During the Great Depression, there was a public figure who showed no talent for public speaking. No, not the stuttering King George VI, subject of last year’s Best Picture Oscar, “The King’s Speech.” I’m talking about a woman who began as an embarrassingly bad public speaker, uttering high pitched giggles and wiggling her hands, distracting the audience. Eventually, though, she became a noted speaker, the first American woman to make money as a lecturer, and the most influential First Lady in an era when women had just attained the vote.
Yes, this once awkward speaker was the commanding former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Glenn LeBoeuf, investment advisor for Freedom Capital Management, whose speaking career I described in Part I of this series, says Eleanor Roosevelt is a striking example of someone whose passion transformed her from a weak speaker to a leading voice who moved audiences.
“She had authority because she never looked down at her notes. She would speak from the heart, make eye contact, and she learned to control her giggling,” LeBoeuf told me. “Her conviction was what made her great.”
I also spoke with DonnaLyn Giegerich, who’s hosting a women’s networking breakfast in Red Bank on Feb. 10th called “Brains & Beauty: Branding Your Bold 2012.” She offered advice for how to create a credible brand through public appearances, even if your topics have nothing to do with what you’re selling.
“Nobody likes to be pitched insurance,” she said. “But everybody wants to know how to be empowered, how to be resilient in life.”
Understanding What Audiences Want
According to both of these practiced orators, public speaking skills don’t necessarily arrive with you in the cradle. Even a poor speaker can become competent, and a proficient speaker can become great. They generously offered their practical tips for getting started.
From Giegerich, who coaches speakers:
- Define your expertise around your passion. Create a short speaking program highlighting your knowledge on a purposeful topic, e.g. “Four Ways to Improve Your Social Media Prowess” or “Three Ways to Balance Your Life.”
- Generally, audiences want to be entertained first and educated second. You needn’t be a comedian, but enthusiasm and great energy will enliven your presentation and allow you to connect more effectively with your audience. Be authentically you, share your giftedness and knowledge base, and keep your language and commentary positive, forward moving and a value-add.
- Practice, practice, practice. Tape/video your presentation. Speak it in the mirror. Do a trial run with trusted viewers. Hire a speaking coach. Improve your performance in meaningful ways at each engagement and always seek out constructive feedback. It’s how we all improve!
And here’s what LeBoeuf advised:
- Some of the worst talks I’ve seen were Ph.Ds or authors who sat and read their notes. Powerpoint presentations can be deadly. People give too much information. If I use them, every fifth slide will be a cartoon, either funny or something about human nature to lighten things up. Don’t read your slides or your audience will be asleep in ten seconds.
- Most rookie mistakes are trying to cram too much in. Make your outline concise and time it. Pace it to the time allowed.
- Strictly identify your target market. I suggest not charging for your appearances at first. Be purely informative and don’t sell. Libraries are good. Have your picture up for a month. People will see you, and may jot down your name even if they don’t go to see you speak. It’s valuable exposure.
- Pay for a professional photo showing yourself in front of an audience. This lends authority.
With time and practice, you can improve your public speaking skills, and if you do it enough, it’ll become a valuable part of your branding and marketing.