On April 10, Kathleen Sebelius stepped down as Health and Human Services Secretary following the plague-ridden rollout of Obamacare. Putting the debate of the American healthcare system on the backburner for a few minutes, something stood out to the entire nation during her resignation speech – an entire page of notes was missing!
Days, weeks, even months may have been spent perfecting this speech, from the language used to the carefully-planned pauses to hair and outfit choices. Having a page go missing surely caused a few heart attacks behind the scenes.
Sebelius handled the unfortunate situation with poise and professionalism, even laughing at herself. But there is a lesson to be learned from her gaffe.
Whether you are speaking in front of 10 people or an entire nation, keep these helpful tips in mind when you’re giving a speech.
1. Know your stuff. Yes, notes are great, but as we saw, pages get lost. If you have the luxury of using a teleprompter (couldn’t Obama lend his beloved teleprompter to Sebelius for a few minutes?!), you may think you are set but, according to Murphy’s Law, anything that can go wrong, will.
When preparing for a speech, it is important to have thorough understanding of your key points and supporting facts from start to finish. You should be able to speak comfortably and confidently without the crutch of your notes. A missing page or technology fail should not be the reason your speech ends early. Taking the extra time to know your facts will go a long way.
2. Make yourself at home. When you step up in front of your audience, take a few seconds to look around and familiarize yourself with your surroundings. Get to know the room you are about to own. Make eye contact with a few members of the audience; acknowledging their presence will help them connect with you and will provide a newly familiar focal point for when you are speaking.
3. Talk to your audience, not at your audience. When you start speaking, start with an anecdote. Frame your stats, ask the audience a question they can ponder during your presentation and come back to it at the end, or open with a bold statistic.
Using these techniques to engage the room will help keep your audience’s attention from beginning to end. Using “we” instead of “I” will help you, the speaker, and the audience remain on the same level from start to finish.
The extra time you take preparing your speech will calm your nerves and help you better connect with the audience. It is imperative that you know the subject you are speaking to and what you hope to achieve at the end. To keep your speech focused, ask yourself:
- “What is my goal?”
- “What am I trying to convey?”
- “What do I want my audience taking away from this?”
Also, double-, triple- and quadruple-check all your pages are there and have a backup copy!
Jessica Spremo is our public speaking-savvy Account Coordinator. Follow her on Twitter.
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