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Professional Speakers: Interview with Jay Forte

Part 2

[This is a continuation of a two-part interview. You can read part 1 here.]

1. Motivational speeches. Some people like them, other despise them. What makes the difference? What makes a good motivational speech?

All speeches are really “motivational” speeches – the goal of every speech is to motivate the audience do to something, feel something or change something. So in the broadest of definitions, all speeches must be motivational. A truly exceptional motivation speech engages the audience to react.

The assessment of an inspirational versus informational speech is what draws strong audience opinions. Many audience members have an image of a preacher-type speaker, emotional and dramatic, and are turned off by this delivery method. A truly exceptional speaker always considers his audience and the way to engage them before preparing the speech. If the audience needs the emotional appeal and dramatic presence, then the speaker should consider it as an effective method to deliver his message. If not, it should be avoided.

2. Fear of public speaking - most people (including me) feel it at some level. What are some effective ways to overcome stage fright?

There are two ways to work on overcoming stage fright:

  • Know your material and its value to your audience. Be an expert.
  • Practice in front of all size groups to help your mind understand the dynamics of a group, what encourages your confidence and what undermines it.

Some people are naturally comfortable in front of an audience. Others need to work on their confidence and to practice the art of speaking in front of others. Practicing in front of an audience (of any size) helps the mind see the patterns of response that happen over and over. This helps the speaker develop some comfort with the reactions they see and experience.

To practice, first learn the dynamics of speaking – use of language, body language, the art of persuasion, presentations, etc. Once the process is understood, locate places to practice. These “practice places” could include Toastmasters or other speaking clubs, opportunities in the workplace or at civic events. Whenever possible, have yourself filmed as you present, as it will give you a fairer review of how you connect to audiences, use oral and body language and get your point across.

3. Good nonverbal communication is a big aspect of speaking well. How can someone who's not confident on stage develop his nonverbal communication skills?

Successful speakers rehearse in front of a mirror and commit to being filmed regularly. As great athletes review films of their performance in a game to improve, speakers can do the same. The more effective way to develop good nonverbal communication skills is through filming, since watching yourself in a mirror can be distracting. Inexpensive video camera and tripods should be part of the tools of any speaker.

Once recorded, review your presentation or speech in the following two ways:

  • Watch and listen – see how your verbal and non-verbal work together. Listen for vocal quality, pitch, volume, cadence and pronunciation. Asses its connection to your body language. Is it comprehensible? Does it send the same message? Is it professional?
  • Turn off the sound and just watch the body language. How do you move? What gestures are effective and what are ineffective? How is your eye contact? Do you have distracting habits (rocking, swaying, overly animated hand motions, rolling eyes, etc)?

Many speakers practice their gestures as they rehearse their speech. My experience is that this creates an unnatural and artificial look. Concentrate on and think about your content. Your body language will follow for emphasis and direction. This creates a far more natural look and encourages speaker credibility and authenticity.

4. "All great speeches are really more of a conversation than a presentation," you said earlier. The concept is great, but audiences are often reluctant to participate. How do you break through the shell?

There are two components that will encourage audience interaction:

  • Meaningfulness of topic
  • Ease of interactions

Audiences need to be reminded that for them to learn a skill, improve performance, change behavior (or whatever the specific goal of the speech is), will require practice. Couple an opening comment like this with a clear focus on the meaningfulness of the content for the audience, and most audiences will be glad to participate. The more meaningful the content, the more personally interested the audience is and therefore, the more willing they will be to listen and participate. It is critical for the speaker to understand his audience to determine which interactive methods to use to encourage their participation.

The second way to integrate the audience into the presentation is to make the interactions easy. Many speakers start slowly by using what is called a “pair share.” This is nothing more than a request that the audience turn to the right or left and tell the person next to them something. It could be a story about them, a specific need they want from the material, an experience from work…it just needs to be pertinent. As the audience sees that they are expected to contribute, that their contributions make the event more personal for them and that participating is easy and risk free, they start to participate.

Note that in every audience, there are always those who are willing to stand up and try things. Stay away from selecting audience members who do not volunteer for events or activities since this may shut them down or scare them out of the room. Start with volunteers for a public activity and then turn the learning back to each person to complete something privately. This activates everyone, gets everyone thinking, allows the social audience members to participate and the timid audience members to watch and contribute privately.

5. Say a person wants to improve his public speaking skills. How would you recommend he go about doing it? Reading about public speaking is one thing - but what specific actions can a person take?

For someone to improve, they must commit to the process. No great athlete or writer is successful without practice. So the first thing a novice speaker must do is to understand the nature of speaking, the components of a great speech (opening, content, closing, activities) and see speakers in action.

Once the process is understood, the novice speaker should join Toastmasters or another local speaking club. These organizations give direction, instruction and practice in the art of speaking. Watch videos of professional speakers (lists can be found through the local chapters of the National Speakers Association or on sites of national speaker bureaus), speak as often as possible in speaking groups and organizations, your workplace, church and civic events. Film yourself, record yourself. Listen to your voice and watch your body language. Have your audiences give you feedback about what engages them and what disengages them. Be open to their feedback as it is their perspective that drives your success. Mostly, the key to a successful speaker is to have fun. It is important to love your topic and to care about making a difference in your audience. Build this in and you will always connect with your audiences and become successful in speaking.

6. Anything else you'd like to add or think is important for us to know?

Speakers really need to be educators – they are trying to influence or change the audience’s behavior. That means that each speaking venue is really a learning environment. Presenting to adult audiences will require an understanding of how adults learn:

  1. Adults need to understand why – a speaker must always show the benefit of his material to the audience.
  2. They need to try things in order to learn or change behavior – adults remember 10% of what they hear, 60% of what they see and 90% of what they do.
  3. They need to relate what they hear to their experiences – adults assess all they hear against what they know. To provide something new, it must be delivered in terms of what they already know.
  4. They need time to think – always provide time for an adult audience to write notes, create an action or think about what they heard before you finish.

The more the speaking environment emulates a learning environment, the greater the audience connection to the speaker will be and the greater the likelihood that the content of the speech will be understood and implemented.

I'd like to thank Jay for his contribution to this site and to our mutual and continuing improvement. Happy speaking!


To quote one apt description description: "Jay Forte is a public speaker, focusing on helping managers become exceptional at what they do, including how to find the perfect employee for the job, and on the flip side, how to match employee talents to their positions. He has traveled around the country to speak and has written articles based on his observations. Each session he teaches is driven by his passion for achieving success through extraordinary means."

You can find out more about Jay and his programs by visiting Humanetrics LLC.

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