Public Speaking is social, it’s immediate, and it’s loaded with meaning beyond the words being said. Expression, volume, speed, and pauses all add meaning, and when used well, can elevate a spoken presentation and help the audience be more receptive to the message.
The great thing about building up speaking skills in front of an actual real-life audience is learning to communicate our humanity through voice and body. Those who are able to achieve likeability in front of an audience that is seeing them for the first time have an absolutely fantastic ability, and not achieving it is one of the most harrowing experiences you can have.
Speak Up or Fade Out
I’ve been a member of a public speaking club for five years. I joined after working at a communications job for several years that had seemed like it would provide plenty of opportunities to do presentations, but these opportunities never came. I needed an outlet for my persistent urge to speak in front of an audience, to have their collective expectant faces turned towards me to hear (and hopefully like) what I was going to say, and to surprise myself with what I would say. It seemed like a fun way to get a rush and in the back of my mind I knew that this was a good skill for a communicator to have.
Fast-forward to now and opportunities to verbally communicate messages are bountiful, and allow for a range of verbal abilities to be showcased online as well as in person. Options such as Periscope and Facebook Live, and the increasing popularity of podcasting and webinars mean that marketers who can communicate verbally with clarity, conviction and personality are able to stand out above those who aren’t confident speaking up or who aren’t leveraging spoken communication at all.
The Truth About Audience
When you’re in front of an audience it can be either fun and exciting or quite the opposite. If you feel that the audience isn’t ‘with you’, the negative self-talk comes thick and fast: what am I doing wrong, does my face look weird, am I saying something that is obviously wrong, why don’t they like me?”
The truth will often be that the audience isn’t hating on us at all, it’s just that most people have a fairly blank listening face. You may be lucky and have an audience of very expressive listeners, but that’s not usually the case.
The experience of presenting to an audience over time teaches you that, in general, the audience is on your side and want you to do well, and that your tone and certainty gives the audience confidence. Then they can relax and take in your message.
Things get interesting when you are speaking to something that gives you absolutely no feedback, like a camera lens. It can seem easier, as you can’t get booed by a lens, but you also don’t get any validation for the things that you’re doing that would make an audience smile, nod, or take notes. This is when having accumulated experience in front of an audience comes in very handy, as you will know what works for an audience, and for you, when you communicate verbally.
The practiced speakers will be able to call upon their imagined audience when they are speaking to a lens or a microphone, and know what to add, how to say it, how to use their body to make their voice sound a certain way, and what an audience likes hearing. All these qualities make up a complete speaker.
Practice Your Public Speaking
The fact is that the best way to be the most game-ready is to get the best kind of practice possible, and that includes an actual audience.
Speaking to an audience can include speaking to willing family, friends or work colleagues. It can be joining a public speaking club and making the time for regular practice. It can also be recording yourself, listening back and trying to be honest with yourself about your speaking skills. If you had been in your audience, what would you think?
Like anything else, there are going to be speakers who are better than others, and those who are going to shine are those who refine their craft and learn from constructive feedback. Simply to speak is not enough, if the goal is to connect and be memorable.