If you came to me for coaching on your speaking skills, the first thing I’d do—after getting acquainted—is put you at the front of the room and have you deliver the first two minutes of your material. That’s all I need to see. Those first two minutes—or less—will form my initial impressions and reveal your primary strengths and areas for improvement.
I’ve coached hundreds of speeches and presentations in my career, and listened to maybe thousands of speakers, and with that kind of experience, it’s easy to predict the most common challenges that are bound to show up in the first two minutes.
Here are five speaking skills that most often need my attention. Fair warning: they’re not sexy. None of them will surprise you. All of them will be mentioned in any book on public speaking and presentation. Despite their familiarity, they still get neglected, and I find myself needing to reinforce these very basic techniques with most of the speakers I coach.
Stand on both feet. You’d be surprised how many speakers are standing on one leg, shifting from side to side or pacing aimlessly. To project a strong confident image you need to feel strong in your body and that starts with having both feet on the ground. It’s one of the simplest speaking skills to implement and it can have far-reaching effects on your performance.
Speak with a strong voice. In the first ten seconds, I usually find speakers aren’t filling the room. Strong presentations require strong presence, and that calls for a strong, engaging voice. There has to be energy in your tone that commands attention and projects credibility. The sound of your voice is twice as influential as the words you say, so find your whole voice.
Make eye contact. Connection is key to effective public speaking, and the quickest way to kill the connection is to focus on your notes, stare at your slides or glance at no one in particular. Communication is about relationship, not just saying words, so look your listeners in the eye; don’t just glance up. Really see the person and start cultivating that connection.
Pause longer and more often. Most speakers don’t pause nearly enough. They speak continuously while grabbing quick shallow breaths. Tension increases, clarity suffers and your listeners lose interest. Learn to set a deliberate pace, speak in short phrases and pause frequently. You’ll come across as being in command and have significantly more impact.
Format your notes. The majority of speakers I coach are trying to speak from pages with small font and whole paragraphs of text. Having large blocks of dense text makes it difficult to read and risky to look up without losing your place. Eye contact suffers and you become disconnected. Your notes should help you. Use large fonts and have more white space than text on each page.
Basic speaking skills aren’t mysterious. They’re common knowledge. Actually putting them into practice is another matter. Stand on both feet. Speak with a strong voice. Make eye contact. Pause frequently and bring user-friendly notes.
Do those five things consistently and you will be miles ahead of the vast majority of your peers. People will actually enjoy listening to you speak and they’ll remember what you say. You will make a great impression.
Thanks for watching. Subscribe if you haven’t already, and I’d love to know what tops your list of neglected public speaking skills. I’ll see you in the next video.