Podium power

Written by Allan Britnell

Does the thought of speaking in public make you nervous? For many CEOs, it’s a fate more frightful than death itself. No wonder; everything from your tone of voice, your body language and facial expressions can put off your audience.

Still, effective speaking skills are among a business leader’s greatest assets, used whether you’re delivering a speech to hundreds of industry executives or just giving an employee a pep talk. Polish your presentations, and you’ll go a long way to establishing your credibility, communicating your message and persuading others to see your point of view. To help you improve your performance, PROFIT asked some of Canada’s premier speakers to reveal how they make their speeches sing.

The experts:

Bob Gray, president, Memory Edge Corp., Whitby, Ont.: a Guinness Book of World Records- holding memory expert, Gray has shared his techniques with wide-ranging audiences including the American Dental Association, General Motors and Kodak.

Mike Lipkin, president, Environics/Lipkin, Toronto: Lipkin has given motivational seminars to more than one million people in 22 countries. He is the author of three books, including On Fire: the Art of Personal Consistency.

Robin Sharma, CEO & chief visionary officer, Sharma Leadership International Inc., Toronto: a former litigation lawyer, Sharma frequently shares the stage with Bill Clinton and Dr. Phil. He is the author of seven books, including the bestseller The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari.

George Torok, speaker & consultant, Burlington, Ont.: specializes in helping businesspeople develop presentations with impact. He is co-author of Secrets of Power Marketing, and also hosts a weekly radio program, Business in Motion.

It’s all in the presentation

Sharma: “There’s nothing wrong with having some notes on three-by-five-inch cards if it makes you comfortable. The key is to explain it to the audience. Say, ‘I’m going to refer to these notes just to make sure I get my points right’.”

Gray: “It sounds simple, but check the room’s sightlines and make sure the AV equipment is working. I’ve done a number of speeches where the CEO will come up and they’ll literally stick the microphone on him and you get squealing because they haven’t taken time to do an AV check. It looks amateurish.”

Lipkin: “The biggest obstacle to effective presentation is nerves. People ask themselves, ‘What happens if I choke?’ Don’t ask that question, because that’s where you’ll focus. [Instead], anticipate all the enjoyable feelings you’re going to experience when you know you’ve connected with people.”

Sharma: “Deep breathing exercises are very helpful if you’re feeling nervous. Close your eyes and breathe in through your nose to a count of, say, four, and then exhale to a count of four.”

Count on content

Torok: “Most people write their speech the wrong way. They start at the beginning and go till the end. Write the closing line first, then the points that support your ending, and then your opening. If you do that, you’ll be more focused. Be really clear about what your message is. Too many people just start yapping. I tell people to ask themselves, ‘What is it I want the audience to do or think when I am done speaking?’ Everything you say should move the audience in that direction.”

Gray: “Have ‘rehearsed improvisation’ lines. Whenever something happens when you’re on stage-let’s say a tray of glasses crashes-the audience is waiting for you to say something. As long as you acknowledge it, it will alleviate that tension and they will laugh, even if it’s just, ‘And that concludes the musical portion of my presentation’.”

Sharma: “Come up with an audience participation exercise. [That way] if you’re halfway through the speech and you feel some nerves coming on, you can ask something such as: ‘What would you do if you knew you could not fail? Ask this question to the person sitting next to you and spend a minute or two talking about it.’ That buys you two minutes to get a drink of water or take your deep breaths.”

Deliver the goods

Lipkin: “Don’t be afraid to repeat your key points. I always get a rise out of my audience when I say, ‘This is so important I’m only going to say it twice’.”

Torok: “If you’re giving a presentation at a meeting, stand and wait until you have everyone’s attention before you speak. It might take a second or two. Then when you talk it makes your information seem more valuable.”

Gray: “I like to move away from the podium. There is more force if you can deliver without the shield of the lectern. You can use different sides of the stage for transitions in your speech. It’s a subliminal thing the audience picks up on.”

Lipkin: “I use what I call the ‘dramatic silence’-a two- to three-second pause before I make my key point. I tell the audience, ‘What I am about to tell you is very important. It could make a big impact on your life.’ Then I pause to build the suspense and then deliver it. Then I pause again so people can reflect on what they’ve just heard.”

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com