I’ve been fascinated by skilled public speakers since I was first required to give a speech in college. These individuals often use innate or learned techniques to draw in an audience to highlight or emphasize important points. If done correctly, these techniques can command attention.
I wanted to learn how to deliver a speech with the same amount of skill that I saw in speakers that I admired. There was one problem though. And it was a big and very common one. I had an intense fear of public speaking. But I was determined to overcome it.
To conquer my fear of public speaking I attended many classes, groups, and workshops including Dale Carnegie (2 courses, 1 seminar), Toastmasters (3 groups), college courses (3 classes), and individual coaching (2 modules). I also read many books on the subject including several by Dale Carnegie.
Through this effort, I eventually became a competent speaker. In my corporate job, I frequently had to speak in front of various size groups. There may have been up to a thousand people a few times. I never inquired about the number, as I really didn’t want to know.
I learned two game-changing secrets through my public speaking training, speech competitions, and corporate speaking assignments. (1) Many public speakers who appear very confident and skilled were once terrified by the idea of speaking in front of a group. (2) Many public speakers who seem relaxed and cool may actually be feeling fear throughout or during certain points of their speech. (The beginning is usually the hardest part.)
I was often amazed when people would tell me how relaxed I looked as I was giving a speech when my heart was racing the entire time. Carnegie calls this getting your butterflies to fly in formation. In other words, you control your fear and use the energy it produces to your advantage.
I take every opportunity I can to watch accomplished people give important speeches. One of my favorites is the State of the Union Address by the President of the United States. Imagine being considered the most powerful person on the planet and being expected to deliver a flawless speech that is closely watched by millions of people around the globe. It’s mind-boggling.
Here are a few select public speaking techniques that I’ve come to know as being audience attention getters. Let me remind you that public speakers usually use these techniques when they want their audience to listen carefully to, consider, remember, or act upon important points.
This is when a public speaker raises or lowers the volume and/or tone of their voice. It seems to have nearly the same impact whether the volume or tone is raised or lowered. But they are usually used for different purposes.
A speaker may raise their volume to show passion and lower it to highlight importance. A speaker may raise their tone to show emotion and lower it to express authority.
President Obama is a master at using this technique. It appears to me that either it comes naturally or he picked it up by watching his pastor give sermons in church. I say this because elements of his style remind me of the way Martin Luther King spoke.
This is the most commonly used technique for a reason. It works and most anyone can use it successfully.
Silence is usually a public speaker’s worst nightmare. If it’s used as a tool, however, it can be a powerful way to get an audience’s attention.
A speaker may insert a silent pause before or after an important point. If it’s done before, the speaker is trying to get the audience’s attention and/or get them to settle down. If a silent pause is inserted after, the objective is to get the audience to consider and/or remember an important point.
Silent pauses can be the most effective of all public speaking techniques if it is done correctly. The key is having the right timing and duration. If a silent pause is inserted in the wrong place or the duration is too short or too long the effect can be lost.
If the silent pause is in the wrong place and/or too long, the audience can become impatient and start talking. If the silent pause is just right, it can move the audience to the edge of their seats waiting for the speaker’s next words.
This is when a speaker walks across the stage while s/he continues to talk, then stops, turns, and faces the audience to make an important point.
You need the right kind of stage area and you have to be a certain kind of speaker to use this technique effectively. Many speakers like this one because it gives them a moment here and there to take a break from facing the audience and walking (or pacing) can help to release nervous energy.
This technique also allows a speaker to be more physically expressive. They can use their entire body to emphasize important points and draw an audience’s attention. A speaker who stays behind a podium is limited in this regard.
This is when a speaker goes down on one knee, squats, crouches, or sits while making an important a point or series of points. This one can be extremely effective because it’s so uncommon. And because it’s so unexpected it can really get the audience’s attention.
This one will only work well on a raised stage where when you drop down the entire audience can still see you. The idea is to draw attention by changing things up and get closer to the audience physically and symbolically.
I’ve only seen one speaker use the “one knee” technique and he is a master at it. Because it was so unusual, I can instantly remember his name. It’s Andy Andrews!
I saw him do it in a video-recorded speech entitled, “The Seven Decisions.” As I recall, he closed his talk with what he called the seventh and most important decision by first getting down on one knee before sharing it with the audience. It had a tremendous impact on the audience and me.
Highly skilled speakers regularly use many of these techniques. And they often use several of them at the same time when making important points. Andy Andrews not only got down on one knee, but he also lower his voice and inserted a silent pause before he shared the seventh decision.
The only way to learn how to use these public speaking techniques is by watching skilled speakers and trying them yourself. It’s important to know that what works for one speaker may not work in the same way for you until you adjust the technique to fit your style. You may also find that some work well for you while others don’t. Just don’t let fear stop you from trying. Tip: Trying in the world of public speaking means doing it until you succeed, and then deciding if it’s for you. 😉
There are more public speaking techniques, but these are some of the most common. Try them.