Make Your Words Memorable

By Alexandra Drosu

Speeches have immense power. They can spur a class of eager college graduates or send humans to the moon. Undoubtedly, some of us were born to command a room from a podium, but what about the less loquacious? Public speaking is a regular occurrence, whether you’re giving a PowerPoint presentation or a celebratory toast. Still, it’s not uncommon to feel bashful when all eyes are on you. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the fear of public speaking surpasses the fear of death and affects 73 percent of the population. But guess what? With practice and preparation, you too can produce riveting rhetoric. We asked pros to share their secrets.


Be Authentic
In crafting a speech, keep these essential questions in mind: what’s the occasion and the purpose, and who is the audience? Dilip Abayasekara, a two-time finalist at the World Championship of Public Speaking and Toastmasters member for the past 32 years, says, “If people don't understand that what the speaker is talking about is relevant to their interests, they will stop listening. Make it worth their time.” Andy Meyer, a producer at TED Talks and media lecturer, adds, “I try to mix in a variety of personal experiences and anecdotes that are relevant to the theme, as well as tangible examples of the subject I’m speaking on.”

Start Strong
When crafting your opening, memorize the acronym ART, says Abayasekara: "First grab their attention—so A. R is for relevance; T stands for the topic.” Many people, like Meyer and film and TV director Jorge Gutiérrez, like to open with a tasteful joke to put people at ease. Caveat: humor that might appear inauthentic can backfire. Next, make sure you reduce the distance between the audience and yourself so they feel a connection. You do this by relating to them, usually through personal experience. And, lastly, state the topic clearly so expectations are set about the subject.

Practice, Practice, Practice
“When I first started out, I was terrible,” says Gutiérrez, who directed the award-winning The Book of Life. “I would get really nervous. Then I saw a documentary about stand-up comedians. They were all terrible when they first went onstage.” From then on, Gutiérrez volunteered to speak publicly as often as possible—the more he spoke, the better he got. “When I do a TED talk,” he says, “I rewatch it, and I try to figure out what didn’t work and what did work. That’s the only way to get better.”

Read Your Audience
Always make eye contact and acknowledge the audience’s response. Meyer recommends the flexibility of bullet points on index cards to keep you on track without seeming overly scripted. “Your message is a malleable thing,” says Abayasekara. “Be sensitive to the signals you are getting and adapt.” Look for other cues too, adds Meyer: is the audience smiling or nodding at key moments?

Rewire Your Brain
Abayasekara offers this strategy often used by athletes to ward off nerves. A day or two before you go onstage, imagine yourself giving the speech, creating a mental movie of the experience. “You can see the audience laugh when you hit that funny punchline. You can feel the timbre of your voice, and you can see yourself moving onstage. What you’re doing is, you are rewiring your brain. You’ll feel more prepared and set yourself up for success.”

Take It Slow
As a TV producer, Meyer always advises talent to speak slowly, to the point that it sounds too slow. “Most people in front of a crowd start talking so fast,” he says, “the message gets lost in the rapid fire of words.” Finally, to ease your apprehension, wise words from Mark Twain, “There are two types of speakers: those who get nervous and those who are liars.”

Article by Mosaic and provided courtesy of Morgan Stanley.

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