November 3, 2017

Frequently Asked Questions About Public Speaking

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What is the relationship between speaking and temperament?

Do you remain calm even under pressure? Can you analyze your mistakes and draw lessons from them? Would you describe yourself as a positive, upbeat person? Are you sensitive to the moods of people you talk to?

If you answered yes to these questions, you have the kind of temperament which, with determined effort, would turn you into an effective speaker. And what if you think your temperament falls short of the ideal? No worries; just as people can go from being shy to being confident, you can work on your temperament to make it more suitable for public speaking success.

What are you supposed to do when you walk on stage and get nervous?

Tell yourself you are going to do a great job and your audience is going to be entertained. Think in terms of excellent customer service – satisfying your audience and speakers. Focus on them and that will take your mind off yourself. Remember, it’s not about you; it’s about the speakers and the audience.

How do you control yourself if you are on stage and you start shaking?

Shaking is a sure sign of nervousness. It happens to a lot of speakers, even the ones who appear super-confident. But you can control it.

Breathe in slowly and deeply. The extra air will calm you and make your voice sound stronger when you open your mouth to talk. Then smile. If it’s because you’re in a room with unfamiliar faces, relax. Believe it or not, most people in the audience want the speaker to succeed so you have the majority on your side even before you say a word.

What should you do when you are speaking on a topic and you realize your audience is not so excited about it?

You are responsible for getting your audience excited about your presentation. Maybe you are reeling off a list of statistics or dry facts? Boring, boring, boring. Who is going to be interested in that?

Tell a story related to the topic. You can actually start off by saying “Once upon a time…” and launch into your story. People think in pictures so make sure your story is full of striking images and appeal to the other senses of hearing, taste, touch and smell.

You could also ask your audience a question or tell them to repeat a phrase after you – these are ways to engage them in your talk.

If you pronounce a word wrongly and the audience starts laughing, how should you deal with this situation?

Laugh with them, crack a quick joke and move on. Don’t make too big a deal out of it.

In my presentations, I normally make gestures with my hands but I often use my left hand. How can I develop a new way of using my right hand more?

As long as your hands don’t get in the way of your message, it’s really not a problem. Just make sure you don’t point with your left to a member of the audience, especially in Ghana, because of the negative cultural associations with the left hand.

How do you deal with eye contact from a particular person in the audience?

If the eye contact is friendly, that should be good news for you; it means someone is interested in your speech and so from time to time, you should look at that person. If the eye contact is indifferent or unfriendly, you should not be overly concerned. It is unreasonable to assume that 100% of your audience will be following your address.

Eye contact is an important part of public speaking as your audience will connect better when you look at them as you talk. Here is one technique I use for maximizing eye contact with my audiences.

Imagine the room as one big square. Now divide it into four equal squares. Start your address by looking down the middle line of the room as if you were addressing the person at the point where all the 4 squares meet. Shift your eyes to the bottom left square and deliver one idea or point to those seated there. With subsequent ideas, concentrate your eyes at those in the top right corner, then the top left square and then the bottom right square. Return to the middle and repeat the process making sure you end your speech in the middle where you started. This technique will ensure that you do not starve any audience member of your eye contact.

Is it advisable to answer questions from the audience immediately after you have spoken?

It depends on the kind of speech you have been asked to deliver and the format of the speaking event. If you are the guest of honor or keynote speaker, you will most often not answer any questions at all from the audience. You speak, they applaud, and you sit down.