I’ve got some good news for you: you are a powerful speaker. This means that you are brilliant. You have incredible ideas. Every question that you ask is insightful. You have compelling ideas to contribute, important businesses and organizations to build, and provocative questions to share. However, there is the possibility that the way you speak fails to command your power when you are sharing the importance of public speaking. You may equivocate, apologize and look away as you speak. What you are doing is subtly undermining yourself with your words and body language. As a result, your ideas do not have the impact they could.
Stop Saying Things
You are fantastic. When you give a speech you need to drop the word “just.” You need to avoid using phrases like “I’m just wondering …,” “I just think …,” and “I just want to add …” Why do this you ask? The word “just” demeans what you have to say. It will shrink your power. It is time to say goodbye to the “justs.” As long as you are getting rid of this word, you should also drop the “actually.” “I actually have a question.” “I actually want to add something.” The reason that you want to get rid of “Actually” is because it communicates a sense of surprise that you have something to say. Of course you want to add something. Of course you have questions. There is nothing surprising about it.
Everything That You Say Is Correct
When you are giving a speech don’t tell people why the words you are about to say are likely to be wrong. You are going to want to avoid starting sentences with phrases such as, “I haven’t researched this much but …”; “I’m just thinking off the top of my head but …”; “You’ve clearly been studying this longer than I have, but … .” As speakers we use these kinds of qualifiers for several reasons. We don’t want to appear arrogant. We may be not completely sure about what we are saying. We fear that we might be wrong, so we buffer the sting of a critical response by saying up front, “I’m not totally standing behind what I am about to say, but …” This way no one has the chance to say back, “Well, I know you strongly believe this, but I entirely disagree.” No matter what the reason, this will take away from the power of your voice. It’s time for you to change this habit.
Take You Time
You are in charge when you are giving a speech. Don’t tell your audience that you are going to “take only a minute” to say something. Often, in presentations or meetings, speakers will say, “I’d like to ask you to take just a minute to consider this idea” or “Now, I’m going to take a few minutes to tell you about our product.” Think about how much stronger it would sound to simply say, “I’d like to tell you about our product.” Go ahead and only take a minute, if that’s what it will take, but skip using the phrase “just a minute” in a talk or presentation. It makes you sound apologetic and implies that you don’t think what you are about to say is worthy of time and attention.
Stop Asking So Many Questions
There is a time and a place for questions in every speech. What you don’t want to be doing is making your sentences sound like questions. Speakers often raise the pitch of their voice at the end of a sentence, making it sound like a question. Take the time to listen to your own language and that of speakers around you, and you are likely to notice this everywhere. Not surprisingly, speaking a statement like a question diminishes its power. Human brains are not wired to accept guidance from question-inflected voices. Make your statements sound like statements – drop your tone lower at the end of your sentences.
Use More Statements And Fewer Questions
As you deliver you speech, make sure that you don’t substitute a question for a statement. You might think you are “suggesting” increasing the marketing budget by asking, “What about increasing the marketing budget?” in a meeting, but the problem is that your colleagues aren’t likely to hear an opinion in your question. When you have something important to say, do not couch it in a question. Sometimes in a speech, of course, there are strategic reasons to use a question rather than a statement: to gently introduce an idea to a group that is likely to be resistant to it, for example. But speakers often turn to questions rather than statements because we are trying to avoid conflict, avoiding visibility and avoiding claiming power. We use questions because we may have heard old stories about it being dangerous or inappropriate to state our ideas definitively, and we can’t see how sharing our perspective boldly and directly could actually hugely benefit our careers. It’s time for us to let the old stories go.
In Your Speech, Use Punctuation And Take The Time To Pause
When you are delivering a speech, you can allow clauses to get piled on top of one another, this is you interrupting your own thoughts with digressions. When we don’t feel we have the right to take up space in a meeting or conversation, or when we are nervous, we tend to rush, and never leave a moment without some words to fill it. Brief pauses between your sentences connote confidence and a sense of comfort in your role as speaker. Pauses allow your listeners to absorb what you are saying and give you a moment to gather a deep breath and collect your thoughts. Remember to punctuate and pause.
What All Of This Means For You
Once we realize that we have something important to say as we are sharing the benefits of public speaking, how can we begin changing our speech? The correct thing to do is to start by increasing your awareness of the unhelpful speech patterns you currently use and be mindful of your intention to speak differently. You need to focus on one habit at a time. You should make changes to your speech patterns one at a time. Focus on the one that stands out the most to you.
Practice, with feedback. Realize that you cannot learn the art of speaking by reading a book about it. The only way to reach a high level of speaking skill is through practice — but the right kind of practice –– practice with appropriate feedback. Keep in mind that speaking practice must be followed with constructive feedback about what you are doing well and what you need to do to make changes.
Always be yourself. We all have unique ways of communicating –– ways that tend to be more collaborative, consensus building and inviting. These new habits are not about adopting a communication style that doesn’t sit right with you in your heart. They are about giving up the self-diminishing patterns that stem from being afraid of power or from believing our inner critic, and as a result, sharing our ideas tentatively. As a speaker, you want to be yourself. That is your most grounded, confident, influential self.
Question For You: What is the best way to detect if you are having any of the speaking problems that we talked about?
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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!