Hi. It seems that whenever I attend a lecture I wind up emerging from the experience with as many object lessons on the principles of public speaking as I do with knowledge derived from the speaker's content. Accordingly, today I would like to share with you some more public speaking tips that I've picked up along the way in my travels as an instructor and as a manager who gives quite a few presentations.
As preparation, you may first want to have a look at the first piece I wrote on the subject:
Prepare for and Speak to Your Audience
The last presentation I attended was given by a lawyer who spoke to the students at my high school on the importance of academic integrity. Although this man's speech was content-rich, his talk was also very dry and was aimed at college-level students or college graduates, at the very least. If I were the speaker, I certainly would have taken the time to prepare my lecture for my audience (an assembly room filled with 14- and 15-year old students), and would have delivered my remarks using age-appropriate language.
The upshot of the lawyer's presentation was that, by my observation, a significant portion of the class considered the talk a "snoozefest." For heaven's sake, the speaker cracked a couple of sophisticated political jokes! I'm not demeaning or minimizing my students' capacity to comprehend adult language; I'm simply exhorting public speakers to invest the proper time and effort on the front-end to shape the presentation to fit the age and knowledge level of all attendees. "Know your audience" is a foundational principle of public communications.
Speak to the Back of the Room
Even with the best of public address equipment, if a speaker does not control the volume, pitch, and modulation of his or her voice effectively, then some content will be lost by a portion of the audience, especially those sitting in the back rows of the room. Therefore, whenever I speak to a group, no matter how large or small, I take special care to project may voice to fill the entire space. I find it helpful to pick out a person or two in the rear row and establish a higher degree of eye contact with these folks; doing this keeps me conscious of all audience members, not only those in the front rows. Another motivation that reminds me to project my voice when giving a public talk is that it annoys me to no end when I am seated toward the rear of an auditorium and I have difficulty deciphering the speaker's remarks because he or she is peeping like a little bird into the microphone. Speak up!
Restate Questions from the Audience
Another giant pet peeve of mine centers on speakers who field questions from their audience and launch into answering the question without restating or rephrasing the question for the benefit of the rest of the attendees. More often than not, the person asking the speaker the question is doing so un-amplified. Consequently, only those people who are seated in close proximity to the questioner hear the question and are in a better position (literally and figuratively) to understand the speaker's reply.
When I accept a question from my audience, I restate the question for the entire audience. For instance, if a questioner were to ask me, "What is the best wireless router for a typical home user?" I would immediately say something like "The question is: 'What is the best wireless router for a typical home user.' What you should understand first of all is..." And so on.
Answer Questions for the Audience, Not Only for the Questioner
Once the speaker has received a question from a member of the audience, I feel that it is critically important for the speaker to answer not only the questioner, but to direct the answer to the entire audience. One pitfall I have seen some public speakers fall into is that they engage in an almost intimate dialogue with the questioner. This approach typically involves a lot of eye contact and hushed tones. The problem with this technique is that the "one-to-one" connection between the speaker and the questioner (a) leaves the audience as a sort of "third wheel"; and (b) tends to lead the speaker into not being mindful of voice projection and volume, resulting in audience members who lose the benefit of both the question as well as the answer.
Raise you Hand Along with Your Audience
Finally, an old public speaking coach at Cornell taught me to raise my hands along with the audience whenever I ask them a "polling" question. Doing so tends to defuse any self-consciousness on the part of audience members and allows for a higher degree of interaction between the speaker and his or her audience.
For example, during a speech I might say, "By a show of hands, how many of you have a high-speed Internet connection at home?" After posing this question, I will raise my own hand prominently, even if (as in this example) I do not have a high-speed Internet connection myself. Again, as a speaker I am showing solidarity with the audience, as well as giving them a verbal and physical invitation for interaction.
I hope that you found this second batch of public speaking tips helpful. There will be more to follow in the future, trust me.