You keep a checklist handy for many of your regular tasks--grocery shopping, scheduling your day and week, and creating a hyperlink, for example. Because your profession requires you to speak to groups frequently, you have often wished you could keep a speech preparation check-list handy, to remind you how to get ready to generate the results you want. You won't have to wait any longer. Here is your checklist for top-level speech preparation.
Adopt an upbeat ATTITUDE.
Form a mental picture of success. Assume you have something worth saying, and that you will say it well. Anticipate your audience's unbroken attention, laughter, and applause. Picture your listeners participating actively in discussion, with relevant questions and comments reflecting their rapt attention. Saturate your mind with these affirmative expectations, leaving no room for doubt and fear.
Focus on the AUDIENCE
This way, you won't become excessively concerned about yourself--whether you are dressed properly, making a favorable impression, and holding the group's attention. Those self-directed thoughts can become obsessive, distracting you from your main purpose: helping your listeners understand and accept your message. And remember, audiences want you to succeed. Successful speakers make meetings and conferences successful. Audience members aren't critics, they are your cheerleaders. Embrace them emotionally even before you say your first word--then they'll embrace you.
Listeners don't want to wonder if you have a pulse. So don't read or recite your message. . .tell it, as energetically as you would describe a fun weekend. Move away from the podium, gesture freely, vary your voice, just as you do in casual chit chat. Create what actors call "The Illusion of the First Time." If you use Power Point, rely on the slides as prompts, not as your script. Take a minute to jot down the names of three speakers you rate very highly. Note: Every one of them strikes you as energetic, vital, and sometimes dramatic. They ignite you because they sparkle.
Remain on the lookout for audience feedback. When you detect confusion, restate your point. When you see listeners nod in agreement, let their support energize you. If participants start checking their watches, change your pace or tell a relevant story to recapture their attention. Better still, direct the group in brief interactive dialogue to elevate interest.
Some of our most cherished childhood memories revolve around bedtime, when parents or others read stories to us, stimulating our imagination and transporting us into majestic eras and scenes. As adults, we continue to love "once upon a time," though speakers use different introductory phrasing. People remember and learn from your stories, not from statistics. Paint word pictures, giving a "you are there" feeling. Use suspense with the skill of a novelist. Paul Harvey carved a grand speaking career on radio as a master story teller, and Zig Ziglar did the same from the speaker's platform.
Sharpen your APPEARANCE
Although casual and sometimes sloppy dress have gained some acceptance (which you can verify at any public event, and even in numerous work settings), your audience wants you to dress a notch or two above its norm. Tasteful, professional clothing reflects that you respect them and the occasion. Additionally, your grooming and manners should supplement your professional image. Not surprisingly, you will gain confidence and energy as well when you look your best and present yourself as a polished professional.
Do something different from other speakers. Audiences withdraw from the "some old same old," so they are drawn to creative speakers who go beyond offering a standard three points and a summary. Examples: include unusual props, impersonations, games, regular audience interaction, or magic if that's your talent. Note: Every season, new TV shows succeed because they become distinctive.
Next time you are going to face an audience, review these seven ways to become a Grade-A speaker, and then implement them. Once more, here are the seven A's that will enable you to connect with your audience immediately, hold their unbroken attention, and encourage them to endorse your message and respond with action: Attitude, Audience, Animated, Attentive, Anecdotes, Appearance, and Atypical. You will welcome the results, and so will your audience.
Bill Lampton, Ph.D., Communication Consultant,
Speech Coach, and Video Trainer, "Helping You Finish in First Place." Visit his Web site, Championship Communication. Call Dr. Lampton: 678-316-4300