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Conquer the Fear of Public Speaking

By Robert N. Lee and Margaret Anne J. Taylor |

People often list public speaking just below "death" on their list of greatest fears. Yet speaking before a live audience lands on the plate of all businesspeople at some point in their career.

A speechmaker in any line of business dreams of bounding off stage, the audience raising the roof with loud and continuous applause, words of "well done!" ringing in the ears and everybody feeling like they just won something.

Even if a small business owner doesn't have the performance skills to raise the roof any time in the near future, half the job of giving a good speech lies in the writing, a skill that can be learned, sometimes just through practice.

A speech that earns long and loud applause results from the speechwriter having a strong appreciation for timing, humour, emotions and the impatience of an audience. Writing a business speech, or any speech for that matter, is a minefield. Walk through it safely and an audience of strangers will love you. Step on an oratorical mine and there's no greater fall from grace.

Speechwriting presents one of the more difficult challenges for small business owners. The basic difficulty of writing a crowd-pleaser gets compounded by so little margin for error. The very image of a speaker and the company can ride on the presentation.

Yet, even with so much riding on that speech, a speaker should never cop out and hire a professional writer. Retaining control of the content and the format will give a personally written speech the insight and passion about the business that will ring true for any audience.

What to consider before the writing even starts:

  • Determine what you would like to say and the key issues that need to be presented.
  • Keep in mind the mood you want to portray.
  • Keep in mind what the audience would feel comfortable with.
  • Be open to coaching if you have minimal experience with presentations.
  • If you are comfortable with humour, use it.
  • Don't be afraid to ad lib if it works for you (it doesn't for everybody).

Good speeches should bring out the best in the speaker, which means revealing some personal aspects of character in the message. Also, the speech should exhibit some of the passion that you have for the topic, especially if it is close to your heart.

Remember the goals of any speechmaker: interest, trust, respect, acceptance.

Once the conditions of the speech and the situation have been determined, an outline should be drafted as soon as possible. An outline helps you track changes as you work through the speech-writing process.

One of the most delicate tasks of presenting a speech is getting into it. Humour helps break the ice and calm the jitters, but not if you are somewhat dour or stern by nature. An anecdote or a question, later answered in the speech, may work better.

In the central part of the speech, use words the audience will understand. If it's a group of shareholders, they will expect the straight goods on company performance and not misleading fluff designed to gloss over bad news.

Always remember to make eye contact.

And for goodness sakes, be brief. Plan to be on the podium no more than 20 minutes. A good speechwriter should have the work timed prior to the presentation and should have an idea of the pacing. Nobody complains about short speeches.

Closing a speech is just as hard as opening one. Consider a call to action, a summary of the main thoughts, or just leave the audience with something to think about.

The last words of the speech must pack power.

Who knows, someone from the audience might even remember them.

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