Gain Clarity By Letting Go: Public Speaking Tips From a Pro

Ted Coine at TEDxNavesink: Accelerations by Jennifer Bennett Photography

cover photo: Ted Coiné at TEDxNavesink: Accelerations by Jennifer Bennett Photography

Whether you’re making a presentation in front of a dozen people or thousands, public speaking can be nerve-wracking. The anticipation of making it through the entire speech without a flaw can put so much pressure on a person that stress levels go sky high. But what happens when you let go of the stress and expectation of perfection and live in the moment? You may just achieve speaking gold.

At the recent TEDxNavesink conference, two dozen speakers gathered to share ideas worth spreading with an audience of over 700 people. Topics ranged from patient advocacy as part of health care innovation to impatience as an accelerator in life, from the most mysterious questions about the universe to how breakups can actually be a good thing. The speakers practiced and rehearsed for months, fine-tuning their talks to create the perfect presentation.

Now everyone knows perfection is an unattainable goal. Stuff happens. And sometimes that stuff is funny. Sometimes that stuff is eye opening. Sometimes that stuff is better than what was written down on paper and rehearsed over and over again.

MK Harby, owner of MK Harby Public Speaking, is dedicated to making speakers great communicators. She believes ideas are shared most efficiently when they are conveyed with creativity, warmth, and humor. As the speaker coach for the TEDxNavesink presenters, she helped get the most effective message out of the talks and assisted the speakers in presenting in an engaging way. But that doesn’t mean things went off without a hitch or that every speaker stuck their original material. And those moments going off script? Some of the most memorable moments of the event.

TEDxNavesink speaker Ted Coiné enjoyed a spontaneous moment during his talk about the positive power of impatience. And for Ted, and arguably the audience, that moment stood out as a great one from the day.

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For all those who strive to stick to the script, MK has some advice.

“How do I rehearse for a speech but try to sound “unrehearsed?” This is not easy advice to give. While you do not prepare for the actual “off the cuff/impromptu talk,” there are some things that will help you deliver an original message,” she said.

1. Have a clear objective.

An objective is a purpose, or what you as the speaker want to accomplish.  Stick to your objective throughout your entire speech.

2. Listen to others. Read the room.

Take in the verbal cues as well as the non-verbal cues from your audience. If you speak to a group and you see that they are relaxed and smiling they probably will be more receptive to your message. If you look out and see hungry and annoyed members of the audience, you may want to try and break the ice with an interesting question or an empathetic statement.

This was exactly the case at TEDxNavesink for speaker Dr. Don Lincoln. As the last speaker before the lunch break, the audience was indeed hungry and most likely ready for a break. Instead of delivering his talk as rehearsed, he opened with a joke about lunch. “Being the last speaker before lunch, it’s hard to compete with that!” he said. The audience responded with what might have been the biggest laugh of the day.

3. Become a better listener in life. 

Observe people. Watch how others react. Keep your mouth closed and listen….and listen more. Intuitive people are good listeners. It’s easier to stay in the moment and read an audience if you are listening.

4. Take a moment. Be in the moment.

Look at what is going on around you. Do you ever wonder why someone can fill  an entire room with joy? These people are observers of life. They spend time watching people, listening to people and observing reactions. Their humor comes from observation. No, not everyone has to be a comedian during their speech;  I don’t recommend it at all. But there is a saying by Victor Borge, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”

5. Tell a story.

It is easy to stay in the moment when you are telling a story. You have already lived it. Make sure that it has a clear beginning, middle and end, but allow yourself to improvise the lines in between.  Be your authentic self and connect to the audience by being a good story-teller.

6. Trust yourself.

This is probably the hardest thing to do, but you will be very well received if you trust yourself. If you stick to your objective, smile, connect, listen, tell a good story and trust yourself, what can go wrong?

So the next time you’re speaking in front of an audience, go with the flow and see where letting go takes you. You might just find that you gain clarity, and maybe a laugh or two.

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Stephanie Eichmeyer
Stephanie is a former journalist turned writer and public relations specialist. Her background includes non-profit work in health care and fundraising, as well as event planning, media and community relations and internal and external communications. But what she really digs is crisis communications. So if you break the internet, call Stephanie.

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