Conversationally Speaking

"Would you like to say a few words?" How many of us dread that request? The thought of speaking off the cuff can terrify even veteran speakers. But what about the ability to give a prepared speech and sound natural?

As a speech coach, I see hundreds of people who are wedded to their words. Like Linus clutching his blanket, they won't let go of their script. The result can be a presentation that sounds canned, insincere, boring, and dispassionate. So how do you sound conversational?

Know your content cold. You may be reading word for word because you don't have a command of the material. To practice sounding conversational, choose a subject that you know very well.

Use bullet points. Once you have scripted your message, take each main point and create an outline. Under each main point, write a subpoint.

Memorize concepts, not words. To sound conversational, get the concept in your mind. Forget about stringing words together in perfect sequence. Actors are masters at memorizing words and delivering them naturally. Most of us fail miserably at that. If you forget a word, you will freeze. If you memorize the concept you can explain it in your own words, much like you would in a personal conversation. Each time you may say it differently. So what? Nobody will know the difference. The proof of the pudding is this: Did the message come across?

Build stories, analogies, and metaphors. Presenters are most natural when they are telling stories. Stories are visual with a built in sequence. You don't have to memorize words. You only need to recall the experience. By telling stories, and adding metaphors and analogies, you will find your passion. Watch how your new enthusiasm draws in your listeners.

Put yourself in the listener's shoes. How do you feel when a telemarketer calls you and reads a script? You wouldn't buy from that person. Why? They don't sound like they know the product if they have to read. And they sound dispassionate. That's what it's like for your audience when you read your speech.

Imagine speaking to one person. It's rare for a person to memorize words when speaking to one person. Instead of giving a speech to a group, imagine you are having a conversation with one person. You'll be amazed at how much more animated and natural you will sound.

Face your fear. Most people are afraid they will blank out. That's why they memorize and cling to the written word. And that fear usually manifests. A better idea is to plan your recovery. If you are afraid you will blank out by being conversational, have a back-up plan. Have some humorous lines you can whip out. Practice feeling comfortable with a dramatic silence. Have an audience exercise you can try.

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse and let go. The only way to know your content cold is to practice out loud and time yourself. When you get to a point where you are comfortable, stop rehearsing and let go. Get a good night's sleep. Let all that practice you did seep into your unconscious. You'll wake up feeling more confident.

The next time you have a presentation, remember it's just a conversation.

Copyright Diane DiResta 2005. All rights reserved.

Diane DiResta, President of DiResta Communications, Inc. is an International speaker, coach, and author of Knockout Presentations: How to Deliver Your Message with Power, Punch, and Pizzazz. To subscribe to Impact Player, a free online newsletter visit http://www.diresta.com.

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