture and downloading their presentation is a good idea. It is not. First, it is preferable to bring your presentation on a USB drive, clean of personal materials, and back it up in email or cloud. Then, you have to save the presentation on the desktop in advance and check that it is working right, that you know how to control it (preferably with a remote control), that the lighting is suitable, and that sound is at the right level if you plan to use it.