A guest post by Parag Prasad, an award-winning business coach and speaker.
When I was in college, there was one professor that everyone loved. As well as teaching his subject with confidence and clarity, he would end each lecture with a joke or story that would completely captivate his audience. He was voted best lecturer for three years running, and at the end of his final appearance, he received a standing ovation that must have lasted 10 minutes. But why should telling jokes and stories be important in this kind of situation?
The answer is that influencing emotion is just as important a part of public speaking as communicating information. Every inspirational speaker, such as Winston Churchill and Steve Jobs, has used emotion to win over their audience. With a little understanding of the psychology used by these master orators, you can go from competent speaker to someone who receives a standing ovation every time.
1. Show some enthusiasm. There's a massive misconception in business that you have to be monotone and overly serious when presenting. The truth is that no audience will forgive you if you bore them. This means you must convey some enthusiasm and passion. Not only will your audience feed off your positive energy, but there's also another massive bonus to showing genuine enthusiasm on stage. Most problems that people have with rate, volume or body language clear up automatically if they genuine believe what they're saying. Ninety-nine percent of people have natural inhibitions that stop them going over the top, so don't be afraid to give it absolutely everything you've got.
After all, why shouldn't you be enthusiastic? You've got something interesting to say and if people didn't want to hear it, they wouldn't be here.
2. Get comfortable. People are extremely good at picking up on body language and vocal intonation. If you stand in front of an audience and say, “I'm so happy to be here” but you look at the floor, hunch over, and your voice is quiet and hesitant, they will always trust the non-verbal signals over the verbal ones.
People don't want to listen to someone who doesn't look comfortable or who doesn't look like they're enjoying themselves. Whereas, if you radiate confidence and talk to your audience like they're your best friend, they will instantly warm to you. Partly because they're impressed by your calmness in a very stressful situation and partly because when someone else is relaxed, it relaxes us too.
Of course, saying “be comfortable” is easier said than done. It's a fact that people rate public speaking as a bigger fear than death. There's one obvious thing you can do to help: Practice as much as possible. You can volunteer to give presentations at work, join your local Toastmasters International organization, or get involved with your local amateur theater group. I'm sure you've seen comedians on TV chatting and quipping with huge audiences, making it look like the easiest thing in the world. They've done this literally hundreds of times before; I can guarantee you the first time they went on stage they weren't so slick.
3. Be an expert. For an audience to respect you, they must feel that you know more than they do about the subject being discussed. If you get a fact wrong, misquote someone or misunderstand a concept and your audience picks up on it. .. you've lost their respect. From then on, it's unlikely you will win it back. Without that sense of authority, people will start thinking, “I know more than this guy. Why aren't I up there on stage?”
Unfortunately, there's no short cut for this. You simply have to do your research and preparation thoroughly. You should be confident that you could answer a follow-up question on anything you mention in your talk. It's also sensible to ask another expert to hear it through beforehand just in case they spot any howlers. Would you rather find out in private or realize afterward that you said something stupid?
4. Be likable. The likelihood that you agree with someone obviously depends on what they say to you. However, it also depends, to a surprisingly large extent on how much you like them and feel you have in common with them. This isn't something that most people would admit to and its an effect that most aren't even consciously aware of.
Luckily, there are certain traits that people find universally likable. The icing on the cake that will have your audience nodding their heads, without even knowing why, is coming across as a genuinely likable person.
- Optimism: Optimists raise everyone's mood and leave people feeling positive and enthused. Nobody wants to be around someone who moans and complains.
- Goodwill: Taking cheap shots at your competitors is never worth the damage it does to your image. Being concerned about others paints you in a good light.
- Sense of humor: You don't have to crack a joke every 5 minutes, but the ability to poke fun at yourself or share a joke with your audience is a very endearing quality.
I hope these tips help improve your talks and presentations. It's important to get all the technical aspects correct like your visual aids, structure and timing but remember, it's appealing to your audience emotionally that will really win people over.
Parag Prasad is an award-winning business coach and an experienced speaker having delivered seminars, team training days and sales workshops to over 450 businesses in London. You can read more of his articles on his Proven Sales and Marketing Techniques for SMEs blog.