As speakers, we need to understand that when we are giving a speech, what we really want to do is to connect with our audience. A good way to make this happen is to realize that it’s not just going to be the words that come out of our mouths that allow us to connect with them, but also what we choose to do with our bodies. Our audience is going to be watching our speech and so we need to use our bodies to more fully engage them in the speech that we are giving. How can we make this happen?
Speakers can prepare for a speech and then still be nervous when they present it. When this happens, both our bodies and our minds can stiffen, and we may end up feeling like a department store mannequin. Speakers have been told that preparation is the key to success, but it turns out that this means much more than writing and rehearsing the words of a speech. We need to understand that when performing on stage, like speakers actors rely on the voice, body and mind to not only create a character, but to communicate that character to an audience. This same concept applies to public speaking. Although a speaker may not be creating a character like an actor does, our ultimate goal is the same – its communication. Even the best speaker can come up short if their body lacks agility and their mind lacks focus. So how can we loosen up our voice, body and mind for our next speech?
Prepare Your Voice
All speakers recognize when a delivery is monotone or a rhythm is repetitious. The enemy of the speaker is sameness in your speech. Vocal variety is a product of our minds, but all too often we neglect our vocal system. This body system comprises the tongue, mouth, vocal cords, facial muscles and the diaphragm, which allows us to breathe. By taking the time to ready this system, you can deliver a wider range of sounds. Prior to starting to speak, stand or sit in an upright position and relax. Slowly breathe in through your nose, hold your breath for two seconds, and then slowly exhale out through your nose. Repeat this process, imagining your chest cavity is a balloon that is filling up with air. Feel your diaphragm expand down toward your pelvis as you do this.
When you release your air, feel your diaphragm contract inward and upward, pushing out air through your mouth. After a few cycles of this, you should begin to feel relaxed and centered. The next thing that you will want to do is to introduce your vocal cords to the routine. Emit a relaxed sound each time you exhale. What you say doesn’t matter – just keep your throat relaxed and your mouth open. If you want, your sound can resemble a low hum. Recognize this sound as being your true voice – the centered, relaxed sound of you.
Don’t make the mistake of overlooking the role your mouth plays in speaking by overemphasizing the vocal cords and what goes on in the throat. We take articulation for granted because we think that we do it naturally. The lips and tongue are what determines diction. Don’t assume every audience member has top-notch hearing. Listeners may not be able to capture and comprehend our every word. As you prepare to speak, take time to limber up your face, mouth and tongue by conducting vocal exercises, preferably in front of a mirror.
Prepare Your Body
Speakers need to realize that agility facilitates communication, and having a tense body is not agile. To gain a better connection with our audience, we are going to have to properly prepare our body by releasing any tension beforehand. Most tension tends to lie in the shoulders and upper torso. We can release this kind of tension in the following way: stand upright with our feet directly beneath our shoulders. We don’t want to lock our knees – instead, maintain a slight “bounce” in your joints. We need to push our shoulders back in a comfortable way, and allow our chest to rest directly over our center-of-gravity. At the same time we need to let our arms hang at our sides, with our hands open. One way to release any tension in your body is by imagining that you are a puppet on a string capable of performing any desired motion. Be sure to roll your shoulders, first forward, then backward. Next, roll your hips in a circular motion, first clockwise, and then counterclockwise. Now return to the position in the first step. From this position, you will be able to move or gesture more easily, and communicate with your audience more fully.
Prepare Your Mind
How many times have you been distracted while speaking, only to be thrown off course? How many times have you drawn a blank during a presentation? If you can center yourself, clear your mind and practice visualization, then you can avoid these types of obstacles. In the days leading up to your speech, visualize your speech from the audience’s perspective. Try to see yourself at the lectern and hear yourself speaking. Consider the following questions and adjust the mental image of your speech to draw a more favorable audience response. What are you doing during your speech that is most effective? What about your speech is particularly moving for your audience, and why? What about your presentation is funny to your audience? What questions do you have about your speech’s content? As a result of listening to your speech, are you, as a listener, moved to action, better informed or entertained? If you use these warm-up exercises you will feel more alert, and more capable of directing your energy while on stage. Rather than monitoring your every action and word, you will be able to focus on being your character and connecting with your audience.
What All Of This Means For You
It turns out that giving a speech is about a lot more than just standing on a stage and saying words. Yes, the words that we say are important. However, it turns out that what we do with our body during our speech is also very important. A big challenge that most speaker face is that when we take the stage to give a speech we may become very nervous. When that happens, we tend to stand in one place and not move around very much. We want to learn how we can overcome this and make our body a key part of our next speech.
We have to start by preparing our voice. We have to position our body to allow us to use vocal variety. We also have to take the time to warm up our vocal cords. We will also have to limber up our mouth, lips, and tongue. We also have to prepare our entire body. This means that we have to find ways to release any tension that we may be feeling. Finally, we need to prepare our minds for the speech that we will be giving. We can do this by trying to understand how our audience will view the speech that we will be giving.
The reason that we give any speech is that we want to make an impact on our audience. In order to make this happen we try to choose words that will have an impact on them. It turns out that we also have to make sure that our bodies can help us to deliver our message to our audience. If we can gain control over our voice, body, and mind then we can use our speech to make an impact on our audience.
Question For You: Just before you take the stage, is there anything that you can do to get rid of tension?
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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!
What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
As speakers, we understand that not all of our presentations are going to be the same. In fact, some of them may look nothing like any other presentation that we have ever given. In the day and age that we are currently living in we are all doing more and more of our presentations via video link. The audiences for these presentations have been growing larger and larger as more and more people become comfortable watching speakers who appear on their iPads and laptops. What that means for us is that we need to understand what we have to do in order to tailor our presentations to this new method of speaking.