Your speech should bring about change

February 28, 2016

I recently conducted a workshop for young persons on public speaking. It was a pleasure to interact with some intelligent youngsters and share some tips. We discussed qualities of a good public speaker, elements of a good speech, the need for speaking with ‘passion,’ and the importance of body language, particularly of making the eye contact. I told the group:

Your speech is like a caterpillar. It has a beginning; a middle that moves it forward; and an end. Like the caterpillar, your speech, too, must bring about change.

In my search to show the group an example of a good public speech, I had picked up the Commencement Address delivered by J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series at the Harvard Alumni Association. Rowling made an excellent speech with all essential elements — a good beginning; a middle portion containing her central message; and a great ending— delivered with personal anecdotes, a sense of purpose and passion.

I would invite all to take a look at Rowling’s outstanding speech. Great writers can be great speakers too!

She spoke eloquently about benefits of failures, “…Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.” She encouraged the young graduates to look for opportunities in failures and setbacks of life and do things that you have the talent for. She also challenged their imagination to empathize with the powerless, “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

A good public speaker speaks from the heart, offers insights, not just information, shares lessons and inspires. That is precisely what Rowling did. I hope my group will remember her words—will learn from failures—will use their power of imagination — and will bring about change.


Get, Set, Go

October 30, 2013

You are getting ready to deliver a pubic speech.  It will be useful to go through the following check list to ensure that you are all set:

  • I know my audience.
  • My speech is within the time allotted to me.
  • I have decided on my central message. Ask yourself once again: why should the audience listen to you?
  • I have planned a “good beginning”- to catch the attention of my audience.
  • I know about the venue: correct address, seating arrangements, availability of necessary equipment: public address system, projector, computer etc.
  • I know where I will I stand, how will I face the audience to maintain a good eye contact.
  • I have planned “how to end my speech.”

Now the main job begins – to deliver the speech effectively. What makes you an effective speaker? Several things: richness of ideas that you speak about, clarity of expression, the humility that you demonstrate while you speak (nobody likes an arrogant speaker with an I know it all attitude!), ability to keep the audience with you during the speech…but above all it is your enthusiasm.

Your speech should demonstrate your interest in speaking, your interest in the topic and your commitment to the issue. Speak with passion. Speak from the heart. You will not only be heard, you will inspire your audience.  People like to be with enthusiastic persons and listen to them.

Mary Marcdante puts it up so well, “Whether they burst with excitement or simmer quietly, when you’re in the presence of enthusiastic people, you feel happier and more excited about your life, perhaps you even feel inspired…” 

Why don’t people listen to you?

January 29, 2012

Let me begin by wishing all a very happy and successful 2012. As I wish you to do well, I recall what a learned lady told me years ago. She said, “If you have a positive attitude and good communications skills, you will do very well in life”. Years down the line, I realize how true the statement is. When I see successful people around me, I always find these two qualities in them. They have a positive outlook and they are good communicators. I have written a number of posts on attitude. I like to begin 2012 by writing on communication skills.

Listening is a key skill in communication. Many of us are accused of not being a good listener and this often leads to problems. When I conduct workshops on communication skills, I often begin with a question. I ask the group, “Have you ever wondered why people don’t listen properly”. The answers that come can be grouped into three categories:

– People don’t listen if they are not interested in the subject matter.
– People don’t listen if they don’t like the speaker.
– People don’t listen when the timing of communication does not suit   them.

When we see all reasons together, it basically tells us that the onus of making people listen is more on the speaker. It is actually a challenge for the speaker to make people listen.

When you plan your speech, first ask yourself how can you make the topic interesting to the audience. Second, think how the audience perceives you, your personality, your body language and your attitude. And finally, think about the timing of your communication. Is it going to be convenient to the audience? How much can the audience absorb at the given point of time?

A good public speaker is the one who can command the attention of the audience, keeps them engaged and makes them listen.

Timing your speech

December 13, 2011

A priest was known to give long sermons. He once said to one of his friends, “I don’t mind when people constantly look at their wrist watches while I speak but I do mind when they shake them up to check if the watches are still working.”

One of the challenges of public speaking is to deliver an effective speech within the stipulated time. It is not always easy. Even the best of the speakers tend to go beyond their allotted time, and lose their audience after a while. How does one keep his speech or presentation short and finish on time? I would propose the following approach:

  • Most of the speakers do have a structure but not all of them plan on how much time they are going to spend on each point. As a result, they end up spending more time on some points and end up rushing through the rest. Having an outline helps. It provides a structure to the speech. But it is always useful to prepare and be conscious of the time each point is going to take. Timing for the beginning part, the middle part and the closing part needs to be planned. We can’t afford not to cover any of these.
  • As we prepare, we need to ask ourselves, can we drop some of the points we have prepared. We need to sacrifice a few points, in order to be focused and finish on time. The Less is more concept of effective communication must never be forgotten.
  • We have to be conscious of time while we deliver the speech. Sometimes due to a delayed start or some unforeseen situation, we end up having less time to deliver the speech than was planned. Therefore, the speaker should be prepared to make some last minute or during the speech adjustments in shortening the speech.

