Speaking in public can be, for some people, terrifying—but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, public speaking can be a great way to promote a massage practice. You can even become an expert in public speaking, with lots of practice. The downside for many people, however, is it makes them so nervous they never even attempt it once, let alone the dozens of times it may take to hone their rhetorical skill.
Thousands of books have been written about public speaking, and many of them are probably helpful. No amount of reading, however, can substitute for the experience of standing in front of an audience and delivering a talk. Experience is the best teacher, and if you’re willing to make some mistakes at first, you’ll learn more from a bad talk than you will from the best books—so be willing to give it a shot.
In my experience, effective public speaking involves three interrelated issues: mechanics, skill and confidence. Improvement in any one of these areas will help develop the other two. As you practice, all three will get better, but you can choose to focus on particular aspects to develop.
Mechanics of Public Speaking
The mechanics of public speaking involve such things as tailoring your talk to the size and demographic makeup of your audience and the venue; the use of visual aids; electronics, such as a projector, a microphone, speakers and lighting; the seating arrangement; length of the talk; break periods; audience participation or interaction; and the format of your speech. For example, you might be providing an informative talk, a question-and-answer session or an open forum.
All of these issues need to be carefully thought out before you begin to prepare your talk, as they will help facilitate a professional delivery and, hopefully, create a pleasing experience for your audience. Making sure the mechanics of your public speaking experience are flawless won’t guarantee an exceptional speech, but if you neglect to attend to them, they will almost certainly guarantee a less-than-spectacular presentation.
The skill of public speaking might be learned from a book, but can only be perfected through dedicated practice. Skillful presenters will spend a lot of time beforehand preparing for their talk. This preparation involves deciding what you want to talk about that will be of interest to the audience, which means you know what the audience wants to hear.
Preparing for a talk also means knowing how much time you have to deliver your speech and scripting out what you want to say. Practice with a stopwatch, either in front of a small group of friends or in front of a mirror. An even better method is to use a videocamera so you can also work on your posture and body language.
Using a videocamera is also a great tool to review how you use your voice. As you review the tape, ask yourself the following questions:
• Am I varying the cadence and volume of my voice for emphasis?
• Am I allowing moments of silence to accentuate important points and let them resonate with my audience?
• Am I speaking clearly and projecting my voice?
• Am I making eye contact with my audience?
This preparation will help the delivery of your talk, but you must also work on the content so that you have something worthwhile to deliver. With regard to scripting your speech, take time to arrange the sections of your talk into a logical flow of information. Weave stories, metaphors and examples into your speech to underscore your points.
You should also spend time watching public speakers, especially with whom you resonate, either on television or online; public television stations and YouTube are ideal for this. As you study speakers you admire, ask yourself the following questions:
• What are they doing? What are they not doing?
• How do they interact with and engage the audience?
• How do they use their bodies?
• How do they incorporate stories, metaphors and examples into their talks?
• How would I characterize their use of eye contact?
All of this is meaningless, however, unless you are willing to practice what you learn. One of the best ways to practice is to join a local Toastmasters International club (toastmasters.org). While there are various clubs available to practice your public-speaking skills, each club has its own way of doing things in terms of formality and scheduling, so check around and ask to sit in on a meeting or two to see if it’s a good fit for you. The meetings will give you ample opportunity to practice your skills, learn and share tips and techniques with other members, and receive feedback on your progress.
All of this will help to enhance your overall confidence when it comes to public speaking, which in turn will allow your message to come through loud and clear.