When you speak before an audience, they perceive more than just your words. They see your clothes and your haircut. They notice how confidently you move, and hear whether your voice is calm or agitated. They feel a connection when you make eye contact. Consciously or not, they make assessments about your professionalism, and even your credibility, based on small things – a smirk, a hand in a pocket, or the way the hem of your pants leg is caught in the back of your sock.
The first impression occurs even before you are introduced to deliver your speech, and the most crucial part of your presentation is the first few minutes. During that initial segment, the audience will be making critical judgments about you. Your listeners will decide whether you are confident, sincere, friendly, eager to address them and worthy of their attention. In large measure, they will base this decision on what they see.
If your listeners will have on suits and dresses, wear your best suit or dress – the outfit that brings you the most compliments. Make sure that every item of clothing is clean and well tailored. Don’t wear jewelry that might glitter or jingle when you move or gesture. This might divert attention from your speech. For the same reason, empty your pockets of bulky items and anything that makes noise when you move.
Know your material.
By the time the audience arrives, your preparation should be concluded. You shouldn’t have to study your speech. In fact, you should know it so well that you don’t have to devote your mental energy to the task of remembering the sequence of ideas and words. You should prepare and rehearse enough that you don’t have to depend too heavily on notes. Many speakers will still need at least a few notes to stay on track, but don’t let them be a substitute for preparation and rehearsal.
Establish a personal bond with listeners.
If you have the opportunity before the talk, mingle with the audience, and project that same friendly, confident attitude that will make your speech a success. While speaking, select one person in the audience and talk to him or her personally. Maintain eye contact with that person long enough to establish a visual bond (about 5 to 10 seconds). This is usually the equivalent of a single sentence or thought. Then shift your gaze to another person in a different part of the room.
Monitor visual feedback from the audience.
While you are talking, your listeners are responding with their own non-verbal messages. Use your eyes to actively seek out this valuable feedback. If individuals aren’t looking at you, they may not be listening either. They may be having trouble hearing you. They may be bored or confused. Try to identify the issue and take steps to correct it. On the other hand, if your listeners’ faces indicate pleasure, interest and close attention, don’t change a thing. You’re doing a great job!
Use controlled, confident movements.
The way you walk to the speaker’s position is very important. When you are introduced, you should appear eager to speak. Too many speakers look as though they are heading toward the execution block. Walk confidently from your seat to the lectern. During the talk, move around occasionally – use the lectern as a point of departure, not a barrier to hide behind. Maintain good posture, and use controlled, smooth gestures while speaking.
When employing visual aids, use three positions. One position is your “home” position and should be front and center. The other two positions should be relatively near the “home” position. Never stand in front of any visual aid.
Remember that it’s not just what you say – it’s also how you say it… and your body does speak very loudly. It’s only when your verbal message is matched to a confident, powerful nonverbal message that you will begin to have real presence as a speaker.
Reprinted with permission from Baker Communications