I would close by reminding what I wrote in an earlier post on public speaking – Why should the audience listen to you? (January 2011). A good speaker is the one who stops when the audience still wants to listen to him/her.

Overcoming fear in public speaking:

February 28, 2011


Does the thought of walking onto stage leave you gasping for breath? Do your knees knock to the rhythm of a pounding heart when you have to address an audience? Or do you wish those waiting for you to speak would simply vanish into thin air?

Don’t worry, if the answer is yes. You are not the only one. Most of the well-known public speakers have been through this phobia and conquered it through practice and perseverance.  You can do it as well.  I would propose a few ideas:

  • Don’t expect too much from the audience. People perceive things differently. They will have different reactions always.  No one’s speech is appreciated by all. Your own expectations are the cause of anxiety. So, better be realistic.
  • Work on your self-esteem. Self-esteem and success in public speaking are directly linked. Repeatedly tell yourself, that you are the best person to deliver the speech, whether you volunteered for it or you were asked to do it.
  • You get nervous when you try to deliver too much in the allotted time. Be focused and think of two or three key points that you think you are best positioned to make. Then go ahead and just deliver them.  You may revisit the previous post: why should the audience listen to you?
  • Don’t give up. The phobia of public speaking can be overcome only by speaking and speaking consistently. With each effort, one gets better and learns something new.  Give yourself a target of at least ten events. If you don’t give up in between, I can assure you that you would have overcome your initial phobia.
  • Finally, let’s remember that public speaking is not limited to the stage but extends to the arenas of any social gathering, be it a classroom discussion, a party, an official meeting, an inter-college debate or a university interview.  Just go for each opportunity that comes your way.

Why should the audience listen to you?

January 28, 2011


You have prepared a good presentation. Let’s go through the checklist once again. It is simple. It does not have too many slides. Slides are not text- heavy. The information included in slides is from the credible source and is up-to-date. Audience often likes to know the source, so better mention the source in the slide. The font size is such that slides are readable to all even those sitting at the far end. The colour scheme is nice and soothing and the text stand outs even when the lights are dim. 

 Now, you are set to deliver it.  Here are some tips:

  •  As I wrote earlier, ask yourself why should the audience listen to you?   Answer to this question will help you prepare well. I would offer only one advice. Stick to the areas of your core competence. Think and bring out your experience and share your perspective. Audience likes to hear practical examples and experiences.
  • Catch and retain the attention of the audience:   How you begin is extremely important. Your first slide or first few sentences are critical. A relevant question, story /anecdote, or an experience is always welcome.  Read the body language of your audience throughout and keep gauging if they are still with you.
  •  Keep eye contact with your audience throughout. Usually, audience first looks at you, then at your slide and then again at you and so on. Your own body language, tone of voice, content of your speech, will attract them to keep looking at you.
  •  Reach the venue earlier. Put your presentation in the system that is being used and check that if it works fine. Check out the audio system and learn to use the microphone that is available. Nothing can be worse than the situation that you start speaking and audio does not work or your presentation does not appear on the screen. My suggestion is that do not presume anything. Check it yourself because if it does not work embarrassment is only yours. However, it is also true that despite all such precautions, mishaps do happen occasionally. So be patient and be prepared to speak anyway. It is always useful to know your content and carry a printed copy of the presentation.          
  •  Finally, never go beyond your allotted time. A good speaker is the one who stops when audience still wants to listen.    

Font size and design in powerpoint presentation

December 24, 2010

“ I am sorry if you can’t read this slide,” said a presenter. The slide had too much text in small font size, including a graph.  One wonders why is such a slide included in the presentation when it can’t be read by the audience.

I wrote in the earlier post about keeping the slide text light.  Font size of the text matters a lot. If the text on slides is less, we can manage the font size and we have room to make it  bigger aesthetically.  Main points that must be kept in mind while deciding about the font size are the number of audience attending the presentation, size of the room as well as size of the screen on which projection is to be made.

Design elements and animation play a very important role too.  One may choose the colours of his liking but they should pass two tests:

Is the slide text readable; and

Does the slide have a good visual appeal?

Run the slide show on the screen and see how does that look, particularly when lights are dim during the presentation. It is useful to avoid using too many different colours, and very dark background colours .  Consistency in font size and colour scheme is very important.

Remember, visual appeal of your slides catches the attention of your audience. It is worth spending some time on it.