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The Truth About Public Speaking
Somebody is watching you.
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 by Ed Barks
Barks Communications

Ed BarksI admit it. When I attend presentations, seminars, and speeches, I pay as much attention to the speakers' delivery as I do to the content of their remarks.

I suppose that's only natural for someone who coaches people how to communicate in public forums. But I understand it can be a bit unnerving at times. 

For instance, I once moderated a discussion where the organizer failed to give the panelists any biographical information about me in advance (hint: Make sure you know who's going to be on the platform with you). It wasn't until afterwards that one panelist with a wealth of speaking experience, no less told me that she got a mild case of the jitters when she heard about my background during the introductions.

When cloaked in the anonymity of the peanut gallery, what do I watch for? Primarily, I look to see if the speaker is using all available tools to make a connection with the audience. Do audience members appear to be engaged or are they plagued by droopy eyelids? When the question and answer session arrives, is there a lot of back and forth or does everyone storm the exits?

Focusing on the speaker, does she demonstrate a passion for her topic and a desire to be there at that moment? Or is she bored and just going through the motions? If the size and format allow, did she mingle with audience members beforehand or stand to one side aloof, appearing not to care?

Other clues I monitor include the presenter's video and audio keys. On the video side, there are animation, eye contact, position, and props to consider. Is animation natural or is the speaker a statue? Is she making eye contact with the entire audience or just a sliver of it? Does she position herself clutching a podium for dear life or does she interact with the crowd? Do props (including things like overheads and multimedia slides) add to the presentation or serve to distract?

Audio keys include color, loudness, emotion, and rate. Does the speaker use colorful words that paint a vivid picture or do her words come across in shades of gray? Does she vary her loudness, using both softer and louder tones to capture the audience's ears? Is there some emotion behind her words; does she make her audience care? Is her cadence flat and droning, or does she alter her rate of speech on occasion and use pauses when appropriate?

I'm not suggesting you begin to dissect every presentation you attend. These insights are simply offered to help you when it's your time to shine in the spotlight.

Oh, and if one of these days you see someone walk up to a speaker who has just completed a particularly desultory oration and say, "We need to talk. I can help," please introduce yourself. I'd love to meet you. 

Ed Barks works with corporate and association executives who need a 
magnetic message and sharp communications skills. He is the author of 
The Truth About Public Speaking: The Three Keys to Great Presentations. Contact Ed at

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