When I was younger I was terrified of two things: the dark and speaking in front of groups. Fortunately, I was not alone in those fears as a surprising amount of individuals share a fear of public speaking. So many do that it was warranted jokes from well-known comedian Jerry Seinfield who joked,
“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
While Seinfield’s point is funny the lack of public speaking skills in young professionals is no joke. While fewer individuals develop the ability to speak effectively the importance to do so has only increased making it one of the most valuable skills to possess. A survey from Forbes found that 70% of employees identify presentation skills as crucial for success in their careers. With that level of importance, SigEps must develop their communication skills to prepare for years after their undergraduate. Below are five key ways that you can easily implement to improve your public speaking skills drastically.
Do the Power Pose
Surprisingly, one of the most important things you can do before speaking in front of a group happens before you even get up to speak. This is referring to the influence that power poses can have on speakers. This idea was made popular by psychologist and Harvard professor Amy Cuddy, who is an expert on body language. Her work has found that taking just a few minutes to take power poses such as the “starfish pose” or the “superman pose” can increase confidence in speakers and serve as a priming mechanism for presenters. This small task is taken seriously by some of the world’s top performers. For example, one of the world’s highest energy presenters and coaches, Tony Robbins utilizes power poses before speaking and even goes as far as jumping on a trampoline!
Learn more on power poses:
What if I told you that you could sound more professional and increase effectiveness by making one small change? Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? However, this can be accomplished by simply removing the use of justifiers from your language. Justifiers are the small words and phrases we use when speaking to fill empty gaps. The most common justifiers are “um”, “ah”, and “like”. These are words we have all used while speaking on the spot and it undermines your ability to get your message across. These words and phrases may seem harmless but they ultimately complicate your message and serve as a distraction in some cases to the listener. This is of such high importance that the worldwide public speaking organization, Toastmasters, will have someone keep track of the number of justifiers their members use in a speech. Fixing this issue is tough to do and takes lots of attention to detail and consistent effort from yourself. Eliminate justifiers from your vocabulary and I guarantee that people will start commenting on how confident and professional you start to sound. Below is a list of common culprits and justifiers that we all must eliminate from our day-to-day language.
Sounds – um,ah,mhm
Words – basically, honestly, essentially, like, obviously
Phrases – you know, pretty much, I would say, I guess, to be honest
Jargon – specific words or phrases only you or a select few understand
Tell a Story
If you study all of the master communicators throughout history that had a gift at capturing their audience they all had one thing in common; they were master storytellers. This is an aspect of public speaking that is often overlooked yet can be one of the most impactful parts of your speech by stimulating and engaging the listener’s brain. Besides, stories can be leveraged to appeal to the emotions of the listener. This helps you relate your topic with the audience but more importantly, it makes your material memorable.
This phenomenon is being studied by Chip Heath at Stanford University. In his studies, he measures the effectiveness and influence stories have on audiences’ memory. What he found was amazing. “In the average one-minute speech, the typical student used 2.5 statistics. Only one student in ten tells a story. Those are the speaking statistics. The remembering statistics, on the other hand, are almost a mirror image: When students are asked to recall the speeches, 63% remember the stories. Only 5% remember any individual statistic.”
By utilizing stories you can harness the most effective tool in a speaker’s arsenal. In the end, stories will help you connect with your audience in a way bullets, slides, and statistics simply cannot. When properly utilized they will make your message and core ideas stick with your audience for years to come.
Create a Jaw-Dropping Moment
A good presentation could be compared to a wild roller coaster ride. Similar to the plot of a good story the structure of your presentation will be similar to a rollercoaster ride. Could you imagine how boring a rollercoaster ride would be if it was slow, predictable, and uncharged? That would be a pretty boring ride! Yet, countless individuals will prepare presentations that are similar to those with speeches that are not surprising, impressive, or emotionally charged.
This is the importance of jaw-dropping moments in presentations. A jaw-dropping moment could be described as any moment that delivers a shocking, impressive, and surprising moment. To execute these you must identify your most important points you need to make and then find a memorable way to communicate that message. This will create a meaningful moment that is emotionally charged and therefore memorable. This could manifest itself in many ways including props, demos, shocking statistics, pictures, videos, and much more.
One masterful example of this is a TED talk from Bill Gates titled “Mosquitoes, Malaria, and Education”. In this talk, while discussing malaria Mr. Gates releases a few mosquitoes into the crowd to emphasis the dangers of the disease. Talk about an attention grabber. Instead of drowning the audience with stats about the disease he utilized a jaw-dropping moment to create a moment none of the audience members will likely forget.
Simply put, if you want your presentation to make an impact you must have a jaw-dropping moment.
View Bill Gates TED Talk (Fast forward to 5:10 for the jaw-dropping moment!).
Keep it Simple
Last but certainly not least, keep it simple. One issue so many run into is that they overcomplicate the process or the presentation making it more difficult than it needs to be. At the end of the day, regardless of how formal the presentation is, a speech is nothing more than a one-sided conversation between yourself and a group of people. Keep it simple because in simplicity there is effective communication. As the adage goes, “If I had more time I would write a shorter letter.” The same applies to public speaking! Think about it, one of the most iconic speeches in history, the Gettysburg Address, was two minutes long and contained only 272 words! Besides, look at TED talks for example. Every single talk must be under 18 minutes in length. This is a daunting challenge for some as they are trying to summarize years of their work but the rule is crucial because it forces speakers to keep it simple. By keeping it simple yourself you can create a precise and effective speech.
By utilizing these five simple concepts of doing the power pose, avoiding justifiers, telling a story, creating jaw-dropping moments, and keeping it simple you can become an effective speaker. I’m not saying this will happen overnight but as you practice these concepts regularly you will slowly begin to notice a change. Dale Carnegie once said, “Only the prepared speaker deserves to be confident.” By utilizing these easy to implement changes you will be well on your way to confident public speaking!
–The Quick and Effective Way to Public Speaking by Dale Carnegie
–Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo
–TED Talks by Chris Anderson
–Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo
The Sound Mind Blog Series is intended for SigEp brothers to explore their own academic or intellectual interests while developing the minds of others. SigEp subscribes to the ancient Greek belief that the mind is central to humanity and thus the exercise of the mind is necessary for a balanced life. Developing a sound mind means living a lifestyle that allows you to expand your mind inside and outside of the classroom setting.
Meet the Author
Caleb Gipple ’21
Public Administration & Political Science Major
IFC President, Recruitment Chairman, & Standards Board Guard