f you think that only politicians and celebrities need to know how to speak in public, you are wrong! Knowing how to speak in public is a skill that you must learn how to do despite your career, age, or job title.
It's not a matter of giving historical speeches without rehearsing. It is a matter of communicating accurately with your audience, aiming for connection, and doing everything you can to effectively communicate the message.
Here are five tips that you must consider when you are writing your speech and rehearsing to speak publicly.
Don't overdo it
It can be very exciting to talk in front of a group of people, and many speakers who are giving a speech for the first time, tend to use vocabulary that is too formal or too complex for the audience and the occasion. Don't do it. There is a moment for you to use different kinds of vocabulary and the goal of speaking in public is to communicate a message effectively. If you use words that most of your audience doesn't know, your message will get lost, and the speech will be unsuccessful. Sometimes less is more. Here is a great example of a successful speech with simple language.
With more than 30 years of career as a journalist, actress, author, and philanthropist, Oprah Winfrey is an influential leader full of knowledge and experience as a communicator. And an effective communicator synthesizes the message with clear and concise vocabulary. Without complicated terms, Winfrey talked during a commencement ceremony with a familiar language that was easy to follow. That is one of the aspects of this speech that makes it very successful. It almost seems that you are listening to your best friend.
Take advantage of storytelling
People love stories; people love drama. If you look at how some journalists narrate the news, there is almost no difference between this coverage and a soap opera.
One of the reasons why we love stories is because they are easy to understand for us. In the Little Mermaid, it is apparent who the witch is and who the princess is. In modern fairy tales like Gossip Girl, we related so much to the characters that we almost felt connected to them in a profoundly emotional way. This type of profound connection is often used in politics to let you know the good and the bad folk of the story. An excellent example to illustrate storytelling in public speaking is the speech by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez when she talked about women who have been assaulted and how a congressman attacked her in the steps of the Capitol.
If you analyze this speech carefully, the villain of this story is not one man, and it doesn't have a specific first or last name. In the Congresswoman's words, it is "a culture of lack of impunity, of violent language against women, and an entire structure that supports that." She is not only talking about what happened to her at a specific moment with Representative Yoho. She talks about how women face this dehumanized language and how allowing it to happen gives other people permission to use that same abusive language.
Another great aspect of this speech is how she started talking about the confrontation, but then she transitioned to how she has encountered harassment regularly, in places that many citizens can relate to--in the New York subway, the bar, and walking on the streets. This is very effective because the story becomes relevant to the listeners. It is not only about AOC's life but also about the lives of working women in the United States, facing male supremacy.
Have the courage to talk about emotions
The psychologist Michael Levin states that rationality represents only about 20% of decision-making. The rest is based on emotions. We are emotional beings; it is our nature. Singing to Adele's or Ed Sheran's ballads is a liberation to the emotions that we have trapped in ourselves. We react to them, and we make them part of our life. This is why it is very important to make your audience feel something when you are speaking.
Many speakers believe that an informative speech should be fact-based and exclude emotions, but this will only result in a monotonous unsuccessful speech. A great way to start writing a speech is to ask yourself what you want your audience to feel? Here is a great example of how to make an issue relevant to the listeners. This is a speech by Lady Gaga in June 2020 for a Virtual Commencement Ceremony hosted by Youtube for the Class of 2020.
Let's be honest. We have all heard a few commencement speeches that are meant to be motivational and end up being a great opportunity for a 4-minute nap. But that's not the case here. Part of what makes this speech so successful is the incorporation of emotional vocabulary from beginning to ending. Concepts like: Force of kindness, change, prejudice branches, and evolution have an emotional impact on us. With good storytelling, the metaphor of the forest, and nice emphasis, these concepts transformed the uncertain, unfortunate scenario of 2020 into an opportunity of hope and growth. When we are talking about emotions in public speaking, we have to make the audience own those emotions. It is not about saying: "I feel sad because of this" or "I'm motivated because of that." The audience must feel what you are saying. Gaga wasn't entirely talking about her feelings. The speech was about the graduates who started their professional career at a very uncertain moment in the world and how that's a great opportunity to change what is not working in society.
Emotions are important in all speeches. If you are a doctor, talk about health bringing families together, and creating deeper connections. If you are a teacher, talk about how education is the best gift for kids shaping the world in a few years. Despite your career, your message, or your job title, always aim for emotional connection. That is the most effective way to communicate a message.
Humanize yourself to connect with people
Many people tend to be intimidated by politicians. Maybe it is the power, maybe it is the extremely specific image that they portray to the world, or maybe they don't let themselves be fully seen because they are scared of attacks and criticism.
The truth is that politicians are humans too. They think, they feel (most of the time), they have their own history, and they have struggled with problems like rejection, shame, and fear. The citizens need a reminder that politicians are humans and not heartless robots. In the end, a governor, a senator, a CEO, a president, or an editor-in-chief is some form of authority of a big family. Ideally, the citizens trust this authority, and this authority cares about the wellbeing of the entire family.
But how do you let people know that you are trustworthy and that you care about them? The answer is: humanizing yourself. Talking about numbers, statistics, facts, and proposals is important to inform your audience, but you should also show who you are as a human and outside of your job title. Do you care about your family? Are you kind? Do you respect the people around you despite job title, age, and gender?
Here is an excellent example of former first lady Michelle Obama during the 2016 Democratic Convention.
The speech's opening is extraordinary as she narrated her main concerns as a mother of two girls when she became the First Lady of the United States. The hesitation of not knowing if you are making the right decision for your beloved ones is a feeling that millions of parents across the United States have felt at some point in their lives. Michelle Obama then talked about how being a mother is the most important job for her, and how she wanted her and Barack to be an exceptional first couple for their kids during their time at the White House.
With the powerful question: Who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives? Michelle Obama explains how important is our decision to vote for the right candidate with a question that moves our emotions. It's not about the power, it's not about the laws, it's not about control. It is about family, and union, which is something that more people can relate to.
Many people out there have an attention deficit. If they are not interested in what you are saying, they will stop paying attention after a few seconds. This is why it is very helpful to synthesize your speech's main message and repeat the words that are crucial for your message. If you're talking about challenging the status quo, mention the words change and revolution as many times as you can without being redundant.
If you are warning people of a danger, talk about this danger more than once using synonyms to describe this danger. The more you repeat, the clearer it will be for your audience what your message is and what you want them to know.
Markle said ¨11-year-old girl¨at least five times during this speech, but it wasn't redundant. It was effective because she talked about small causes creating big changes, and the main message of this speech is to encourage everybody to fight for gender equality despite their background. There are some moments where Markle is not emphasizing enough, and the audience may have stopped listening. Still, because she remarked on her impact as an 11-year-old in feminist activism, the message is very clear and very successful. Don't hesitate to repeat your main message at the beginning, somewhere in the middle, and at the end of your speech. You only have one opportunity to communicate your message. Take advantage of it.
When you are talking in front of a group of people, or in front of a camera waiting to be live-streamed, remember that you have the power of influencing their thoughts, of informing them about an issue or an opportunity, of letting them know something that is relevant for them. Sometimes you just want to give them hope; sometimes, you are delivering bad news. Whatever the case is, take a deep breath, look at yourself in the mirror, say to yourself: "I can do this," and don't think about what they might say about you, think about the impact that you want to have on them.
Main Image courtesy of Vogue.