How to Be a More Confident Speaker in 10 Seconds

You know your message. You know your audience. You’ve practiced. Now, it’s show-time! How can you bolster your self-confidence in the few seconds before you speak? Even as you are walking up to deliver your opening lines?

I believe that confidence level can be affected by changing how you act, how you feel and what you believe—in any order! The usual order is to work on your belief and then that will change how you feel which in turn will change how you act. Well, I have found from my own experience and by observing others that belief, feelings and action are interrelated. In the few seconds before you speak, you need to focus on action!

Here are 5 steps you can take in the 10 seconds before you open your mouth to speak. Steps 1-3 can be done while walking up to speak, or in combination with steps 4 and 5:

1. Breathe. Take a deep, calming breath. Remember your brain needs oxygen!

2. Stand tall. Good posture not only helps with your breath support while you speak, it also makes you look more confident.  I use a “string theory” to quickly improve my posture right before I speak. I imagine a string being pulled from the ceiling that connects the top of my head to my chest to my pelvis. Try it right now! It even works when you are sitting.

3. Mentally rehearse your opening sentence or two. Your opening should be ready to charge out of the gate with power.

4. Eye Contact. Look at your audience for a second or two, with the attitude of “this is a gift I’m giving to you” and a pleasant expression . Connect with their eyes. A confident speaker looks into the eyes of his or her audience.

5. Smile. As you continue for a couple more seconds with eye contact and before you actually speak, turn your pleasant expression into a broad, warm smile, the genuine kind that crinkles your eyes.  A smile is a magnet to your audience.

And then, deliver your opening lines with confidence!

Ending Your Speech with a Call-to-Action

When you give a speech, you want your audience to think, feel or do something differently than before, right? Even if your speech is primarily informative in nature, don’t you want your audience to do something with the new information? Don’t you want them to consider your ideas and apply them in some way?

In my opinion, almost every speech needs some sort of call-to-action. If I have somehow been changed by a speaker, I want to DO something about it.  The speaker does me a great favor by telling me what to do!

But don’t just commando in a call-to-action at the end of your speech.  You may have captivated your audience with your speech, but if you drop a call-to-action in out of the blue, they will feel like they’ve been taken prisoner by a poser, someone who seemed to be authentic until the end. You need to build up to a call-to-action with both logic and emotion. An effective call to action is the crescendo of your speech.

As you build toward that call-to-action in your conclusion, not only should you summarize the “logic” or main points, but you also should help your audience relive the powerful emotions they felt during a story or example earlier in your speech by referring back to it (or completing a story).  In many cases, giving your audience the exact next step to take is appropriate (“vote for me” “buy this program” “if you promise to never text while driving, stand with me”).

The basic steps to adding an effective call-to-action to your conclusion are these:

1. Transition from last point.

2. Summarize main points.

3. Pull the heart-strings.  Refer back to something in your speech that creates a strong emotion.

4. Call-to-Action

Craft your call-to-action statement with care.  Consider using rhetorical devices to create a memorable statement.

For example, at the end of President Kennedy’s inaugural address, he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.”  Kennedy’s call to action was a call to altruism (collectivism)–to give more than to take.  He also used a reverse echo rhetorical device (reversed the words for a different meaning).

Your last words will probably be the first words your audience remembers, so give them a memorable call-to-action!

It’s a Wrap: Concluding Your Speech Completely

“Umm . . . I’m out of time.  So, I guess that’s all.  Thank you.”

We’ve all heard conclusions like that.  Maybe you’ve even done it yourself.  I call it the “aborted conclusion.”  Maybe that phrase, “aborted conclusion,” makes you feel uncomfortable because of the usual connotations of the word, “aborted.”  Good.  If you terminate your speech without a proper, complete conclusion, you have taken the life out of what might have been a unique, memorable experience for your audience.

Remember what you say last is most likely to be remembered best, so it is worth spending some time on your conclusion.  In fact, I suggest writing out your conclusion before you write the introduction.  Your conclusion should be the foundation that your speech rests upon.

A complete conclusion has 3 parts:
1.    A transition—Signal that you are closing.
You can use very obvious signals (which are better than nothing), such as:
In conclusion . . .
To sum up . . .
In closing . . .
Another way to transition is to simply pause, letting your final point sink in.  This is my preferred transition.  It doesn’t work in written communication very well, but it can be quite effective in a speech.
2.    A summary—Summarize your main points. Repetition is important for recall.
3.    A memorable closing statement—a call-to-action (for persuasive presentations), a quote, a very short story, bookending (tying back to the beginning) or encouragement/inspiration—related to the key message of your speech.  This is also a great time to use a call-back (referring back to a humorous bit).

