Nobody listens as you speak? Don’t fret-all you require is structured preparation and practice to help you make an impact, and inspire and impress people with your ideas and speech
Anubha Sawhney was initiated into public speaking at an early age as the primary school head girl, a role that involved a smattering of speech making. She was also active in inter-class elocution competitions, and all of this has stood her in good stead, personally and professionally even later in life. Sawhney feels speaking well is always a plus. She says, “It gives you confidence and keeps you relevant and interesting. But public speaking is both about confidence and content. Beyond a point, one cannot exist without the other.”
There is no single formula for a great talk, but a variety of things come together to make for a good public speaker–from powerful body language, to content that can hold your audience, to the storytelling ability, to using your vocal toolbox with varying pitch and tone. Says Raksha Luthra, an English teacher who grooms children for debates in a Rohini-based public school: “I find many kids have a tendency to use verbal fillers such as “uh,” “um,” “er,” or “like”. A certain number of verbal pauses are perfectly fine, but when your speech is peppered with too many ‘ums’ and ‘uhs’, it gets distracting and annoying. Some people also move their hands without purpose. Speaking in a monotone is a sure-fire way to lose the interest of your listeners and varying the pitch and volume of your voice will add interest. I ask my kids to listen to good speakers and try to imitate how they give public speeches.”
Fifteen-year-old Nargis was caught unawares when asked to deliver a speech at her grandparent’s golden anniversary. At his uncle’s Zoom chautha, Mahesh was asked to deliver a condolence message. After shopping at a mall, the cameras caught up with Divya and she was asked to narrate her shopping experience post Covid.
These aren’t presentations at the workplace and yet they are day-to-day incidents where you are expected to stand up on your two feet and speak up. Says Nargis, “Earlier I used to have sweaty palms, a shaky voice, a dry throat, have difficulty breathing, and even experience short-term memory loss. But after speaking in front of the mirror and working on my breathing, I have overcome this public speaking anxiety.”
Today at every juncture of life, one is required to speak up–be it as a student in school or while making a presentation at the workplace, or an elevator pitch as a startup founder. Is it possible for anyone to start learning how to speak at any phase of one’s life? And how important is it to get coached? Indeed, you are never too old or too young to become a better speaker, says Margaret Page, International President at Toastmasters 2021-22, who adds, “Day-to-day life equips us with the necessary skills to communicate with one to three or even five people at a time if your family is large. However, most likely day-to-day life does not require us to speak or present to groups of six and beyond. Nor does day-to-day give us the skills, tools or format to continue to grow our speaking or communication skills in a dynamic way.”
Page says Toastmasters International has a multi-level learning platform that helps its members grow. There is learning from the programme called Pathways Learning Experience, learning from the model which is the club model, learning from serving in leadership in the Toastmasters movement and learning from the content of fellow members.
“The learning environment is self-paced and peer mentored within a safe and supported community. In Toastmasters there is always someone who will walk beside you to support you in your learning and growth,” she says. Toastmasters International membership is priced at $45 for six months.
The earlier you start, the better it is. Which is why most of these programmes are launched at the school level. Take the case of Mock United Nations, a simulation of UN debates that helps kids enhance their general knowledge and build global awareness. One of its main objectives is to help students develop essential soft skills such as public speaking, debating, collaborative problem solving, conflict resolution among others.
The registration fee for the World Scholar’s Cup Rounds in India is usually Rs 2,500-3,000 per participant. Says Vishal Verma Director – World Scholar’s Cup (WSC): “It is possible to start at any phase in one’s life and learn how to speak. We find that students in the 12-14 age group are the most enthusiastic and we get the most takers for our programme from this lot. At the World Scholar’s Cup, most participants have never debated before or spoken in public before.
We give them an easy introduction to public speaking via team debate. We don’t have too many rules for the debate.”
