I picked up an old book on public speaking aimed at women yesterday called Speaking Up and was quite shocked when I began to read it. The two most important pieces of advice for women were
- Video yourself speaking as soon as possible so that you can analyse all your faults
- Write out your speech and then read it to the audience.
What shocked me is that those are the top two items on my list of things you MUST NOT do if you want to become a successful speaker. My advice would be the same whether you are a man or a woman – but the advice is particularly important for women because women seem to have, in my experience as a speaking coach, a greater problem with self confidence than men.
Here is the problem with video. I don’t know many people who like to see themselves on video and that is especially true of women. When you watch a video of yourself speaking your attention is drawn to all your faults and you will almost certainly see more faults in yourself than others see. This completely undermines our confidence making us so self conscious that we lose all spontaneity and become more stressed and nervous about speaking.
The most important thing about your speech is the content. I do not go to a presentation to see the speaker – I go to listen to the speaker. I want to hear something that is going to make a difference in my life, no matter how small. I want you the speaker to help me to improve my life in some way.
Unless the presentation of your speech is so awful that it makes listening a chore, I will largely ignore how you present, provided the content is interesting and fascinating.
So if content is so important – surely the best plan is to write it out? Absolutely not.
The first problem is that written language is very different to spoken language. Most people are taught all their lives how to write information that it intended to be read. And when we read material we have lots of time to re-read passages if we didn’t understand them the first time.
When I speak I rely on vocal quality, timing and body language as much as the words to convey meaning. I often ask questions and interact with the audience. I try to make sure that the experience of hearing me speak is completely different to the experience of reading my articles. Otherwise why would you come and listen to me speak. It would save you a lot of time and money to just get a copy of the speech and read it.
So if videoing yourself and writing out the speech are not the way – what is the best way to improve your speaking.
Rule 1 – Speak only on a subject about which you have earned the right to speak.
Dale Carnegie, one of the most famous speech coaches of all time claimed that you need to know 40 times more about a subject than you deliver. I want to hear from an expert. More importantly I don’t want to hear about other people’s expertise, I want to hear your experiences on the subject.
I want to hear about the problems you faced and how you overcame them. I want to see this world through your eyes. I want to know that you have been there and got the t-shirt. Expertise is not just about what you have read or heard, it’s about what you have done with that knowledge. How have you applied it and how can I benefit from your experiences.
Rule 2 – Remember that a speaker is a storyteller – the audience wants to hear your story.
If you want me to remember your speech, tell me a story and especially tell me your story. But why would anyone want to hear my story; its boring? I have heard that objection so many times on workshops. You are not boring. You have been invited to speak because you have expertise in your field. If you do not – then don’t speak. If you do – then tell us about your experiences – your story.
I remember a woman on one workshop who insisted that she had nothing interesting to say and struggled to deliver a two minute speech. Then at the coffee break she held a group of participants spellbound for ten minutes as she told them about her recent holiday – trekking in the Peruvian Andes.
Women should be much better speakers than men because we have better social skills. Women are great storytellers – just think about the last time you were chatting with a group of friends, recounting the weekend – telling stories about your experiences. The great thing is that when we tell a story about our experiences we automatically use vocal variety and gestures to express ourselves making the speech more engaging and entertaining.
All you have to do is take that skill and apply it to your expertise and you will be a great speaker.