How To Play The Public Speaking Game And Win
It sounds so simple. All you need to do is have a conversation.
Watch them. The very best public speakers look as though they’re just chatting to their audience. It’s like they’re having a casual conversation with friends.
But they’re not – they’re in front of an audience trying to get a message across.
So how do they do this? How do they look so natural? Surely they must be blessed with some public speaking gift?
Not at all. The truth is… they’re just ordinary people.
The difference is… they know how to play the game… The public speaking game.
I play it too, often in front of large audiences. I used to be terrified at the thought of it. I used to avoid playing the game at all costs. That was until I worked out the rules.
Weirdly, I quite enjoy it now.
The rules are straightforward but you must follow them if you want to win.
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So here goes, here’s how to play the Public Speaking Game.
The Public Speaking Game Rules and Tips
The overall objective of this game is to make your audience super-engaged. They will never forget you as a public speaker (for the right reasons!)
The game involves you and a group of people. It could be 10 people, 100 people, 1000 or even more. Numbers don’t matter because the rules, tricks and techniques that help you win the game are exactly the same.
To give you the best possible chance of winning, you’ll need to approach the game as a two step activity.
First you get ready and then you play.
Getting ready – (understanding the rules)
So your aim is to look and sound completely natural, just like you do when you’re talking to friends. You’ll struggle to do this if you don’t have a thorough grasp of what you’re going to say.
You need to strike a chord with the audience. They must feel that you care, you’re credible and you’re worth listening to. That means leaving no stone unturned when you’re warming up and getting ready to play.
Rule #1 – Know your audience
Find out how knowledgeable they are about your subject. Don’t teach them how to suck eggs. Work out how you can help them. Tell them why it’s worth listening to you; give them a reason. If they have an incentive, they’ll feel more engaged.
Ask yourself… what would interest you if you were them. Think of things they can actually relate to. Linking your points to reality gives your messages real meaning and keeps people interested.
Rule #2 – Prepare an attention grabber
Great speakers engage people right at the start. They grip you straightaway. So you’ll need an attention grabber.
Any one of these will do; ask a question, mention a topical event, use an analogy, deliver a strong quote or refer to an imaginary situation. Whatever you choose, try to set yourself apart from other presenters right at the beginning.
Rule #3 – Decide on a structure
Keep it simple; beginning, middle and end works best for me.
Then split the middle into sections. Prepare rhetorical questions to start each section; “So how does Donald Trump manage to keep his hair so neat?” and then you go on to answer the question yourself. This is a great way to keep your audience engaged and let them know that you’re moving on to a new subject.
Rule #4 – Bullet Points
Take time initially to write out what you plan to say in some detail. Time spent on this is well worth it. Ultimately you should aim to have some simple notes (bullet points) recorded on cards that you can use to guide you while you’re speaking.
Writing your notes in detail before you prepare cue cards helps you to cement what you’re going to say in your head. Then, when you’ve converted your notes to bullet points, you know what they mean!
Never read from a script. You can’t control an audience unless you have 100% focus on your physical delivery. Using small cue cards with concise points on is the key. You’ll come across much more naturally because you’re not reading your notes; you’re just glancing at them for reference.
Rule #5 – Consider resources
You are the presenter. Your visual aids are there to help you to reinforce your points. The audience should remember YOU, not your aids. If you’re using powerpoint, don’t stand next to the screen and read it (the audience could do that without you). Your conversation should be with the audience, not your slides.
Familiarise yourself with the room you’ll be in. If you can’t visit it beforehand, ask for photos of it. You need to get a feel for the set up and the resources available to you. You can’t afford any shocks on the day!
Note * – Never move on to play the game if you haven’t prepared properly. You’re not ready. You’ll only be able to give 90% attention to the game because 10% is being taken up by silly things you didn’t do properly in the warm up.
Playing the game – (mastering the techniques to win)
Opening the door
The game starts when you walk into the room, not when you start presenting.
Everything about you should send a message of calmness and control. You start as you mean to go on. Audiences are perceptive; you’ll communicate a massive amount through your body language before you’ve even started talking.
So walk in calmly, think about your posture… your shoulders should be back, your chin up. You should be super-alert to your surroundings. This will tell people you are confident without you even opening your mouth.
Ideally, you should arrive first. When people come in, if it’s practical in terms of numbers, you should make a conscious effort to greet them confidently and introduce yourself with a smile. Smiling releases serotonin and endorphins into your blood stream. This is why you feel happier when you smile. Smiling is the last thing you probably feel like doing when you’re anxious before a presentation but if you make the effort, you’ll feel the difference.
By introducing yourself charismatically beforehand, you break the ice. You create a link with the audience before you’ve started talking. You’ll find this is a brilliant way to take the edge off any nerves you have.
Having the conversation
If you look as though you’re having a conversation with them, the audience will feel comfortable. You’ll engage them, not distract them. They’ll listen. Constantly remind yourself of this while you’re talking.
When you’re relaxed in conversation with someone, you do certain things naturally with your body language and voice.
These are exactly the things you should be doing when you’re speaking in public.
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Use your hands to reinforce points. Hand movements bring life and energy to your delivery. They help to bring greater intonation and power to your voice too. Be sure to have a resting place for your hands when you’re not using them so that you don’t look awkward; hands held together in front of your body with your arms slightly bent works best for me.
Don’t stand completely still and rigid (you don’t do that when you’re relaxed in conversation with friends). Shifting your position by moving your feet helps you to look and feel more relaxed. Moving around is fine too if you have the space but don’t march up and down.
Use pauses to allow a silence between points. Give people a chance to take in your message. Confident speakers look comfortable with silence. In fact they use silence to keep the audience engaged. Take a good breath during the silence; you’ll find it easier to give power to your voice with air in your lungs.
Great speakers find a way of connecting with the audience. If you watch them carefully, you’ll notice they do subtle things to achieve this.
Their eye contact is always excellent. So pick out people in the audience to look at while you’re talking. If it’s a small group, give each person an equal amount of your eye contact. If it’s a large group, segment it into pockets and randomly pick a person in each section to look at. Don’t dwell too long on any one person!
Loosen your upper body. When you look at someone in the audience, face them. Don’t keep your head still and only move your eyes. This makes you look stiff and uncomfortable, not confident.
Speak as though you mean it. If you don’t sound enthused by your subject, don’t expect the audience to.
Communicate energy. It’s contagious. Use your facial expressions and body movements to reinforce your enthusiasm. Keep imagining you are an audience member. Would you feel inspired?
You’ll struggle to sound inspirational if your voice is monotone. So be conscious of your intonation all the time. Try to listen to yourself while you speak. Modulate the speed of your voice too; reinforce important points by slowing down when you deliver them.
And finally… remember that no one finds public speaking easy. Not even practiced presenters who do it regularly. They’ve just worked out how to win the game.
So pace yourself. Practise as much as you can. Seize every opportunity. Make a pact with yourself never again to shy away from public speaking. If your boss is looking for a volunteer to do a presentation, step forward. Jump on it.
I want to leave you with one last thought. A little while ago I was talking to a well-known person who speaks regularly in public to very large audiences. She always makes it look so easy. I’ll never forget the advice she gave me…
“Mike, if you’re not tired when you’ve finished, you probably haven’t tried hard enough”.
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