It is your turn to speak and you have planned, prepared, and rehearsed for a while now. But, the words just don’t come out the same. You feel your heart pounding in your throat and it looks like you are winging it. Your brain’s sophisticated chemical system is responding as if you have encountered a dangerous animal. Instead of helping you, the dose of adrenaline is only making your breathing faster, causing the extra flood of oxygen to slow down your memory. You freeze!

To enjoy your spotlight in the boardroom or stage, follow these five steps. These will help you jump from the list of the average to the list of the exceptional.

  1. Build yourself UP

“Change is the only constant in life” as a Greek philosopher once wrote, so look at it as an opportunity to reinvent yourself. But, instead of freezing on the spot, next time just remember: you, as the speaker, get to lead. You call the shots and you set the pace of the presentation, no matter how hard the audience judges you, and they will.

2. Likes me, likes me not

If you are like me, a good chunk of your time probably gets spent on looking and sounding socially acceptable. But you do not have to be “dressed to the nines” or rehearse every hand gesture to be a success on stage. If you try too hard to be perfect, you run the risk of coming across as too careful and unauthentic.

Once you resolve not to worry about how likable you appear on stage, you will find yourself feeling unusually confident and powerful. 

Even the most forgiving audience is subconsciously thin-slicing you as 

a speaker. From the moment you step on the stage, the observer’s brain runs a diagnostic review on these three levels: likability – how friendly and approachable you are; competency – are you an authority on the subject with an overall contribution in the field; and last but not least, the level of your influence to drive forward the ideas you promote to lasting results. Knowing this can help you decide which one of the these three areas to focus on for a maximum impact. 

3. Keep it short

More than anything your success as a speaker depends on setting a clear objective of not only what you would like to convey but what your listeners will take away from your presentation. Start with the end in mind, stay on topic and keep it concise. The Harvard graduate, Edward Everret, who was also the most gifted orator of his day was asked to give the momentous speech of the day immediately preceding President Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address. He spoke over 13,607 words, for two and a half hours. Lincoln’s speech was a mere 271 words and less than two minutes long. This really short speech, delivered with strong emphasis and a “business like air,” is what we remember and recite even today. 

4. Humor Power

If you do not want to appear as a lecturer or a preacher, use a conversational tone, easy to understand words, and tasteful humor. As a speaker you are not just trying to survive the moment but establish an active presence. Eliciting laughter creates moments of informal exchange not just between you and the audience as a group, but between each member of the audience on an individual level. It is energy that will give you a moment to regroup and it will propel your next statement forward. 

Change is the only constant, so look at it as an opportunity to reinvent yourself. 

5. Summarize and Outline the Steps

Keep the flow logical and outline the steps. Even a short speech can feel like a bunch of ramble if it doesn’t progress logically from point to point. Today’s digital information world demands a complex processing functions from our brains. 

If the brain is forced to shuffle the information to make connections and weed out the useless from the conceptual and practical information, it gets easily fatigued and it tunes out. Messy flow can get confusing and by the end your listeners will remember just the general feeling they got while listening to you or at best, how attractive or unattractive your voice sounded.

6. To pop or not to pop the question

Most of what is published on the topic suggests to ask questions actively and even begin your speech with a question. But is that really an effective way to make a point? (see what I did here). Depends.  If you are using the Socratic method in a setting designed to teach with an audience expected to participate, then yes. However, if you are delivering a presentation, starting out with a rhetorical question and using the speech to formulate an answer, it can feel preachy and predictable. Posing a question to your audience is most likely to highjack your listeners’ attention, a phenomenon known as the “mere measurement effect.” Questions are a powerful way to build engagement, but it all depends on the environment and the objective. Questions trigger a mental reflex know as “instinctive elaboration.” Consider your questions carefully – do not just fire on with questions so you can drive your own point across. The question should be asked so the audience can be led to discovery, not just hand-fed answers. Plan carefully to deliver value and nourishing “food for thought.” How you lead the audience from the question to discovery will establish you as the expert in the field. 

7. Brag Humbly 

Checking your humility radar will help you convey your message with just the right amount of emotion for a maximum impact. Tell the audience what it is that you want them to do after this, and at the end, outline what steps they can take. Make yourself available for a follow-up after. This will create a feeling of being approachable and genuine, after all, as human beings we do not search for perfection, but for a psychological comfort knowing that our needs are met. 

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