At my old school St Joseph’s Māori Girls’ College in Napier after winning the Korimako Speech Competition – 1984 I think.

By Iulia Leilua (5 minute read)

The first time I gave a speech was in a secondary school speech competition and it was about a vacuum cleaner. Up until then I’d only spoken at Toastmasters and was painfully shy, but the moment I got up on stage, something clicked.

People laughed in the right places, I held their attention by building suspense and drama, and at the end I got huge applause. Although I won the competition it wasn’t my finest speech, but the glue that held the whole thing together was a story and my rapport with the crowd.

Today I’ve become more skilled at public speaking because of my thirty-year career in journalism, but I often come across people who actively dodge the limelight.

You know who you are 😊. You let others talk while you ‘support from behind’, you have something to say but don’t know how or you think people will judge your looks, weight or voice if you’re in the spotlight.

Maybe you get physically sick at the idea of public speaking. You could be shy talking in front of strangers or people outside your own culture. Or perhaps you have bad memories of stuffing up a speech that shredded your confidence.

It’s truly inspiring watching a really great speaker connect with people during a talk.  Everything from their well-crafted message, body language, tone and ability to read the audience, enables them to capture peoples’ attention. Then there are the gifted few who can get up and speak authoritatively with seemingly little preparation and no notes.

Their personality and rapport with people through storytelling makes them authentic, accessible, believable and memorable.. All the things we want to be right?

Unfortunately a lot of speakers I’ve seen miss out some critical steps in the process to delivering a winning speech or presentation. I could tell they were passionate about their topic and they’d prepared a fantastic speech or presentation. But they let themselves down by not following my simple 6-step formula for speaking like a pro.

70% of my success speaking publicly has come from preparation, research and rehearsal. The rest came from trial and error speaking in front of people and learning how to deliver my message effectively in a style that feels comfortable to me.

By observing others and critiquing my own performance, I’ve identified three key areas where people make mistakes when speaking in front of an audience or being interviewed.

  • Not positioning yourself properly as an authority in your field
  • Not pitching their message to their audience correctly
  • Underestimating what it takes to deliver a powerful message

If you don’t position yourself properly as an authority in your field you’ll miss the opportunity to show leadership in your field. A lot of people feel anxious or embarrassed about putting themselves in the limelight this way.

Your audience needs to know why you are the best person to serve them; teach them; or give important info that will help and inspire their lives. To do this you’ll need to:

RESEARCH, prepare and plan the best way to influence, inspire, motivate or inform people.  Structure your speech so you have a clear beginning, middle and end. and back up key points with vivid examples or relevant stories. Practise your presentation or speech but don’t memorise the whole thing – just the intro, key points and summary.

SHOW UP early and get familiar with the room and stage. How will you use the stage during the presentation. If you’re one of a series of speakers, look at how they’re using the stage and what you can do differently/better. Dress appropriately for the occasion, season, venue, audience and your brand.

BE SELF-AWARE: block out distractions and barriers that destroy your inner calm. You may have come from a stressful work or personal situation, but you can’t bring that negative energy into your presentation. You have to be in the moment.

SPEND the first few minutes in front of the lecturn or at centre stage during your introduction before moving around. Pause after making an important point or relaying a lot of data so info can be absorbed. Check the audience – did they understand or do they look confused?

WATCH what your mannerisms and body language are conveying – is it nervousness, fidgeting or passion about your topic? You can make good use of gestures, body movement and facial expressions without overdoing it. Project your voice and vary your tone so you don’t sound monotone.

ALLOW for question time at the end.

HAVE business cards, brochures or other info ready to hand out afterwards.