Master these speaking basics

Everything about your manner and demeanor as a speaker contributes to the overall feeling people take away. So you can improve your professional success simply by improving the way your audience perceives you. Work to acquire effective speaking habits like the following:

  • Use your eyes. Maintain eye contact for longer than would seem normal in ordinary conversation—say five seconds rather than two. Deliberate eye contact is noticeable and it shows that you are in touch with your audience. The rapport you will establish with the group will build your credibility, boost trust and cement listeners’ attention. Those things combine to make you seem more sure of yourself and more of an expert. Note: Eye contact also allows you to collect feedback. Take note—does your audience seem interested or indifferent?—and adjust your message accordingly.
  • Use your feet. The big question is to move or not to move? Either extreme causes problems. If you move too much, you will appear nervous and risk distracting your audience; too little movement creates a static approach. Best bet: When you do move around the podium, do it with purpose. Example: Boost audience rapport by moving closer to a questioner as you address that person’s concerns directly.
  • Use your hands. Unsure about what to do with your hands? Your awkwardness can prove distracting, so plan your approach ahead of time. Decide on a position that you can adopt as your baseline. Example: Hands hanging loosely at your sides as you describe the basic facts and figures. Then return to that baseline between periods of greater animation. Mark your notes to prompt gestures. Relate your gestures to the words you are using. Example: Counting on your upraised fingers as you list a series of recommended steps—’First, we need … second, …”

— Adapted from How to Craft Successful Business Presentations and Effective Public Speaking, Patrick Forsyth, Foulsham, www.foulsham.com.

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