10 Speaking Tips
Darren decided years ago that he wanted to learn the craft, much to the dismay of those close to him. After suffering the financial failure of a small business, he started to feel like a chump. Then a close friend gave him a motivational tape that changed his life's direction. The tape forced him to ask: What would I dare to dream if I knew I wouldn't fail? Darren's answer: I'd be a comedian. But it was a fantasy. Darren wasn't funny. "The first time my brother ever laughed at me was when I told him I wanted to be a comedian," he says.
Darren is now living proof that if you stick with it, you can learn anything. Especially how to be an effective speaker. After years of intense study, he developed 10 tips for becoming a better speaker. These tips can be used by anyone who needs to hone his or her skills related to presentations and speaking, even if they're a really, really bad speaker. In fact, the content of his winning speech focuses on overcoming objections and roadblocks. For now, sales people, business people and anyone who wants to improve his or her speaking abilities might follow these guidelines:
1. Be an unquestioning sponge. Turn to the experts and soak up their sage advice. One of the first comedians Darren consulted told him to read books on stand-up comedy. Although surprised by the recommendation, he followed that advice.
2. Watch and learn. Observe the worst along with the best. If you've ever been intimidated by an incredible speaker, go watch other speakers who are more at your level. That's where the incredible speakers got their start. You've got to be willing to seek out places to watch speakers and devote the time. Darren attended a multitude of Toastmasters' presentations and open mike nights at comedy clubs.
3. Learn to write and speak in plain English. Outlines and notes may work for some, but the experts say they write their speeches out - word by word. So, sharpen your pencil or get your fingers tapping on the keyboard and churn out the words. Beware of long, tedious jargon-filled communications because they're frustrating and wasteful. Business communications must be precise, complete and totally comprehensible. Don't forget your delivery either - be articulate!
4. Get in front of audiences. For Darren, the three most important things in becoming a good stand-up comic were stage time, stage time and stage time. His mentors pushed this in a big way. "In my opinion, 95 percent of your growth as a speaker comes from being in front of an audience," Darren says.
5. Practice. Darren repeats what a former World Champion speaker advised him: "Let no one out prepare you." Darren watched 90 World Championship contest speeches on video, presented his speech to 22 Toastmaster clubs, received 143 written evaluations and videotaped almost seven hours of his practice speeches to prepare for his seven-minute winning speech. Watching yourself on video can be painful, but it's one of the best ways to evaluate yourself.
6. On a scale of one to ten, be an eleven. If you constantly ask yourself what you can do to make your presentation outstanding, you'll eventually come up with some answers. Darren played on the fact that his gestures were already strong and if he could bump up that part, he would surely go over the top. He also decided to use the stage differently from other speakers. Since his speech was about failing on his way to achieving an objective, he used the stage as a linear metaphor. He started on the left side of the stage, progressively moving to the right side, toward his goal. Other speakers, he observed, tend to stand still (boring) or bounce around (erratic distractions).
7. Be sensitive. Give some thought and time to your audience's needs, their particular mindsets, available time, education level and how they might absorb information. If you take the time to customize your speech this way, it will be much more effective.
8. Read a lot. You'll be shocked to discover how many ideas you can get from other people. Read books, newspapers, magazines, trade publications and newsletters. They will open up a bounty of information for speech content and make you a more worldly person as well.
9. Diversify your approach. Remember, there are many different forms of speaking and all are helpful in some way. Presentations to sales forces, instructing a training class, pitching to clients, persuading senior management, defending a cause to a school PTO group, helping a church committee, etc., all are opportunities to practice. Be sure to always come prepared (even if you consider these stints insignificant) and WOW them - in many cases, they won't be expecting it.
10. Incorporate Darren's Spotlight Theory. You can reduce your anxiety about getting up in front of an audience by turning the spotlight on the audience. Refocus your attention away from fears of stumbling or stuttering in your delivery to the value of the message to be delivered. Make sure that you provide the audience with a message that's interesting and helpful to this particular group. What can they learn? What can they gain? Make the whole presentation an act of giving - with the spotlight on the audience - and your anxiety will be significantly reduced.
Ultimately, Darren suggests that if you want to be more of a speaker, speak more. In his winning speech, he detailed his rise (and multiple falls) to the top. How strangers mocked him. How friends and family worried for him. He described that if you're willing to fail, you can learn anything. Today, Darren is an author, keynote speaker and corporate comedian. His keynote topics include Laugh & Get Rich: How to Profit from Humor in Any Business, Want to Sell More? Got Humor?, OUCH! Lessons On Becoming A Champion and Kustom Komedy Keynote (Darren will customize a presentation for any group). He has also developed a training program called Humor Bootcamp, designed to help professionals lighten up their presentations.