Has anxiety every prevented you from speaking out at a meeting? Do you attend family weddings and funerals with a dread of being asked to give a toast or eulogy? Have you demurred when asked to make introductions at conferences? Have you stumbled through an incoherent attempt to express appreciation after receiving an award? Have you declined an invitation to teach a class?
If you answer yes to any of those questions, you’re missing opportunities to enhance your social life and forfeiting potential propellants for your professional life.
There are dozens of tips for aspiring speakers yet people often ask me what might be the one most important thing to grasp in order to develop public speaking skills.
When friends ask me what is the one most important skill needed to navigate a sailboat from the West Coast to Hawaii or what is the one most important thing to be a good husband/wife my answer is always the same. There is no one most important thing—there are many equally important skills.
However, when it comes to public speaking, there actually is ‘one most important’ thing. We can find it in ancient Jewish wisdom.
Each of the Five Books of Moses possesses a Hebrew name that uniquely captures the essence of the book. For instance, Genesis is Bereishit-In the Beginning. It describes the beginning of the world and the beginnings of the people of Israel. Exodus is Shemot—Names—and teaches both the general and specific significance of names. Leviticus is Vayikra—And He called—teaching the meaning of a calling such as that of the Levites. Numbers is BaMidbar—In the Desert—addressing our enhanced ability to learn when distractions are absent. Finally, Deuteronomy, in Hebrew Devarim, means Words.
Isn’t that a rather bland title for the grand finale of the Torah? After all, every one of the other four books is also filled with words—indeed very important words. Couldn’t any of the earlier books also have been called, Words?
Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that Deuteronomy is the record of a veritable Niagara-like cascade of words that Moses delivered in a non-stop thirty-day talking marathon during the final month of his life.
What is more, that identical word, Devarim—Words— was used about forty years earlier during Moses’ first conversation with God at the famous Burning Bush.
And Moses said to God, ‘Please Lord, I am not a man of words…’
God responds by explaining that Moses’ brother Aaron can help him. Yet, we don’t ever hear of Aaron speaking for Moses. Apparently, Moses manages to overcome his impediment even to the extent of delivering a flawless thirty-day speech.
His secret was passion for his mission, which he saw as bringing God’s words to humanity. Once that passion was ignited in his being, Moses never again experienced difficulty expressing himself in public.
There are so many valuable tips, tools, and techniques for public speaking. Plan your speech. Divide it into easily remembered modules. Memorize a key word for each module then deliver your speech without notes in front of you. Connect with your audience through a little self-deprecating humor. Use your hands effectively.
Don’t end your sentences in a rising cadence that makes them sound like questions. Make assertive statements instead. Banish the filler syllable. A short silence is fine, but stop saying ‘um’ and ‘er’. Speak much more slowly than sounds normal to you. There are many other tips.
However, the one most important thing is to develop passion for your message. It makes little difference whether you’re planning a toast or a eulogy, a class or an introduction. Whichever of these or others it might be, you are presenting an idea. Develop real passion for your message, then get up and speak those words.
You can make mistakes that interfere with getting your message across. One of the worst things you can do is to accustom yourself to hearing or using profanity. I explore how vulgarity threatens relationships and finances in my audio CD, Perils of Profanity: You Are What You Speak. What’s more, I explain why thinking, “I only speak that way with my friends,” is a false premise and why even listening to profanity affects us. Save even more with an instant download!