A hundred years ago I decided to run a breakfast seminar in order to showcase my business. Engaging the services of two clients to present case studies, all I had to do was a 10 minute introduction. This suited me just fine, because I was TERRIFIED of public speaking.
I decided to put my first few sentences on palm cards in big font so I couldn't possibly go wrong. I had good hair and a good Carla Zampatti frock. Sadly, that's where the good bit stopped. After "Welcome ladies and gentlemen, " I paused. Not for effect, but because in my fear I literally couldn't see the words on the cards.
My client at the time, Christopher Jones, reckoned that he went to the bathroom, had a cup of tea, came back and I was still standing there with my mouth open.
The irony of this story sticks with me always, because as a conference speaker, one of things I need to work on constantly is pausing. I speak too quickly. If this resonates, you'll speak quickly either because you're full of anxiety, or bursting with energy. Either way, the adrenaline is pumping.
Speaking quickly is not bad. It's speaking quickly constantly that doesn't work. The same constant pace will frustrate your audience. First, same-same is boring and you won't keep their attention. Secondly, speed doesn't allow any time for your audience to stop and reflect on a point. Your message gets sucked into a mire of words and you've lost the golden opportunity to change thinking, behaviour or action.
Remember that speech is simply sound. And sound can make us recoil (nails on a blackboard) or relax (rain on a tin roof). Your voice has the ability to stir emotions and connect with your audience but speed strips it of impact.
Here's some tips that help me.
Read aloud, every day. If you're learning another language, even better, as this will make you slow down. Stretching out your vowel sounds slows down your speech and allows your tongue time to find the right placement in your mouth. (See my friend Lisa Lockland-Bell for expert vocal coaching).
On stage, remember to breathe. Taking a breath creates a natural interlude.
Give the audience a question to discuss while you take a break and have a sip of water.
Use strong transitions, allowing space for reflection between one landed point and the next.
Speeding up at times to create excitement and emphasise a point is effective, but there must be a slower place to contrast with.
And pause ...
... but not long enough for someone to go to the bathroom and have a cup of tea!
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