A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Top Five: Public Speaking Tips

By Mason Spirit contributor on November 1, 2010


Peter Pober

It has been called the most feared task: speaking in public. But for those who master the forensic art, the ability to engage an audience is as awe-inspiring and as energizing as a consummate theatrical performance. Whether you are interviewing for a job or internship, giving a presentation, or directing a meeting or group project, here are five easy tips from Peter Pober, director of Mason’s nationally ranked Forensics Team, to “invite” your audience, command the room in which you are speaking, and leave a lasting impression.

1. Never speak to more than one person at a time.

Many years ago, I was privileged to coach an iconic public figure who began our work together with one simple question, how do I speak to 10,000 people at once? My answer: You don’t. No matter how many people are receiving your message, your eyes cannot connect with more than one person at a time. But the group within the same realm as the individual to whom you are looking at will feel welcomed once your
eye contact shifts on successive sentences.

2. Don’t look like an oscillating fan.

Speakers often make the assumption that they must connect individually with as many audience members as possible as quickly as possible. What happens then is what I call the oscillating fan. The speaker moves her or his head side to side in a motion that looks like an oscillating fan. Give each audience member at least two sentences of direct eye contact before moving to the next listener. He or she will feel welcomed into the speech and will be more than happy to watch you as you then speak directly to others.

3. Open your body to invite your audience.

You do not want to cross your body with your legs, hands, or arms because that blocks the audience from direct interaction with you. Cross-gesturing and cross-stepping hinder your ability to invite your audience into the flow of the speech. So if you step to the left as a transition in thought, begin walking with your left leg and gesturing with your left hand.

4. Structure, structure, structure.

If you are delivering a speech designed to persuade or inform, the old adage is “Tell them what you’re going to say, say it, then tell them what you said.” If you have three main topic areas, preview those, then tell us the details in the body of the speech, and then review those topic tags at the end of the speech. You want to reinforce the primary arguments or information points to keep them at the forefront of your audience’s thoughts.

5. Different thinkers want different messages.

Remember that your audience comprises different thinkers. Some are narrative learners; some are
factual learners. Some want far-reaching impacts; some want to know the importance now. Some are concerned about themselves; some are focused on others. In every public speech you deliver, be cognizant of the variety of listeners and learners in the room. Your message should reflect the desire to engage all these listeners. If the message is confusing or even lost, it becomes difficult to regain the trust and focus of your audience.


1 Comment »

  1. If you have the privilege to hear Dr. Pober speak, then you know that he applies all of these and far more. He is a superb speaker…the students are fortunate to have him as a teacher and/or forensic coach…

    Comment by Don — November 29, 2010 @ 6:07 pm

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