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Make a speech and live to tell about it!

By: Gary Lockwood

Gary Lockwood is an experienced business coach, facilitator, speaker and an author with dozens of informative articles and reports published. He specializes in helping business professionals achieve breakthroughs in their business. Gary has over thirty years of experience in the business world, including technology, sales and marketing, management consulting, business planning and corporate training. He has held senior executive positions in several companies and has started a few successful companies of his own. You can learn more about him at his Web site,

For many people, one of life's terrors is to make a speech. Gulp! Scary as it sounds, it's important for anyone to be able to make an effective presentation whether it's to a handful of people around a conference table or to an auditorium of a thousand faces.

Being able to speak can mean making a sale, talking top management into approving your plan, persuading the town council to adopt an important measure or sharing information with your Association. Bottom line, it could determine whether you get that promotion, make the sale or establish your point-of-view!

Speaking in front of a group doesn't have to be a life-threatening experience. Let's look at how to approach making a speech step by step.

First, the audience. Who are they? Why are they there? What are they interested in? How much do they already know about your subject? Ask questions until you have these answers and are clear about your listeners. The more you know about them, the more comfortable you will be when in front of them.

Now, your topic. Presumably, you were asked to speak in the first place in the hope that you would be able to share information about a topic you know something about. Still, you'll want to do your homework. The more you sweat in advance, the less you'll sweat on stage. Research your topic thoroughly. Go to the library to find current facts, recent articles on the subject and good quotations. Interview other experts to round out your material.

In short, gather more information than you'll possibly be able to use in your speech. Imagine the self-confidence at your presentation when you know that "there's lots more where that came from".

The best speakers make their presentations sound spontaneous and conversational even when they are memorized. The way they do this is to learn the speech in outline form, instead of word for word. Your outline should contain the Opening, the Message and the Wrap up.

Your opening remarks set the tone of the whole presentation. Audiences make up their minds very quickly. The purpose of your opening is to grab attention. We must assume that our audience is generally as busy and preoccupied as we are. So we first need to get their attention with a question, 'grabber' words, humor or an interesting visual.

Using a question as an opener causes the listener to stop and think. "How many new prospects do you want today?" "When do you want to feel good again?" Once you have their attention, your message can help them answer the question.

 "Grabber" words are designed to startle, shock or at least cause your listener to want to listen to what's coming next. The first sentence of this article is an example. A funny comment or an eye-catching visual is always an effective way to get the attention of your listeners in a hurry. Obviously, any of these openings must be relevant to your message, or they will confuse your listeners.

Once you have their attention, it's time to relate your main message. Organize your main points around only one or two main messages. It's helpful for you to ask yourself "what do I want these people to be thinking or doing as a result of my presentation?". As you make your points, you can keep relating back to the main message.

Most professional speakers say it's best to flow the presentation from the general to the more specific and from the known to the unknown. This is how you avoid losing your audience.

If you're presenting statistics, facts or numbers, try to avoid spewing them all at once. Space them out. Even better, relate the facts and figures to something familiar. Instead of saying "twenty percent of you will .....", say "One in five of you will ...".

The Wrap up of your speech is where you "ask for the order". This is where you summarize the main points in a sentence or two, then state your main message. If you are asking for a decision, urging action or leaving them with a key thought in mind, now is the time to do it.

Once you have prepared your speech, write the key points in outline form or on 3" x 5" index cards. This will help to prompt you through your speech without sounding as if you are reading it word for word.

In the days leading up to your speech, practice, practice, practice. Stand in front of a full-length mirror and give your speech. Tape yourself, then replay the tape listening for poor grammar and filler words such as "Ah", "Uh" or "You know".

On the day of your speech, arrive early so you can walk around the stage, look out on the room where you'll be speaking, test the microphone, adjust the lights, and in general, increase your feeling of readiness.

Before it's your turn to take the podium, breathe deeply and focus all your attention on your message. We feel nervous and anxious when we think about ourselves. Think about the content of your message and especially, on the first two or three sentences of your presentation.

Once you've been introduced, walk to the podium, pause for a deep breath, smile, then begin. Pick out three or four people in the audience who are in different sectors of the room and talk to them. Pick out people who seem to be having a good time.

Keep an eye on the time. Surprisingly, time will pass quickly when you are presenting. You don't want to overstay your welcome. From time to time, during your talk, pause for a beat or two to let important points sink in. This also lets your audience catch up with you as they think about what you're saying.

What you say last is likely to be what is remembered longest, so don't finish with "that's all I have to say". Instead, end on a note of intensity. Choose a quotation, anecdote or line that leaves the audience laughing or thoughtful. Think of this last sentence as the one that will invoke applause.

Speaking of applause, you may just discover how much you enjoy the sweet sound of applause and encouragement. It can be almost addictive.

Speak up!

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