t’s been said there are two times in life when you are truly alone: just before you die and just before you deliver a five-minute speech.
Stage fright can be terrifying, but it doesn’t have to be paralyzing.
Delivering more than a thousand speeches teaches one about getting through to the audience. Because I am often asked for advice, I have developed my ABCs of public speaking.
A is for audience. Learn all you can about those who will be in attendance so that you can tailor your remarks to hold their interest.
B is for body language. Move around, gesture and use facial expressions to demonstrate your enthusiasm for your topic.
C is creativity. Don’t be afraid to use props, PowerPoint or audience participation to add sparkle and surprise. Even the most serious topics can benefit from a creative approach.
D is deliver. Your presentation needs to have a focused message that leaves the audience with significant take-home value.
E is for eye contact, a critical feature of an effective speaker. Connecting with your audience can’t happen without it.
F is for feedback. Ask for immediate, unfiltered responses to improve your skills. And don’t forget to debrief yourself afterward on what worked well and what didn’t.
G is for grammar. Pay attention to the language you use. Make certain it is correct and concise.
H is for homework. Study the group you are addressing: problems, issues, concerns and opportunities. Mispronouncing names is unforgivable.
I is for introduction. Make sure that the person introducing you has a prepared introduction with your pertinent information.
J is for jokes. Try them out on several people to make sure they are appropriate and amusing. Humor, anecdotes and stories add so much to a speech as long as they are not offensive. Plays don’t open on Broadway, they open in Colorado Springs.
K is for knowledge. Speakers must show a real grasp of the subject to be taken seriously.
L is for lighting. People laugh more and retain more in brightly lit rooms. Dim the lights only for PowerPoint and only as long as necessary.
M is for masking tape. Seal noisy door latches to avoid distractions. Block the back rows of chairs to keep the audience up front.
N is for noise, a real attention killer. After-dinner speakers compete with clearing tables and clinking glasses. Consult with the host about minimizing noise.
O is for opening. To grab the audience’s attention immediately, you need a spectacular opener.
P is practice, practice, practice. There is no substitute for preparation.
Q is for Q&A. Take questions five minutes before you close, so you have the last word and control the ending.
R is room size. If you have any control, insist that the room seat only the planned number of audience members. A room too big destroys rapport.
S is for smile. Let the audience see that you are pleased/happy/honored to be asked to speak. A smile adds instant warmth.
T is for Toastmasters International, which I recommend for anyone to hone speaking skills. It’s tremendous training for speakers at all levels of ability.
U is for unforgettable. Make your speech memorable with a well-organized message peppered with clever stories and examples, sprinkled with humor, and with a great summary.
V is for voice. Listen to yourself and adjust tempo, tone, timing and inflection.
W is for wisdom. You want your message to teach and inform.
X is for experience. (Yes, I know it starts with “e”.) The best way to become a better speaker is to speak as often as you can.
Y is for you. Take pains to look your best.
Z is for zip it up. A smashing closing is as important as a gripping opening.
Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller, “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.” To comment, visit harveymackay.com.