This is a blog which I wrote about a year ago. It’s still relevant today
I’ve attended quite a few conferences and seminars over the past few months. It’s my effort to up-skill and keep up with the times. Apart from the interesting content (much of it about technology, my new passion) what struck me is the vast gulf between people who are competent and engaging public speakers and those are who are not.
Let’s start with the poor suckers who just can’t pull it off. It begins with a very basic necessity – an awareness of where the microphone is vis-à-vis your mouth. It sounds so obvious yet so many speakers fail to check it. If there is no rehearsal, which is often the case with smaller conferences, you should arrive early and make your way to the allocated room where inevitably there will be technicians putting the final touches to their respective briefs. Just ask if you can do a quick voice-check. You’re not being rude. You’re being professional.
If no such opportunity presents itself then you need to get an awareness of the volume of your voice once you begin your talk. This is not easy. You’re concentrating on the content. There are a few hundred pairs of eyes seemingly staring at you. And there could be a few cowboys shuffling around at the back of the room. It feels like you have to bifurcate your brain. But it’s worth it. Your talk will be of no value to the audience if they can’t hear you. And more worrying still for you, your audience will get restless and bored.
The next big sin is to know the pace with which you should deliver your talk. There are specific guidelines and these are measured in Words Per Minute (wpm). For example a newsreader should speak at about 150 wpm, auctioneers can be up to 400 wpm, normal conversation varies from 110 wpm which is exceptionally slow to 160-200 wpm at the faster range. For speech-making you need to be somewhere in the middle.
After that it becomes more important still to vary the pace for greater emphasis and to show emotion. But there’s not much point in even reaching that point if you’re speaking in muffled tones that are two fast.
One conference I attended recently had an excellent speaker who stood out. He spoke at a pace which was perfectly easy to pick up. He varied his tone according to the content he was delivering. He held his audience. I remember a great deal of what he said. Another speaker flew through her talk. Her tone was monotonous and unvaried. I took in very little of what she said. It’s an awful pity because I’m sure she had plenty to teach me.
Which brings me to the point that we should not take it forgranted that just because we have power of speech that we are automatically given the craft of good quality public speaking. If it’s not an art, it’s definitely a skill.