Here’s an example from a speech that I gave at a Toastmasters demo meeting:

Last point: Tone of voice is important in communication, but body language is even more important.
Transition:  Long pause
Summary:  In order to be effective communicators, we not only have to pay attention to our words, but we also have to think about our voice and our body language, too!  Effective communication combines the three V’s—Visual, Vocal and Verbal for maximum effect.

Toastmasters is a great place to develop these skills!

Closing statement (which, in this case referenced an opening story):You may not change the world with your words, but you can change YOUR world. Change your world with Toastmasters!

If you offer a Q&A session, end the session with a second memorable closing statement.  Don’t just end by answering the last question.  Your ending is too important to leave it hanging on a question.  Leave time for a final statement to wrap things up.

What about saying “thank you” at the end of a speech?  There are conflicting opinions on this, so I’ll just give you my take.  It depends on the situation.  For a Toastmaster speech, the custom is to not say “Thank you.”  You typically end a Toastmaster speech with, “Mr. (or Madam) Toastmaster.”  For almost all other business speeches, especially sales presentations, ending with “thank you” is usual and customary.  You could insert your “thank you” just before your final words, too, as in “Thank you for your attention.  I hope you will use these tools of success to build a more prosperous life!”

The tools of success to build a strong conclusion are: transition, summary, closing.  Craft them with care and leave your audience with a message that lingers.

Bookending Your Speech: Tying the Introduction to the Conclusion

Bookending a speechBookends are designed to “buttress, or to support an upright row of books.” Usually, bookends also are a matched, mirror image set, providing visual balance.  Bookending your speech means that your speech introduction and conclusion support your speech in a way that provides balance.  You “close the circle” for your audience, wrapping up your speech in a neat package.

Here are 5 ways you can bookend a speech:

  1. End by referencing your opening.  Refer back to what you started with (movie, words, quote).
  2. Contrast concepts.  Like mirror-image bookends, your concluding words can contrast with your opening words.
  3. Ask a question/answer a question.  Open with a question.  Answer the question at the end.
  4. Use the same visual.  Use the same PowerPoint slide or the same prop.

Example:

Opening:  I held up a photograph of an actor portraying Frankenstein’s Creature and said, “Frankenstein’s Creature is a well-known image in popular culture—a grotesque monster—staggering and grunting like a simpleton.  However, that is a gross misrepresentation of creature as originally created.”

Closing:  I held up the same photograph and said, “Frankenstein’s creature was no simpleton.  I leave you with the question–Who really is the monster in this story?  The creature, its creator, or society?”

5. Story.  This is my favorite bookending method.  Start your speech with a story, but cut it off at the climax.  Close with the finish to the story.  This approach also keeps your audience’s attention.  People want to know how the story ends!  Just remember that the story has to be relevant to your speech content.  You can even weave the story throughout your speech.

Longer example (for a speech about dealing with difficult people):

Opening: I handed the old woman the Arby’s bag. She peered into it.  “But I asked for a Big Roast Beef Sandwich!”

“It IS the Big Roast Beef Sandwich.”

The old woman scowled and held up the sandwich for inspection.  “But I wanted the really big one.  This is puny!”

“Oh. . . .The choices were Big, Bigger and Biggest.  I just got what you asked for.  You said you wanted a Big Roast Beef Sandwich.”

“But, that’s not what I MEANT!”

I was frustrated. The old woman was cranky.  She was demanding.  She was . . . my mother. 

Middle:  I continue the story when I talk about having empathy with “difficult people.”  I reveal that my mother was struggling with a terminal illness.  I make the point about “listening from your heart.”

Ending: I finish the story about my mom by relating our last conversation, the day before she died, reinforcing the theme of “listening from your heart.” The speech ends with a variation on a quote from the book The Little Prince and an inspirational call to action:

As I walked out the door, I heard her voice, almost inaudible: 

“Di?”

“Yes, Mom.”

“I love you, Di.”

That was what was unfinished.  The words of love.    Those were the last words she said to me.  She died the next day. 

My mother listened with her heart and heard what I didn’t say.  What I didn’t even know I needed to hear.  They were the words in my heart that she heard with her heart.  They were a gift.  She was a gift.

In the book, The Little Prince, one of the characters says that

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

I might change that to be:

It is only with the heart that one can hear rightly; what is essential is inaudible to the ear.

Listen from your heart and as you face conflict this year, and you will, try to look for the growth opportunity.  Every conflict, every difficult person, comes with a gift, if you look hard enough for it.

Give your audience the gift of bookending your speech!