Have you ever found yourself completely enraptured by a public speaker? Or sat amazed at the sheer eloquence, power, and delivery of a gifted orator? Have you ever dreamt of doing the same only to conclude, “No way … I could never do that!” Yeah, same here.
While growing up, I marveled at great orators: the politicians, lecturers, coaches, and preachers that just seemed like they were “born with it.” Public speaking never came naturally to me, so sharing my ideas in front of people seemed like a pipe dream.
But public speaking — like any other type of communication — can be developed. The problem is we tend to focus on the discourse rather than the delivery. Both are important, so here are a few tips to improve your public speaking … they're so simple you'll feel like you're cheating.
1. Multiply your personality by 3.
Speaking is simply advice mediated through your personality. But what if your personality is quiet or laid back? Take your personality and multiply it by 3. If you’re naturally a laid back person (like me) this will help you communicate passion, confidence, and energy.
In college, I wrote a term paper for a marketing class on professional wrestling. You would be surprised how much you could learn about public speaking from these burly, larger-than-life sports entertainers!
When creating a character or persona, a professional wrestler basically takes a component of their personality … and multiplies it. That’s how they get some of these crazy gimmicks. Bodybuilder? You’re now The Muscle Man. Former accountant? You’re now the wrestler dressed like a tax man. You get the idea.
Don't worry, this isn't just about being louder. Make your low-key remarks 3 times as soft. When combined with your regular tone of voice, this will naturally create more inflection in your speech. This works wonders for podcasting, too. Work that microphone!
2. Get a leg up.
The most “honest” part of the body is waist down. It's the least conscientious and the first to respond to stress. On the flip side, being balanced communicates control and confidence.
Just prior to the first televised presidential debate in 1960, then vice-President Richard Nixon severely bumped his knee. As a result, he favored his leg behind the podium and looked oddly crooked. TV viewers said Nixon lost by a landslide to Senator John F. Kennedy. In the poll for those who only heard the debate on radio, Nixon won by a landslide!
Power is conveyed by occupying physical space, so practice stepping forward at key points in your talk. Space your feet about 6 to 8 inches apart. I'm 6'2″ so I use a wider stance, about 8 to 12 inches apart, or shoulder width. If my feet go any wider, it looks too threatening because of my height. If I place my feet too close to each other, I look like a tree about to topple over.
3. Popsicle sticks.
Law enforcement interrogators are trained to watch the hands of people they are questioning. Hands are that vital to nonverbal communication!
When your hands are all the way down, your energy decreases and you lose expression in your face. Keep your hands to waist level to convey confidence. Bring them to the chest or above and you'll naturally become energetic and animated. If you don't think hands are important, see how awkward it feels to smile big or laugh hysterically with your hands in your pockets.
One trick you might implement is a result of my wife's observations: popsicle sticks. She noted that I had a bad habit of cocking my wrists too much. Consequently, my hands were flailing all over the place.
To firm up my posture, I practiced with popsicle sticks tied over the top of my wrists. This firmed up my hands and forearms, and made me acutely aware of what my hands were doing and at what height I was placing them.
You or I may not be the next Winston Churchill or Pericles, but we can all improve. The ability to speak to an audience (even a virtual one) is quickly become a given for building your influence. Implement these simple tactics and you'll be well on your way to speaking with more confidence and power.
Question: What tips do you have for becoming a better public speaker?