A skill camp to improve our capabilities and confidence when speaking for an audience, that’s how Karoline introduced the ‘Speak 2 Connect’ workshop to us. The session would be given by actress Ianka Fleerackers, well-known in Flanders and beyond for her performances both on stage and on screen. For those who are not acquainted with Flemish tv, film and theatre, imagine an innocent-looking woman blessed with eternal youth, yet that could make a pack of wild wolves obediently lie down with a strict look and a well-formulated command. If anyone is suited to show us the tips and tricks to captivating, motivating and even persuading an audience, it most definitely is she.
While Ianka introduces herself and our goals of the day – each of us presenting a topic by the end of the workshop – we notice how she speaks just as much with her hands, stance and overall gestures as she does with her lips. Her words are spot on, her point is clear, her view is understood and her message is remembered. She captivates her audience not necessarily with what she says, but how she says it.
To prove that last point, she gives us our first assignment: throughout the day, no matter for what occasion, raise your glass and propose a toast at least once. The obvious “I would like to propose a toast because it is a beautiful day to have a workshop with colleagues” was quickly taken, so the longer you waited for the right moment… the more difficult it became to find the right reason. But there would be no escape; the fierce wolve-whisperer would make sure of that as she carried on showing us the ropes.
Even though a simple blog post will never come close to all the lessons we learnt that day, we would like to share the most remarkable and memorable of her insights.
- Giving in to nervous tics. A word you repeat after every sentence, a giggle that escapes more than once in between phrases, your hands that can’t seem to let go of eachother, … it will draw attention to this repetition and away from your message.
- Rambling. “Just” bring your message, finish your speech and shut up. If you’ve made your point and then still think of other things to tell, or perhaps even think your audience expects more because you don’t hear a reaction yet, zzzzzip it. Let your silence emphasize your stance on the topic.
- Showing off with statistics and lingo. If you are asked to bring your view on a topic, you are most likely already respected in the field. Don’t try to “prove” your capabilities by using fancy words and terminology, or by giving an overload of numbers that are supposed to prove your point. If you want to use data to support your message, visualize it.
Instead, try to…
- Set up a travel plan with a clear destination. The message you want to end with, the destination of your presentation, should be the beginning of your preparation. Guide your audience along the journey by providing memorable stations that ultimately lead to your conclusion.
- Use your body as well as your voice. Look at your audience and let your hands move freely. Support your words with gestures and visualize what you’re saying. Pay attention that your gestures don’t become repetitive and a sign of nervousness, though!
- Summarize your arguments with something catchy. Most of you will spontaneously start counting on their fingers as soon as Piet Huysentruyt says “Wat hebben we vandaag geleerd?” (“What have we learned today?”) This seemingly ridiculous approach makes his message stick, not only with his culinary apprentice but his entire viewership.
It’s easy for a blog to tell you in written what one should do when verbally bringing a message. Obviously you can’t excel in public speaking by reading theory alone. Practice with a test audience, get to know your nervous points and actively work on them. Perhaps even follow the course with your team. If it did wonders for our timid, introverted copywriter (yours truly) who by the end of the day managed a full presentation in which he only giggled nervously twice, it is without doubt an educational, interesting and even fun day spent with colleagues.
So… Wat hebben we vandaag geleerd?