Up Your Oral Skill

Heed these tips and you’ll ace those presentations as well as any impromptu speech you might need to make.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Heed these tips and you’ll ace those presentations as well as any impromptu speech you might need to make.

My Reading Room

The Impromptu Toast/Speech

There are the times when you know it’s coming (like your best friend’s wedding) and times when you’re suddenly shoved into the spotlight, be it at your surprise birthday party or the first day on the job. While it’s a major compliment to be invited to give a speech, it can sometimes be petrifying. So what do you do?

The expert’s advice:

While you may be tempted to dish the dirt on your friends or roast a colleague (especially after a gulp of wine or two), speechwriting pro Ian Heydon urges you to remember it’s all about celebration, not humiliation. “Think about the achievements, hurdles that you’ve overcome and the future. There’s room for embarrassing anecdotes, but keep it light.”

Bonus tips:

1 Consider your audience. If it’s a family affair, expect mums, dads, gong gongs and po pos to be scattered through the crowd. So make sure you won’t touch on anything that would set someone’s heart rate through the roof before launching into an “And that’s why she doesn’t drink tequila anymore” story.

2 Be heartfelt over going for laughs. Gently poking fun at someone is fine, but making them the butt of a joke isn’t. Humiliation isn’t traditional, it’s mean. 

The Work Presentation

After weeks of preparation, your boss has arrowed you to be the one to tie it all together and deliver the big presentation to the clients. Nail it, and you’re on the fast track up the ladder. Stumble, and it’s a long climb back up.

The expert’s advice:

First of all, be yourself and try to keep it conversational. “Imagine you’re chatting to your closest colleague, but make sure you’re sweeping the room with eye contact to involve everyone,” suggests Ian. Keep it clear and easy to follow. “That way, you won’t lose the plot while getting your point across,” says Ian.

Bonus tips: 

1 Be wary when trying to crack a joke, as the risks outweigh the benefits. If you really want to, make sure it’s a general statement (i.e., the “wonderful” weather) that won’t offend anybody.

2 At work presentations, you never know who’s going to be sitting in the room and who you might offend. “You should avoid topics like sex, politics and religion. If there’s a butt of any joke, make it yourself,” says author and comedian David Smiedt. If you bust out a joke and hear nothing but crickets, you might have to do some backtracking. “Many a career has been damaged by an ill-advised attempt at humour,” he warns. 

Top 5 Delivery Tips

Remember these, and public speaking will never be a terror.

-Don’t write your speech out word-for-word. Notes are key. Nobody wants to hear what they’re reading on the screen, or a speech with no emotion.

-Practice out loud in front of your mirror/dog. Saying words aloud will help you see where you might stumble.

-Take deep breaths before a big speech. Set aside one minute beforehand to centre yourself.

-Talk slower than you think. Nerves often speed us up – that one hour you thought you were talking for? Yeah, it was only two minutes.

-Pause and make eye contact. It keeps your audience engaged and focused on you.

Images 123RF.com Text Joash Kong.