Public speaking skills have many applications in professional, public and private sectors today. In professional sectors, commercial success often depends on the speaker’s ability to convey messages clearly. In public arenas, the ability to persuade and to carry a well laid out and effective message may be the difference between a successful campaign and a lost cause. Private events often do not carry the same level of importance, however, the ability to inform, entertain and connect with an audience still holds great significance to the speaker and to his/her sponsor(s). With these ideas in mind, how can a speaker deliver his/her message effectively?
The first skill of note is speaking. Volume, clarity, projection and tempo are all crucial to successful speaking. These are skills which can be learned, although they come easily for some people and are more difficult for others to master. Practice is a necessity for all speakers, especially early on. The ability to improvise is an advanced skill which will not be covered in this article. It is often helpful to practice a presentation out loud repeatedly, to get timing down and to work on a firm grasp of the presentation itself. While note cards or prepared speeches are helpful, a speaker who reads a presentation lacks connection with the audience.
It is crucial to engage the audience with eye contact during the presentation. This allows for a psychological connection with the audience, but it also gives the speaker immediate feedback from the audience. By reading the expressions of audience members, a speaker can gage the interest level and degree of understanding present in the crowd. It is also possible to see whether the audience is in agreement or disagreement with the speaker’s points. Obviously the ability to read facial expressions and body language is also needed to do this effectively. This skill can be learned as well for those people whom it does not come naturally to, however the effort is worth the payoff in terms of speaking skills. Professionally, a presentation is a failure if the speaker cannot hold the attention of his audience and persuade them to “buy” the concept being presented. In public matters, persuading the audience and raising awareness of issues is of great importance, but often the success or failure of the speaker depends on stimulating a particular action from the audience, be that voting a specific way or performing a charitable act, etc. In private functions, the rating of a speaker is likely to be based upon the audience’s entertainment factor and connection with the speaker.
In preparing for the speaking presentation, having the proper equipment and materials are key factors for success. Having note cards which are easily organized and easily read at a glance is important. As the name suggests, they are “note” cards, and should list major areas and points, not long sentences on every detail to be covered. Preparation and practice prior to the presentation make it possible to cover all areas well from limited notes. Having props and differing presentation media can also provide easy ways to stay on topic and cover all material. Use of speech is often enhanced by visual aids, like charts, graphs, and graphics.
Power Point presentations containing these items are an effective way to combine a speaker’s message with a variety of visual aids. Once again, practice prior to the presentation is crucial to ensure that the speaker’s timing matches up with the A/V presentation. Learning styles are important considerations in developing the accompanying materials for a presentation. These styles include auditory, or hearing; visual, or sight based; tactile, or touch based; motor, or doing the action; and combination, which can include any variety of these methods used together. Designing a presentation to effectively cover the main points in each of these styles is most effective, as people are often superior learners in one of the styles as opposed to the others. Therefore, a presenter who speaks to the audience, backs it up with visual media, including written words and allows for demonstration of the action sought or product in question will effectively reach a greater portion of the audience than a speaker who simply delivers a speech.
In order to accomplish this mix of presentation components, a speaker must have the required hardware. In its simplest form this hardware can be an easel with a whiteboard and dry erase markers, but in this day and age, audiences often expect more. A proper A/V set-up can be a make or break factor in presentations today. Consider electrical needs, outlets, batteries, cables and media when developing plans for locations and layouts. Will the presenter have a computer, projector, LCD screen, lighting, or sound system? What sizes? What type of sound system will be used?
In a small location unamplified voices may be fine, in larger locales or more crowded venues, that will not suffice. Will the speaker use a megaphone (extremely informal events only), or a wired PA system (limited mobility) or a wireless sound system (greatest flexibility but often higher cost). Will the system allow for integration of all media being used or will separate systems be needed for them? If all of these considerations have been made and dry runs show that the presentation works, then it is time for the show. The one final consideration for delivering a high quality public speaking event is to be prepared for problems. Have back ups in case systems fail or power is out. A speaker who saves the day in spite of technical failures is always regarded highly and respected for their professionalism and ability. This goes a long way to winning over an audience and, in the end, that is the goal of a speaker boiled down to its most basic form.