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Successful Speaking: Pep, Polish, and Practice
Dorothy Leeds

What most speeches lack is pep. As a professional speaker and trainer, I hear the same basic errors in talks over and over again. To improve your next speech, whether it's to a small group or a packed auditorium, I suggest that you avoid these four boredom traps:

Unclear Purpose or Message. To correct this problem, ask yourself, "What do I want these people to know or do specifically as a result of hearing me speak?" Your talk should have a single clear-cut purpose. This purpose should be obvious to your audience.

Too Much Information. Since audience members can't concentrate for too long, and they forget a lot, make a few points and make them often. As Voltaire wrote, "Forgive me for writing such a long letter; I didn't have time to write a short one." A good guideline for a 20-minute speech is to cover four major points (one point every five minutes).

Poor or Unclear Organization. This error can be corrected by having a detailed outline. Would you construct a building without a foundation? Plan an opening, the main body of your speech, and a conclusion, zeroing in on your main points.

Monotonous Voice. This can be avoided by 1) asking questions (when you do, your voice automatically rises), and 2) using colorful language. For example, sauntered is a more effective word than walked. Paint as many verbal pictures as possible, especially in your examples, explanations, and stories.
These basics are essential for adding pep to your speech. Once you have mastered these, some fine points will add polish. Concentrate 70 percent of your time in selling your ideas, making your main points through supporting stories, examples, jokes (if they are well rehearsed and related to your subject), analogies, quotes, comparisons, and contrasts.

Here are four tips for giving your speech a professional touch:

1. Talk your speech, don't write it. Written and oral speech are very different. Your audience members should feel that you are talking to them, not reading to them. Memorize and practice your opening and conclusion. You can use note cards for the rest, as long as you keep it brief.

2. Prepare and practice all your transitions. Transitions are where you hear all the verbal ticks that betray the amateur: "Uh" or "Umm" or "OK." Be very clear each time you move from one point to the next.

3. Use visual aids. They can be as simple as an object. Avoid slides, unless you can control the lights. If you must use slides, use them for only part of your speech – no more than 40 percent.

4. Select a definitive tone or mood for your talk. Are you going to be casual, serious, chatty, humorous, challenging, dramatic? Be consistent in your style throughout your entire presentation.

There is no better way to improve your speaking ability than to practice. You feel confident about making sales calls, researching the market, or writing reports because you've done it before. Speaking can become just as easy. Pep, polish, and practice are the keys to successful speaking and to your self-confidence in front of a group.
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