If I could only tell you one thing about Speaking

Content, stories, practice, timing, gesture, voice, attire (yes, this matters a lot to women, even if they say, ” I don’t care ), pause and the list goes on on for things you have to know, apply, be mindful of when you are wearing a speaker’s hat. I am almost certain one can do a PhD in speaking. Won’t be surprised if someone has done it already !

But if my daughter wanted to become a speaker and I could give her only one advise then this is it.

Effective speaking is about the unknown, unplanned and unpredictable connection with the audience.

If you are not making people feel what you are saying, you are not going to succeed as a speaker.

So, let us ask some questions on this abstract advice.

So, how do you know if people felt the message? 

Your audience have a physiological reaction when they move from listening to feeling your message.

What does a physiological reaction look like?

Butterflies in the stomach, wet eyes, a sigh, nodding, hands on face with surprise, lump in the throat, these are just some examples.

How do I know that I have made the audience feel the message? 

Sadly, the only physiological reaction you as a speaker can hear and see clearly is, laughter. You may be able to witness some others subtly like a sigh but nothing comes close to the distinctiveness of a big laugh. And your performance as a speaker is very dependant on your audience’s reaction that you can sense. That is why most of us are miserable at rehearsals on stage in an empty hall and suddenly when those seats are filled with the audience we feel in the moment. So, I normally rely on laughter followed by hands on the face and a sigh to make feel like I can come alive on the stage.

So can I plant  humour in the talk?

Well, you can try but I am yet to come across a time when what I had planted as humour in my talks was received as humor.

For the longest time I was not sure why people laughed at things I had not expected to find humorous,  and not laughed at things that I had purposely added for humour.

On 8th March, 2019, I gave a talk at National Gallery of Singapore on the occasion of International Women’s Day. The talk was recorded, you watch it below if you have 12 mins.

If you watch this talk there are 9 time markers where people laughed

.39 , 2.39 , 3.30 , 3.58 , 4.18 , 4.35 , 5.04 ,5.44 and 7.35 are the timings

Out of the 9 places, I had only expected laughter at one. So that was my only place of intentional humour that drove the outcome. However, what was most interesting to me was, in all these 9 places, I did not do or say what I had planned for. When I looked at the audience, I felt like saying or doing something which I did which resulted in a connection and a physiological reaction.

What I learnt was,

Always look at people in the audience , look right in to their eyes and if you feel like saying or doing something ( of course, all appropriate things :)  – just do it. When the connection with audience happens, you get in to a flow and when you are in that flow, the magic happens.

Here are a couple of ways to make sure you get to see your audience and look right in to their eyes.

1. Stage lights 50% not 100% or else its too glaring to see the audience.

2. Whether the audience is a member of Parliament, CEO or Head of State don’t feel intimated because you are speaking about a topic that you know best.

3. Connect with stories at human level, kids, school, family, growing up, parents, spouse, marriage are good narratives because they are common to all.

4. If you can’t see audience at the back of the room, keep looking at the first few rows. Keep looking at different people in those rows.

So, I will go back to this  if I could only tell my daughter one thing about effective speaking it is this.

Effective speaking is about the unknown, unplanned and unpredictable connection with the audience.

Look right in to the eyes of audience! 

Speaking seems like a solo performance but it is so not.

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