Public speaking skills can be acquired. All of us have the potential to live, relate and connect with each other better through public communication and leadership. Speaking life shares the experiences of a toastmaster who reached the finals of the District 80 Table-Topics contest in May 2007. Everyday is a day that we can become better communicators.

Get to the point

Photo by Zam'n.

Excuse me, what was your speech about?

Have you ever delivered a speech and have a member of the audience come up to you and ask discreetly, "excuse me, but what was your speech about?"

Public speaking involves more than just standing up at a podium and talking about a topic for the next five to seven minutes. It is about COMMUNICATION. It is about passing messages from you to your audience. It is about your audience UNDERSTANDING what you have just told them!

So how you make sure that your message is received by your audience? Let's examine how you can deliver your speech and get to the point of your performance.

What is your purpose?

Too many times I have listened to speeches that were well spoken, had considerable content but was not organised in a way that helped the speaker achieve his or her purpose. I talked about this in an earlier post, but I'll reiterate the point as it is an important one. Before you write a speech, you need to think about and come up with the purpose of your speech? As Stephen Covey exhorted us in the "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", begin with the end in mind. What do you want to achieve with your audience. To persuade them to do something? To inform and educate them about issues that they were unaware? To encourage them to become better or more effective in their jobs, roles or hobbies?

What is your purpose? Establish that clearly and your OPENING, BODY and CONCLUSION of your message will be structured, with practice and some coaching, into a speech that will drive home the message to your audience.

Who is your audience?

Knowing your audience is important to know if they will be receptive to your message. It will help you write the speech in a way that helps send your message across. Is it a group full of intellectuals? Then your examples and arguments can be pitched at a more conceptual level. Is it a group of people who prefer to do things with their hands than to hear conceptual frameworks, then you may want to use analogies and examples that relate to their background and understanding. The point here is to pitch your message to the level of your audience. In the case where your audience is a mixture, you may have to aim for the lowest common denominator or something rather universal that appeals across all groups. It is easier said that done but I realised that topical issues in the main stream media tend to connect with the audience e.g. electronic road pricing, inflation, economy etc.

Why you need to be direct?

Most speeches in the toastmasters movement take five to seven minutes. In this short time, you will be hard pressed to meander with an overly long opening or tell stories that have little relevance to your main topic. I prefer the direct approach of having an impactful opening, for example, if I were talking about mind-mapping, I might start with,

Do you know that 99% of all human beings only use 1% of their brains? My speech today will touch on how you can turn into that 1% that uses more than 1% of your brain!
Your audience's time is precious. They give you their attention only if what you say adds value and gives them something. They crave food for thought and manna for their souls. You are in a position to give it to them or to deny them in the very same speech, so prepare your speech well so that you are deserving of their time.

Speak well and live well.