Once speakers have mastered the content portion of their speech, they must next consider how to use the delivery of the message to give it more impact among the audience members. Remember the goal of an effective communicator at all times: have the audience memorably understand the message as originally intended. The best and most well-written speech in the world will still fall short if not delivered effectively, so during practice, take into account how to manage first impressions, as well as improving nonverbal communication, which includes personal appearance, eye contact, vocal quality, and movement.
Generating a positive rapport begins with setting a good first impression with the audience. Always show up early and come prepared. Arriving at the last minute, frantic and nervous, can set a negative tone among audience members that may prove difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. Prior to the introduction, prepare all visual aids. Manage any nonverbal cues, particularly when an outside party provides a formal introduction. Stand tall and exude confidence, even if the opposite feels true. When it comes to confidence, great speakers “fake it until they make it,” which eventually transforms nerves into confidence. After the introduction, it is time to “take the stage.” Walk tall and slowly up to the podium, all the while remembering that nothing else matters but the message in this moment.
Take a deep, cleansing breath and exhale slowly before beginning, and then begin strong. Avoid saying unnecessary phrases like “All right…” or “Okay…” or greeting the audience. Time restrictions limit the amount of time it takes to convey very important message to the audience, therefore devote every last word toward delivering that message. Pausing before commencing the introduction demonstrates self-control and respect for the audience.
The speaker’s appearance should them apart from audience members. To achieve this goal, keep two general rules of personal appearance in mind: 1) Anticipate the audience’s attire and dress about one or two steps more formally than that so as to project a professional, credible image to the audience; 2) Use clothing as a visual aid if it enhances the message. When in doubt with respect to rule #1, aim for business casual attire by wearing appropriate clothes for a professional job interview, such as an interview for an office manager, a supervisory position, or a marketing specialist. Additionally, avoid wearing anything that might distract the audience from focusing on the message, such as hats or shirts with text of any kind and/or flashy logos. Ignore this advice if such clothing serves as a visual aid.
Finally, speaker should take the following aspects into consideration when planning their personal appearance: the occasion, audience, topic, and the image/persona desired. First, note the occasion for the speech. Presenters delivering a commencement address should look totally different than those eulogizing at a funeral or celebrating a wedding, so the occasion sometimes dictates what the speaker needs to wear. Second, consider the audience. Sometimes dressing one level more formally may involve wearing jeans and a T-shirt, especially if the audience is going to be wearing shorts, sandals, and tank tops. Generally speaking, plan on dressing at least as nice as the nicest-dressed person in the audience, but when in doubt, err on the more formal side. Thirdly, speakers can sometimes look to their topic to find inspiration for their wardrobe. For example, a Hawaiian print shirt, shorts, and sandals serve as perfect attire for explaining tourist attractions on Oahu, while yoga pants and no shoes work great for demonstrating yoga poses. Lastly, speakers should take into account what type of persona they want their audience to see. Trying to emulate power and authority? Dress more formally in darker colors. Going for more lighthearted humor or an upbeat, positive tone? Wear lighter colors. Dressing more formally helps make the audience take the speaker more seriously.
Eye contact, according to Andersen (2007), performs several interactional functions, including the following:
- Regulate and monitor human interactions
- Signal cognitive activity
- Express a desire for involvement
- Signal attentiveness
The number-one reason novice speakers fail to engage their audiences with sufficient meaningful eye contact occurs due to relying too heavily on reading notes. Such speakers use their notes even when they are well prepared, simply because they find it more comforting to look down at the notes, rather than at all those pairs of eyes staring. A lack of eye contact with an audience damages the possibility to create rapport because, as mentioned above, if eye contact stays poor or inconsistent, it cannot regulate or monitor interaction, nor can it generate a desire for involvement or engagement with the presented material. Audiences most likely will tune out a speaker who fails to engage them with consistent eye contact.
Eye contact means much more than merely scanning the audience, however. “Lock on” each person in the audience for at least a couple of seconds before moving on to the next person. Do this randomly to individual members of the audience, so as to feel more natural in the interaction with them. One technique that may help with this is to look at the person in the front corner of the room, then move to the audience member in the opposite rear corner, then the other rear corner, then the opposite front corner, and then fill in the gaps between them all randomly. Speakers should aim to reach every audience member meaningfully at least once.
Most novice speakers, quite frankly, forget that they possess bodies, complete with working limbs, particularly legs. They become so heavily focused on delivering the message that they neglect to utilize the space they have at the front of the room. Still others choose to remain glued to the podium, because the podium provides a feeling of “cover” in such a hazardous situation as public speaking in front of a crowd. Movement, however, as mentioned earlier, provides people with a way to dispel much of their nervous energy. It does not take much in the way of movement to burn off excess adrenaline that pools in the cells of muscles, resulting in involuntary trembling and twitching. Walking around can help the speaker move past the initial wave of anxiety. Additionally, an animated speaker becomes more engaging and easier to follow than one who never moves from the same spot. However, keep movement intentional and use it to supplement the speech’s main points.
Movement from one side of the room to another can be used while transitioning from one point to the next, providing the audience with a physical reminder to expect new material. State the transitional phrase when beginning to walk to the other side of the speaking space. When emphasizing an important point, consider moving toward the audience. Closing the physical gap between the audience generates more immediacy, or sense of urgency to listen or interact, among audience members. Moving away from the audience can signal an impending conclusion. Above all, avoid pacing like an animal trapped in a cage. While pacing may make the speaker feel better, excessive, uncontrolled movement actually creates a distraction for the audience.