Monday, September 08, 2003

Tips For Public Speaking - Style Over Substance

In survey after survey, he says, public speaking is ahead of rats and snakes on the list of things that people fear most. So Kevin R. Daley and his oldest daughter, Laura Daley-Caravella, 46, have codified the dos and don'ts of effective communicating, be it on a dais in front of hundreds, or at a lunch in front of one. Their book, "Talk Your Way to the Top: How to Address Any Audience Like Your Career Depends on It" ( McGraw-Hill), arrived in bookstores this month.

Some of his tips — know your subject, do not read woodenly from notes, hold important lunches at restaurants where past tipping has made you a favored customer — are pretty obvious. And many sound like orders from drill sergeants and schoolmarms: Hands out of those pockets! Elbows unglued from those sides! Distribute weight evenly on both legs, and stop moving around so much! Do not keep opening and closing your hands, and, for goodness' sake, try not to stare at your shoes!

But Mr. Daley offers a formidable list of eye-opening pointers, too:

• Gesture with one hand. Waving both looks fidgety and distracting; using one looks natural and emphasizes a point.

• Speak up. Speaking low may force people to listen harder, but it will make you sound boring.

• Focus on one member of the audience to keep your eyes from darting around. But change to another person often, so you don't stare.

• Don't ever be in total darkness, even if that means audience members must squint at visuals. You want them riveted on you, not on the slides.

• Apply the same rules to one-on-one meetings as to keynote speeches, but just tone them down. "Make the gestures smaller and the voice more modulated, but never forget that an animated person is more interesting," Mr. Daley said.

If it sounds like a top-heavy emphasis on style over substance, that is because it is. Mr. Daley cites many studies that indicate that, as long as you are not announcing a cure for cancer, more than 90 percent of the impact of communication rests on how you look and sound, not on what you say.

"Information by itself, unless it's genuinely startling, is boring," he said. "Conveying it through stories and gestures and analogies makes it interesting."

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