Each team of three gets 15 minutes to prepare once the debate motion is announced during which they can use their devices to access the internet. Each speaker then gets up to four minutes to speak with a gap of 60 seconds in between speakers. At the end of the debate, there is peer feedback.
“The judge does not provide any feedback as sometimes it can be harsh. Instead, the students give constructive feedback to each other to become better debaters,” Verma explains.
Tips and tricks
First and foremost, research the audience. Before any speaking opportunity, get some information about the audience. This will help you to tailor your speech to their needs and level of knowledge. Second, be prepared. The more prepared you are, the less nervous you will be. Research your topic thoroughly and prepare your speech and then practice, practice, practice. “Stay calm. Try to overcome your nerves. This may be the hardest thing for some people, but it’s important to relax and be yourself. You can use relaxation techniques such as controlled breathing to calm your nerves and make sure you are prepared,” says Mumbai-based trainer Ashima Puri.
Says Toastmasters’ Page: “Feel the fear and do it anyway. Be willing to be curious, ask questions and explore different ideas and perspectives. In the last decade, we have learned so much about how adults grow, the mind works and how to make information stick. Be willing to uncover fascinating ways to share your information and influence others.” Make being a better communicator a lifelong quest. It’s an art.
Finally, it’s not just how you say it, but what you say, makes all the difference. Content and delivery are two sides of the same coin. And they both contribute equally to the value the audience receives. Says WSC’s Vishal Verma, “Content and presentation are both equally important. Presentation without solid content would be akin to talking superfluously and such a speech is unlikely to persuade people or leave any kind of impact. At the World Scholar’s Cup, the key criteria for judging a debate are content, presentation and strategy.”
“An important thing in communication is listening,” says Sunit Tandon, who has been a television anchor and a radio broadcaster. “First of all, know what you want to say. And not only in terms of your own voice but also the kind of impact it might be making on others. If you are speaking to a live audience, you must be able to sense the live audience mood, as to how much they can take, at what level you have to pitch your conversation to them or whatever you have to say to them.”
Table: Hone your communication skills with these courses below:
|Platform||Course name||Membership fee (Rs)|
|Mumbai Toastmasters-MTM||One-time joining fees of 3,500; recurring fee of 750 per month|
|Dale Carnegie Successful Public Speaking (+On Demand Bonus)||28,695 per person (Duration: 1 session, 3 hours)|
|World Scholar’s Cup||World Scholar’s CupRegistration||2,500-3,000 per participant for a 2-day event|
|Udemy||3,499 (4.5 hours on-demand video)|
|3,499 (1 hour on-demand video)|
|1,280 (33 mins on-demand video)|
|Ted Master Class||Ted Master Class Course||3,725+ tax (one-time) Unlimited Access to TED Masterclass course content|
|Future Leader programme (For 10-16-year group)||6,903 (1hr, 12-day programme)|
|5,723 (1hr, 12-day programme)|
|Public Speaking Level 1 (9-13 years)||4,543 (1 hr)|
|Public Speaking Level 1 (13 to 18 years)||4,543 (1 hr)|
|Pep Talk India||Super Human Skills Online Course- Pep Talk India|
|Coursera||Dynamic Public Speaking by University of Washington|
|Introduction to Public Speaking||3,685 (1 month, 15 hrs/week), 7,742 (3 months, 5 hrs/week), 11,060 (6 months, 3 hrs/week)|
|Edx||Public Speaking||14,845 (4-6 hours per week, 3 weeks)|
|Wabs Talk||Spoken English, Public Speaking & Personality Development (Also Available Online)||15,000 (2 hours, 6 days a week, 1 month)|
|LinkedIn Learning||Communicating with Confidence||1st Month Free Trial/1,150 (duration 1h 16m)|
|Virtual Speech||Virtual Speech||A. Monthly: 3,300 per month;|
|Model United Nations Institute||MUN 101 Workshop||3,641 (3-hour Workshop)|
Credit: TechSci Research