Speech-making for Executives

Five challenges that Executives face when giving a speech ... and how to tackle them

By Caroline Nderitu

As an accomplished high flyer the last thing you want is to fall flat on your face in full view of your staff, peers, the press, the country or the world at large. 

1.       The fear of Public Speaking

The anxiety might kick in immediately you are asked to speak, and understandably so. Everyone gets nervous when put on the spot, but the stakes are higher for an executive. Fear is a natural response and should be embraced simply as such - natural. Furthermore, it has its advantages. Chief among them is supplying you with the much-needed adrenaline to get through the entire experience. The onus is therefore on you to manage that fear, and most of all, carry on in spite of it.

Hint: Your tight schedule notwithstanding, make the time to rehearse your speech or presentation at least once before you position yourself in front of your audience. Better still; know your speech or presentation like the back of your hand. If all else fails, just pause and speak from the heart.

2.      Audience engagement

Speech presentation is not ‘speech reading’. Public Communication is a delicate art. It requires some effort and skill to keep the audience both attentive and interested. It begins with knowing your audience, understanding what they care about, what is important to them and appreciating their backgrounds and value systems. Make it worth their while.

Hint: Utilize eye contact, a warm smile (if the occasion warrants it), pauses for effect, gestures that reinforce your point, movement and of course tonal variation. A sense of humour is an indispensable tool. It helps to break the ice and establish a rapport with your audience. I concur with educationalist Frances Harvey Green, “Once you get them laughing and their mouths open, you can stuff something in.”

 3.      Getting the message across

Do you talk or do communicate? Whether you are speaking to persuade, to inform or to entertain, you want to return to your seat confident that you have driven your point home. You want the deal sealed, opinion swayed, crisis averted or concept grasped. There is no point of speaking, if you do not make your point.

Hint: People buy people first. Establish your credibility, earn the trust and goodwill of your audience, and then deliver your message. Let your personal commitment or conviction to the cause, product or service be obvious and even contagious to your audience.

 4.      Elocution

The manner in which words are pronounced varies from person to person.   Accents count as a natural component of our diversity and identity. However, if they are the reason we are misunderstood, misquoted or misinterpreted then they are a barrier to clear communication especially  when addressing an international audience.

Hint: Consider professional instruction in diction and accent reduction.

 5.      Sense of dress

Our dress code should not be dictated by personal taste, but rather by the nature of the occasion. People form an opinion within seven seconds of meeting you. Your overall appearance can greatly improve that perception and dictate future interaction. 

Hint: Take time to do your research on the difference between business casual and business formal, the psychology of colour, cultural dictates and the place of accessories.

Final Word:

In order to improve as a speaker, begin by recording or watching past recordings in which you feature. Then ask yourself these questions:

“Did this project me in the best light?”

“Did I get through to people and achieve my objectives?”

“Did I conceal my nervousness sufficiently and engage my audience fully?”

If not, what do you need to tweak to be that dynamic, engaging and powerful speaker?

When planning for your next speaking engagement or business presentation, you should consider some one-on-one Executive Coaching  so as to ensure that you are well equipped to communicate powerfully and effectively.

If you cannot hold the attention of others, you cannot achieve your intention.

The author is an Executive Coach and Certified Trainer in Public Speaking and Presentation Skills. She is based in Nairobi, Kenya

Copyright © Caroline Nderitu. 2013. All Rights Reserved.