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A Quick Guide to Public Speaking

"I have a dream..."  Who can forget those immortal words spoken by Martin Luther King, Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963.  Dr. King managed to influence millions of people and change a nation, not because he was rich, or in a position of power, but because he was an effective public speaker.  Dr. King and other highly influential people before him, like Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln, just to name a few, mastered the art of public speaking and earned their place in history.  Mastering the art of public speaking may not make you world famous, but it will most certainly help you to succeed in anything you do.

In just about every well-paid position, some form of public speaking is required whether it be presenting to the board of directors, giving a group sales presentation, speaking to a committee, or just a group of peers.  The large majority of people are either terrified or just very uncomfortable with public speaking.  This means the high paying jobs and the advancements are left for people like us who know that we can become effective public speakers if we put our minds to it.  Better yet, we can even learn to enjoy it.  So let's jump right into my quick guide to public speaking.

There are three general styles of speeches: impromptu, manuscript, and extemporaneous.  In an impromptu speech, you have little to no time to prepare. For example, your boss asks you, on the spot, to bring the rest of the team up to date on what you have been working on the last week.  If possible, it is best to gracefully excuse yourself for a few minutes and jot down a few key points.  Then, you can be sure to cover the important points without making it sound as if you have nothing to share. 

The second type of speech is a manuscript speech, which is written like a manuscript and meant to be delivered word for word.  This is fine for public figures where every word uttered is vital, but when it comes to building a connection with the listeners, an extemporaneous speech is the best way to go.  This kind of speech uses ideas to trigger thoughts rather than exact words.  Knowing the material well will allow you to present a speech in a way that best keeps the listener's attention while allowing you to make changes based on the response of the listeners.  Both the extemporaneous and manuscript styles have their own benefits so choose the style that best fits your content and your personality.  Impromptu speeches should be left for impromptu situations only.

If you remember just one thing about public speaking remember this: have a point.  All too often speakers stand up in front of an audience and blabber out one long stream of consciousness.  Since we are masters at goal setting by now, consider your point the goal of your speech.  Do you want to influence your audience?  Do you want to sell them something?  Do you just want to entertain them?  Know your goal and build your speech around it.  Here are some other suggestions that I have found to be key elements of any successful speech or presentation.

It has been said that most people fear public speaking more than death itself.  While this does not mean people would rather be dead than speak in public, as some authors would like you to believe, it does illustrate why communication of ideas through public speaking is often avoided by professionals.  Those who make it a point to embrace public speaking will have a major advantage over their coworkers and/or competitors.  Who knows, the next time an author writes about great public speakers, your name can be on that list!

by: Bo Bennett, DTM