When you accept a public speaking invitation, you open yourself up to scrutiny. Your appearance, the way you interact with the audience, the tone and pitch of your voice – it all contributes to the impression you make.
We've all watched speakers stand behind a rostrum, fidget, speak in a monotone voice, and lack conviction in their material. They rarely make eye contact with the audience, and read verbatim from the document in front of them.
We can't help but switch off at these moments, and focus on the speaker instead of their subject.
But then we have the speaker who exudes confidence, and who engages with the audience throughout. Speaking with emotion, with great belief and commitment, this speaker portrays passion for the subject. It's compelling to watch, so we listen and learn.
'The audience is on your side', says experienced speaker Paul Mason
Paul Mason is this kind of speaker. He's a highly respected voice on crime and disorder issues in the UK.
I asked Paul how he hits the right note every time.
"Before giving a talk, I rehearse it and make sure the timings are right. Talk too quickly or slowly and it causes agenda issues elsewhere, so it has to be right. The event organiser will tell you what time you have and how long each talk should be.
"I like to get to the venue early, take a look at where I will be standing to deliver my talk, check out the acoustics of the room. This helps me feel comfortable with the layout and with what I have to do. It's all about feeling comfortable and being confident, knowing the layout is part of the preparation.
"When you stand up to talk, it's important that you look out at the audience. Scan the room so every person in there feels involved. If it's a large auditorium, you can always ask if the people at the back can hear you speak. That engages them, and it shows you care.
I'm passionate about every talk I deliver. I try to be as natural as I can throughout the talk. That way, the emotion comes through. By concentrating on communicating the right message, any feeling of nerves or anxiety fades away.
"It's important to be real. By that I mean you must display emotion in your voice. It's a bit like singing, using high and low notes that keep your audience attentive. It's not that difficult, it's what we do every day in conversations – except on a larger scale.
"The best piece of advice I have ever received on public speaking relates to the audience. Everyone who attends is there to listen to you – they want you to succeed, they want to hear what you have to say. In some instances, the audience will have paid to attend.
"All importantly, from the outset, every speaker should remember: the audience is on your side."
8 Pro tips that will improve your next speech
Nervous about speaking? Not sure where to start? Start here.
- Prepare – Know your subject, know the timings, practice and rehearse in advance.
- Know the venue – Arrive early, check out the size of the room and the audio set-up.
- Introduce yourself – Smile, thank your audience for attending, tell them it's a privilege to address them.
- Control your breathing – Take deep breaths before you start. Your breathing controls the intonation of your voice. Compose yourself by taking a sip of water.
- See your audience – Regularly scan your eyes across the audience. Are they with you?
- Show passion – Speak positively, use your voice intonation to convey the various aspects of your message.
- Questions – Make time for a Q&A session. If you don't know something, explain that you'll find the answer and respond to that person later.
- Closing – Thank the audience for listening and let them know how to continue the conversation online.