Public speaking scaring you to death? Try R.I.P!

The following article was written by Robin Chawner, DTM, and was published in Issue 81 of the Hampshire Independent on 14 March 2014. Robin is an active Toastmaster in multiple clubs across Hampshire, including Hamwic Speakers. His article is published here with his permission.

Public speaking scaring you to death? Try R.I.P!

In a top ten list of fears, public speaking out-ranks death; because it combines fears of the unknown, failure, rejection, or being challenged.

Be re-assured by three powerful aids. 1 Prepare in advance. 2 Your audience wants you to succeed, because then they benefit from listening. 3 Our formula, set out here, with nine key activities, grouped in threes, each beginning with one of the three letters R. I. P.

To start; the three Rs.

Our first R is Research. What’s the audience expecting? What’s its profile? Venue logistics? How do you want to make your audience feel? They may forget what you said, may forget how you said it. But they’ll never forget how you made them feel!

Next, R is Rehearse. Practice your speech.  Use feedback to improve. Make every word count. Signpost your structure. Master visual aids. Practice vocal variety and gestures.

Keep to time. We speak, on average, 1.5 words a second. Use that as a guide. Franklin Roosevelt said: “If you want a half hour speech I can do it tomorrow; if you want a ten minute version you’ll have to wait a fortnight!”

Our third R Re-write. ‘Cut and polish’ your speech. Use uncomplicated language. Paint pictures with words. Engage your audience with rhetorical devices such as, alliteration. Delete disposable detail.

Now for our three ’Is’.

First I is Invite.  Listeners like being engaged. Make welcoming, open gestures. Ask rhetorical questions. Keep eye contact.  Use we, us, our, you, your. John Kennedy famously said: “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.”

Next I is Insight.  A new insight inspires. An astronaut, marvelling at our spinning earth below, said: “On terra firma maps, continents are divided by country boundary lines.  I never thought about it before. There are no lines from up here!”

Our third I – Ignite. Carefully-crafted sentences, pauses and timing act like blue touchpaper – you light the fuse! Nelson Mandela said: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

Now for our three Ps.

First P – Profess. Connect with your audience. Declare your intent. Jesus said: “Come to me – and I will make you fishers of men.” Winston Churchill’s wartime speeches inspired victory because that was his crystal clear intent.

Next P is Progress. Keep your audience alert. Make logical links and transitional pauses between sections. Try changing your floorspace position.

Our final PPossess. Our audiences like to be possessed.

Enact R.I.P.

David Attenborough recounted magical encounters with Africa’s great silverback gorillas. He painted a powerful, poignant cameo.

“I lay down on my back at full stretch, my bare feet facing the gorilla. At first shy, he stood stark still then ambled forward, paused, locked his eyes on to mine, bent down and delicately stroked my bare soles with his fingers. It tickled; tempted me to titter.”

David was possessed. After a pause, he added: “Two days later – at a tourist souvenir stall – a gorilla’s hand, like the one that tickled my feet was on display for sale – as an ashtray.” You could have heard a pin drop among the 400-strong audience. They had been possessed; they exploded with applause.

To sum up. Forget ‘gravestone grief’. Think ‘successful speeches’. Enact R.I.P.