7 Tips to Effective Public Speaking from a Photographer | How to Not Suck

Yesterday was President Obama's final State of the Union address in Washington DC. Following the President's speech was the Republican rebuttal by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. President Obama is a master communicator, we all know this. Governor Haley's speech on the other hand, got me thinking about this post to help our clients speak more effectively.

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Here is the thing: I don't have any formal speaker training. I've never taken a class (though I have read several great books on speaking).

But I do have one thing many people don't. Over the past 12 years, I have photographed about 50 speakers a year throughout the Midwest.

That means I've sat through about 600 speeches as a photographer.

Would you like to know how many of them I would give a "Good" rating of 8 or higher on a scale of 1 - 10?

Probably 6.

Yes, seriously 6 out of the 600 speeches I've photographed. 

Most people are so nervous about speaking that they end up SUCKING!

That's the reaction I had after watching President Obama, and Governor Nikki Haley. They weren't even in the same league. President Obama made her look like she was running for high school class president. That being said, there is the possibility that I am not the best listener (both my wife and my mother would agree with that statement), but after seeing both the speeches last night, I realized this post needed to be written.

With 600+ events under my belt and watching two specific performances in the political world, I thought I would give you 7 tips that will help you improve your audience engagement the next time you speak.

Just as a side bar, none of the suggestions below are aimed at any one person I have photographed in the past. It is simply a collection of ideas that I have come up with after watching so many folks who COULD HAVE delivered an effective speech, but fell flat in delivery.

7 Tips to More Effective Speaking

1) Look Sharp

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Be sure to look sharp. When you look good, you feel good.

That means if you have a beard, get it trimmed and clean it up. If you're clean shaven, be sure and shave that morning. Trim your nose hairs (yes, I notice them). Get a haircut a week before you speak. That way you don't look like you've walked out of the barber and onto the stage.

These things seem like simple no brainers, but you would be amazed at how many people come into a room and haven't done these basics.

2) Style Yourself

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Have clothes that are in style and are tailored to your body type.

I have photographed way to many men wearing pleated pants suits from the 1990s that were never tailored to fit their body. If you're slim, get a slim fit suit along with a slim fit shirt.

If you're wearing clothes that are too big for you or out of style, it takes away the effectiveness of your message to the audience.

"Dress for success" is not a statement to be thrown away, it really does work.

3) Lower the Microphone

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I have photographed many speakers in hotel ballrooms or community rooms that don't know how to properly use a microphone.

If you're using a mic that is on the podium, be sure to lower it about 6 - 12 inches below your chin. If you take a look at President Obama, the mic is below the knot of his necktie, not up by his mouth.

If you're using a handheld mic, there is a way you can be more effective as well. Most folks hold a handheld mic down around their sternum, right near their heart. Or they hold the mic directly in front of their mouth, covering it so the audience cannot see their lip movement.

Both of these lead to bad sound quality (statements like "We can't hear you...) or a lack of engagement because your audience cannot tell if you're smiling or not.

The proper place for a handheld mic is directly below your chin. I've seen speakers who reminded themselves of this by actually touching the mic to their chin as soon as they began speaking. This way they knew the mic was in its proper place.

This allows a speaker to use his or her facial expressions to their advantage while speaking, rather than lose out on that vital part of communication.

4) Remove Your Name Tag

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This is a very simple one, but many speakers forget.

Remember, if you're being introduced by an emcee, then your audience is going to know who you are.

To stay in sync with point #2, Style Yourself, remove the name tag.

5) Don't Drink (or at least keep beverages hidden)

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I know you're going to get thirsty during your speech. I know you're going to want to take a quick drink.

I would suggest you simply don't do it. You should have the ability to speak for 10 minutes without drinking anything.

When you do take a drink, all that happens is you lose momentum and you lose a large part of your audience. 

If you have to have a beverage, have a glass of water out of site (in the podium) or on the table. A glass of water is much less distracting compared to a plastic bottle that you have to pick up, unscrew a cap from, take a drink and then put a cap back on to.

6) Pause When Speaking (and breath)

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Did you know when speaking, there are correct times to pause?

Many times a speaker is so excited about his or her topic they simply blurt out what they know as fast as they can.

In doing so, they are much less effective in their delivery.

Are you asking a question? Then pause and allow your audience a moment to think.

Are you making a powerful statement? Then pause and allow your audience to process it.

President Obama demonstrated this well during his State of the Union speech, knowing when to pause and breath. It's something that the best speakers have mastered.

7) Smile More (Learn to Smile Talk)

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This tip is the simplest way to improve your speaking effectiveness.

Even when you think you're smiling, you're not.

Seriously, your mind may be telling you that you're smiling, but know that your audience cannot tell.

To them you simply look straight faced or worse, they think you're intense and angry.

And even when you have to deliver bad news, did you know that if smile when you do it, your audience will appreciate you for it? They will respond better, even to bad news, when you're smiling!

Go to your mirror and look at your face. Then give yourself a genuine smile and see what you look like.

Now try to talk while you have that great smile on your face.

Try saying the same words a second time without trying to smile.

You will notice that you look far less happy when you're talking the second time and not focusing on smiling.

I was so bad at this that I needed my wife to come up with a signal while I was speaking in case I wasn't smiling enough. She is usually with me when I speak, so I always know where she's sitting. If I ever see her give me a HUGE smile, it's a signal to me that I'm not smiling enough while I'm talking.

I have come to term this 'Smile Talking' and though it's joked about, it really will improve your speaking ability.

Imagine combining the principles of Pause when Speaking and Smile More? Do you know how much better your next speech is going to go?

When you deliver your speech with all the enthusiasm you can muster and implement these 7 tips to more effective speaking, your audience will thank you for them.

I would love to hear from you if you implement these points and it helps you reach your audience!

If you're organizing an event or have a VIP coming in to speak in the near future, the tips above are how we take photography to the next level for you. Don't be satisfied with simple, basic photography during your event. Think of photography as a way to continue the conversation after the event is over.

Use the contact form below to let us know what type of event you have coming up in the future and we will get back with you ASAP!

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Tiberius Images is a Grand Rapids photographer that photographs people, places and events. Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, they serve clients throughout the world and are available for travel.

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