As a small business owner, there may be times when you have to deliver a speech – to your employees, suppliers, or customers. Here Simon Bucknall from Toastmasters International provides some practical steps to help you gain confidence speaking in public, and how to inspire an audience.
The teenage schoolboy shuffles to the front of the class.
Shabby jacket, scuffed shoes.
But then he speaks.
’When you look at me, you probably think I’m a joke.’
‘But I’m not!’
‘You probably think I’ll end up in a gang.’
‘But I won’t!’
‘Come on, be honest. You must look at me and think I won’t do anything with my life.’
“But I WILL.”
In my time I’ve heard thousands of speakers – from CEOs to refugees, MBAs to primary school teachers, professors to politicians and the occasional prisoner.
Very few have matched that 15 year old’s impact.
To say you could have heard a pin drop in that classroom would be an understatement.
Was he perfect?
(Frankly, he was a pain for much of the day.)
Was he polished in his delivery?
Far from it.
Was he inspiring?
We know the importance of Inspiration. We thirst for it.
It’s often assumed that to qualify as ‘inspirational’, you must have some notable accomplishment. Others believe inspiration requires loud music, jumping up and down, and punching the ceiling.
From my experience I’d say that inspiration requires none of these things. What absolutely is required, however, is Certainty.
Certainty in what you believe. In what you value. In what you know, deep down in your gut, to be true and important.
Consider for a moment…
Can you imagine being inspired by a ditherer? By someone who simply can’t make their mind up? Who’s never-really-quite-sure?
Martin Luther King, Princess Diana, Steve Jobs and Mother Theresa may have expressed themselves in very different ways. However, what they had in common was deep conviction. They had clarity in their own minds on what they believed to be important.
The impact was plain to see.
In any small business a leader’s ability to inspire through the spoken word has never been more highly prized. You may be rallying your team, presenting to shareholders or existing customers. You may be pitching to investors or pitching to prospective customers.
Given the importance what are the practical steps that you can take that make a difference?
1 – Start With Change
As human beings, we feel inspired ‘to’ something… to feel a certain way, to think a certain way and/or to behave in a certain way.
That ‘change’ is valuable.
It explains why effective speakers and leaders command the respect, recognition and fees that they do.
By contrast, the vast bulk of workplace presentations deliver little if any change at all! The focus is almost entirely on the content, with little if any thought being given to how that content might be applied by the audience members.
As a result, when the presentation ends, people leave, nothing really changes and the whole exercise has been a complete waste of time.
Ask yourself right at the outset of your preparation: What change do I want to achieve? In the room? In the minutes after they leave? Over the next few weeks? Months, if not years from now?
Build your key messages around that clarity of purpose.
By doing so, you’ll…
- Deliver better – and more authentically
- Focus your energy on the audience, rather than on yourself
- Feel less ‘nervous’
- Likely include less detail (which is good!)
- Leave people with something concrete to take away
- Differentiate yourself from the majority of other presenters
- Be more likely to inspire others… to change!
2 – ‘Clarify Underlying Values & Beliefs’
Inspiration involves a transfer of belief. If you do not believe in your message, idea or proposal, then why should anyone else?
Values and beliefs underpin any powerful message – sometimes, they might even be the message. There is tremendous power in the clarity with which you hold them.
In relation to what you need to communicate…
What DO you believe?
What DO you hold dear?
Get clear on that; harness that!
For example, for my part, I absolutely believe that…
1 The ability to speak powerfully is a skill, not a gift.
2 That as human beings we consistently underestimate the true value of our own personal experience.
3 That words can speak louder than actions (!)
These simple beliefs absolutely underpin the work that I do – and that comes across in the way that I deliver. (In my experience, mental focus is far more important for delivery than pure ‘delivery technique’).
As a simple exercise, complete the following sentence:
“I absolutely believe…”
Keep it simple.
There is power in the single-mindedness of your answers.
3 – Find The ‘Critical Moments’ In Your Stories
Storytelling is often cited as the key to inspirational impact – and with good reason. Personal experience exudes Certainty. After all, you’ve lived it. You were there. No-one can dispute the fact that you’ve had that experience (assuming of course it’s genuine – so, no lies!)
What is often underestimated is the importance of drilling down into the specific ‘Critical Moments’ within those stories, to unearth the precious gems that ignite the interest of listeners.
Critical Moments are the gold of storytelling. Just like gold in the natural world, they’re not just lying around. They have to be dug for, retrieved and refined…
Reflect for a moment on a story you’re fond of telling.
What was the Critical Moment of that story? The tipping point, if you like. The point at which things changed.
What precisely happened? Where were you? Who was there? What was said…?
4 – Discover Dialogue
Dialogue is a very effective tool for conveying the drama of a Critical Moment. Through the use of dialogue, your story enters into the present tense. Listeners hear the voice of the character (rather than you the speaker). Emotionally, this makes for a more intense – and so, potentially inspiring – experience.
Contrast the following two statements:
A member of the Danish royal family was depressed and wondering whether or not to commit suicide.
To be or not to be.
Give your characters a voice. If it’s you, voice your own words as they were said at the time; you’ll find you achieve a deeper emotional connection.
Over to you
How will you make a change? Which ONE tip will you make use of next time you present or when you talk to any group or person you need to influence?
Simon Bucknall is from Toastmasters International and was the runner-up in the 2017 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking. Since 1924, the organisation has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. There are more than 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7,500 members.