One of the hardest things for a speaker to do, is to come over naturally. In other words, we can talk easily and fluently to our friends in the pub or round the coffee pot. Put us in front of an audience and the chances are we will more resemble a sick of wood than a stick of dynamite.
Are some people more ‘natural speakers’ than others?
Can anyone become better at it, even more natural?
Yes they can.
In my view, really good trainers help people get rid of what’s in their way, rather than try and impose a way of speaking. The longer I work with people on their speeches or presentations, the more I realise the most help I can give is to help them strip away what they don’t need. In other words, I’m helping them discover or uncover a way of communicating which comes most naturally to them. If it feels forced, if they’ve been told ‘You have to do it this way’, then the chances are they will not come over ‘naturally’.
There can be a physical obstacle, like tension in the neck or breathing high into the chest, so they can’t produce a clear and relaxed sound. It might be convoluted speech with lots of jargon and long, important-sounding words that are likely to baffle an audience rather than impress or enlighten them. It could be use of action-packed slides which simply detract from the speaker’s story, rather than adding to it.
If it’s a physical obstacle, we can identify and, usually, deal with it. Language can be simplified and concepts can be explained using metaphor. Christopher Turk, in his excellent book ‘Public Speaking’ (now sadly out of print, although sometimes available on Amazon) remarks “It is rare that an expert ever makes his subject too simple”. Too true! Speakers can judge whether or not they actually need accompanying props or ‘visuals’. They often do better without them. Sound and react more naturally without them.
Passion and Practise
What speakers really need is a passion for their subject and the time to structure, hone and practise their speech. Of course people lead very busy lives and time is short. However, if you want to be a really effective and engaging speaker, you need to either have the confidence and ability to speak from the heart and off the cuff or you need to put the time in. Rehearsing out loud takes time, but is essential if you want to hone and practise what you are saying to the best of your abilities. Think of someone you know who seems to glide effortlessly through speeches. They look like they enjoy talking and they like to engage. Here’s one I can think of:
What you can do
1. Release tension in the body and make sure you are balanced (Have a look at my videos – loads there to help you).
2. Build a story / narrative structure and avoid jargon
3. Practise. Out loud. And again. What have you discovered? What might you change? How can you improve? What sounds like the language you would use in day to day speech? What sounds natural?