If you take only one piece of advice about public speaking, make sure that it is this pearl of wisdom. If you focus on this one simple thing, the number of times you say "uhm" won't matter. If you focus on this one thing, your gestures and not knowing what to do with your hands won't matter. If you focus on this one thing, then the occasional loss of train of thought won't matter. In fact, if you focus on this one simple thing, you can break just about every rule that public speakers are supposed to abide by, and you will still win over your audience.
This one simple rule has transformed countless mediocre speakers into good speakers, scores of good speakers into great speakers, and numerous great speakers into world-class speakers.
This simple rule that can make or break a speaker is ENTHUSIASM.
That's right, if you have a little excitement in your talk and a spring in your step, people pay attention. Your audience will have just about as much excitement about your talk as you do, and no more. So, if you want to win over your audience, add a sparkle of enthusiasm.
One of my mentors told me that there are two rules to live by in the world of professional speakers. She said, "Rule number one is to never speak on a topic that you yourself are not enthusiastic about, and rule number two is that if you ever violate rule number one, fake it 'til you make it."
Frank Bettger in his book How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling said it a different way. He said, "If you act enthusiastic, then you'll be enthusiastic."
For those of us who get nervous in front of groups, it's even easier. In the previous chapter I pointed out that 90% of our nervousness doesn't even show. Let's look at the other 10%. When we are nervous, we often cut out preambles and get right to the point, our rate of speech typically speeds up, we tend to move around a lot more, and we may move our hands around more than normal. Well, when we are excited about something, we do the exact same things.
Years ago, when I was a sales manager, I was often amazed at the number of times that a brand new sales person without a lot of product knowledge and absolutely no experience, could close sale after sale while my more seasoned people were struggling. The more times I went on sales calls with these new people, the more I started to notice a pattern. New salespeople are often nervous, so when they walk into an office on a sales call, they tend to cut right to the chase. They also generally talk faster because they are afraid they'll forget something. They have a tough time sitting still because of the nervousness, so they move around a lot.
I noticed that these symptoms of nervousness worked to the advantage of these new salespeople, because their prospects looked across the table at salespeople who appeared to be extremely enthusiastic about what they were selling. I would imagine that these potential buyers were saying things to themselves like, "if this person believes so much in this product, it must be good."
We as speakers can also use our nervousness to our advantage. When we turn that pent up nervousness into energy and enthusiasm, our audience can't help but be energized as well.
Doug Staneart, mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org, is CEO of The Leaders Institute® (http://www.leadersinstitute.com). He is an expert at helping people overcoming the fear of public speaking, building confident and autonomous leaders, and improving employee morale. He can be reached toll-free at 1-800-872-7830.