How to Become an Authentic Speaker

Can you believe that the fear of public speaking ranks higher in most people’s minds than the fear of death? In other words, at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. In fact, 3 out of every 4 on average people have speech anxiety causing enormous stress when delivering public speeches.

I also happen to suffering slightly from this anxiety. Thankfully, the level of anxiety has been diminishing gradually through a growing confidence in my ability to completely be myself and not contrived in any form or fashion. In the last several years, I have felt a growing desire to become a better speaker – one that inspires others to make growth-driven changes in their lives. Unlike some of my good friends, public speaking is not my forte. But, I’ve been planting seeds of hope that nothing trumps sheer focus and practice. (i.e. Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hrs rule)

My desire to speak with great influence comes from the sheer power of words. Words, in effect, have either have life-giving or life-destroying effects. Take heed of Proverbs 18:21 that says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Here’s another nice analogy:  words are like a knife. In the hands of a careful and skilled surgeon, a knife can work to do great good. But in the hands of a careless or ignorant person, a knife can cause great harm. The same goes to the words we use.

In my journey to master the art of public speaking, my strategy has simple: be structured and perfect it with hard work. During university, I would spent countless hours creating the perfect script and memorize it with unparalleled fervor. I then would go to the class the night before wearing my suit and tie and rehearse until I feel I got it. In an effort to relieve my tension, I had to be perfect. Only now have I realized that there is no such thing as perfection. Rather it is a matter of being true to who you are – that is, being authentic. Many times my presentations and public speeches were good because I’ve put in the hours – but it wasn’t ‘great’ because I lost my authenticity in the process. As I became more comfortable speaking in front of public at work, I began to take a calculated risk and speak without a memorized script. I continued to prepare the upcoming presentations with great zeal, but I intentionally forced myself to be comfortable speaking with the flow.

Nick Morgan, nation’s renowned communication expert, shares four steps to become an authentic speaker on Harvard Business Review. I’ve found these four steps helpful in my development as a more authentic speaker.

1.      Being Open to Your Audience

To rehearse being open, practice your speech by envisioning what it would be like to give your presentation to someone you’re completely comfortable with. The person could be your spouse, a close friend, or your child. Notice especially what this feels like: This is the emotional state you want to be in when you deliver the speech.

This state leads to more natural body language, such as smiles and relaxed shoulders. And the behaviors in turn lead to more candid expression of your thoughts and feelings.

2.      Connecting with Your Audience

As you practice your speech, think about wanting to engage with your listeners. Imagine that a young child you know well isn’t heeding you. You want to capture—and keep—his attention however you can.

In such situations, you don’t strategize; you simply do what feels natural and appropriate. For example, you increase the intensity or volume of your voice or move closer to your listener. During your actual speech, these behaviors will happen naturally and with the right timing.

3.      Being Passionate About Your Topic

While rehearsing, ask yourself what in your topic you feel deeply about: What’s at stake? What results do you want your presentation to produce? Focus not on what you want to say but on why you’re giving the speech and how you feel about it. Let the underlying emotion come out in every word you deliver during rehearsal. You’ll infuse the actual speech with some of that passion and come across as more human and engaging.

4.      “Listening” to Your Audience

To practice fulfilling this aim, think about what your listeners will likely be feeling when you step up to begin your presentation. Are they excited about the future? Worried about bad news? As you practice, imagine watching them closely, looking for signs of their response to you.

During your presentation, you’ll be more prepared to identify the emotions your listeners are sending to you via nonverbal means. And you’ll be able to respond to them appropriately; for example, by picking up the pace, varying your language, asking an impromptu question, or even eliminating or changing parts of your talk.

Watch this minute and half clip from Nick Morgan who explains the four steps to becoming an authentic speaker. Enjoy!

 [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5r1k9wKV77U]

Morgan, N. (2008). How to Become an Authentic Speaker. Harvard Business Review, 115-119.