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Raise a toast to speech-making

Injecting a dose of humour is among a number of ways of enhancing a speech to an audience, according to Frances Cahill of Toastmasters International.

Wit serves to endear the speaker to the audience and help to put them at ease, according to the consultant at the not-for-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills.

Smiling and looking audience members in the eye exudes confidence, which also helps audiences to engage, Ms Cahill said.

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She added: “If you still feel your stomach churning and your legs wobbling, act as if you are cool and calm. Don your mask of confidence, smile, look them in the eye and speak. They will never know that inside bubbles volcanic dread ready to erupt but held in check by a cool, calm exterior.

“The ‘I’ word is powerful. Use it often, but use it judiciously. Use it to reach out and connect with your listeners. Use it to express feelings, experiences and thoughts. The ‘I’ comes from your heart, your soul and encapsulates your individuality – the part of your business that no one else can copy.”

A picture also speaks a thousand words, she said, therefore, the use of visual imagery can go some way in stimulating an audience.

She added: “Your background, your history and your experience are unique. People love to hear others share their unique perspectives. Use material from your past or present as an avenue into your content. It allows others to enter your world and experience it through your eyes.”

Ms Cahill also outlines a number of tips to improve proficiency prior to giving a speech. Speaking in public at any given opportunity among different groups of people allows individuals to develop the skill.

Speakers should also source a mentor, who, Ms Cahill said, should be able to help them develop through listening, feedback and advice.

She added: “Set goals. Adjust them. Review them. Always set them a little beyond your reach so that you have to stretch. Often, today’s ‘stretching’ is tomorrow’s ‘within reach’.

“Try and try again. Keep on getting up and giving it a go. No matter how badly you feel it went – and it is usually never as bad as you think – get up, try again and focus on improving through practice.”

Adviser view

Lee Clarkson, managing director at Spires Independent based in Staffordshire, said: “Teachers learn about how to engage pupils by altering their pitch and tone. Some of the best presenters are able to do just this and engage with the audience, even if the topic they are speaking about is dry. I’m also not a fan of people who simply read off the slides they’ve prepared. I find that this stops a speech from flowing. Also, you find that written material is full of technological jargon that is easily digestible when you see it on paper, but easier to miss when spoken aloud.