Even You Can Learn to Command a Room

September 22, 2007

Many CEO’s of successful companies have a commanding presence, but it’s often a misnomer that they are innately charismatic. More often than not, these are skills they have developed through communications and media training as well as hours upon hours of speech and presentation rehearsals.

That should be good news for anyone who finds him- or herself challenged in public speaking, because it’s without a doubt a skill that can be learned. Important techniques for commanding a room include the following:

Audience Connection: Eye contact is critical in connecting with your audience. That’s why it’s important to know your material so well that you can avoid reading the speech or looking downPodium_spkr.jpg at note cards. If you are speaking to a group of five or as many as 100 and not making direct eye contact with individuals, they often feel excluded or ignored. It’s the same neglected feeling, if you focus your eye contact to only one side of the room. If your audience is large, you can tackle this problem, by looking directly at one person in each section (front, back, left and right). If done correctly, several people in each section you focused your eye contact on will feel that they were the targets of your eye contact.

When people first learn to speak to audiences without notes, they often speak to the top of their heads, rather than zeroing their focus at eye level of individual audience members. This is the same principle in one-on-one conversations: people doubt the sincerity of someone who talks to them while looking over their shoulder or at the floor.

Speakers who make eye contact with their listeners are often perceived as sincere, credible and confident. These are crucial parts of having your message accepted by your listeners. As a result, you command their attention.

Gestures: Confident and direct hand gestures should be used to help illustrate points throughout the speech. Avoid random fidgeting or repeating the same movements unless they add to the specific spoken points.

One technique in developing this skill is to read through your speech and circle words that can be acted out. Next, practice inserting those movements into your rehearsal until they become second nature.

Rehearsal: Practice is absolutely critical. The great communicators, from Apple CEO Steve Jobs to Cisco’s John Chambers, are great speakers because they know how essential this point is. A great written speech can be ruined by bad delivery due to lack of preparation.

Enthusiasm: Great speakers exude passion for what they are promoting. If a speaker acts as though he doesn’t care much for the product he’s pitching, why should the audience. This energy needs to be maintained throughout the speech, because if you lose the audience at the beginning or halfway through, you have to work twice as hard to regain their attention.

Avoid PowerPoint Blunders: If you use slides in your speech, one of the most important things to remember is that the slides are only to be used as supportive material. The speaker is the star, and the slides should aim to visually illustrate key points in the talk.

Each slide should not be cluttered with multiple themes, but rather limited to a single point. Less words the better. Keep it visual. Otherwise, the audience is conflicted. Do they read the bullet points or pay attention to what you are saying? Keep the focus on the star: You!



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