As I mentioned last week, I’ve been speaking publicly now for over 20 years and as best as I can calculate, I’ve given over 3000 talks. Over the years, I’ve developed some “practices” that I know help me do what I do better and hopefully will help you too.
Here are 7 tips for getting better at public speaking.
1. The first 2 minutes matter a lot.
I remember all the way back in high school speech class hearing my teacher tell us that the first 90 to 120 seconds were the make or break zone of a talk. We either connect with them in the first 2 minutes or we risk never “having” them.
So when I hear a speaker take the first 2 minutes to thank the host, and the kitchen staff etc. I always cringe. Not because it’s not appropriate but because he or she is risking losing their audience forever. The 1 exception to this is if the audience you’re speaking to has a strong connection to the host. For example, I speak in a lot of other churches then just my own throughout the year. Whenever I’m there I am aware that the church attenders know and love their pastor, so I will always try and tell a quick story about their pastor and myself sharing some kind of experience together. I have found that the audience loves knowing that I share a love and affinity for their pastor too.
2. Watch your “UM”‘s.
Communicators use um for several reasons:
1) We are a new speaker and we are nervous.
2) We don’t know our material or the story we are telling and so we say um because we are thinking.
3) It’s a place holder for us mentally.
What I mean is that as communicators, we have an unconscious aversion to silence so our mind automatically makes a sound to fill the air while our mind is thinking or looking for our next point.
3. Use “WE” not “YOU” whenever possible.
This is a big one for me. I ALWAYS try to use the word “We” instead of “You” whenever I possibly can. People want to be talked with, not talked to. Whenever we use we instead of you, we include ourselves in whatever point we are making which instantly makes the audience feel 3 things:
1) Like we are in this together. Like I’m not just pointing out their flaw, but my own as well.
2) Like we understand them.
3) Like we are not pushing down their throat but are softer in our approach to them.
4. Put yourself in their shoes. Picture who you’re talking to.
When I am writing a message I will try and see the specific faces of 3 or 4 “types” of people that will be in the audience. Not because I am writing a message specifically for them, but so I can imagine what they will be hearing through their world view and eyes.
- What are their pre-conceived thoughts and filters coming in?
- What biases do they have?
- What life experience is this talk going to help them process through.
5. Watch for when you start repeating yourself.
When you start repeating yourself it’s because of 1 of 2 reasons:
1) you don’t know the material well enough or
2) you don’t think your audience understands it.
Anytime I find myself saying the same point over again, but trying to explain it another way, it’s because of one or two reasons. Be aware of when you find it necessary to say the same thing again, a different way.
6. If you can’t say it in 30 minutes, you don’t understand it.
The attention span of our culture is getting shorter and shorter, and as communicators we are not only battling the distractions that are present in the room, but we are now battling against the distractions that are in our listener’s hands. Very few communicators can hold the attention of an audience for more than 30 to 35 minutes. And even the ones who do have done so using 1 of 2 methods:
1. They have created mini rises and falls in their talk that keep the audience on the edge of their attention span seats, or
2. They have enraptured us with a compelling story that has created a tension inside us causing us to want to know how it ends.
Both tactics are effective, but as a rule, seek to says what you want to say in 30 to 35 minutes. Trust me, you’re better off saying less and leaving them wanting more, then saying too much and leaving them to check twitter.
Also, one more thing that I don’t know how to say nicely. The truth is most of us (see the inclusive language?!?) just aren’t that good to hold an audience’s attention for more than 35 minutes.
7. Practice your message before.
Yes, after 20 years and 3000 messages I still practice every message I deliver. I just don’t take it for granted. Now, yes, there are times where the message lends itself to being a bit more free flowing, like if I’m teaching a small group of leaders, but when it comes to presentations or weekend messages at our church, I practice every single time.
Because you will hear things in your message that you just can’t see on paper. When I practice a message, it never fails that I hear myself say things I don’t like and want to change. Or I will hear a rhythm or timing component that couldn’t have been spotted by just looking over my notes. Practice makes you better. And for us pastors, we wouldn’t dare think of letting our worship band get up there without practicing, and yet, so often, we do.
Public speaking is one of the most fulfilling things we can do, especially for those of us who are called and passionate about doing it. It’s up to us to make it an effort in lifelong learning as well.