I’ve never really been comfortable that oft-quoted stat that humans are more afraid of public speaking than death, or abnormally large spiders even. Giving a speech doesn’t often kill a person, President William Henry Harrison being a noted exception. At the very least it’s a much less common cause of an untimely end than certain spiders or, indeed, death itself.
Photo: Davide Ragusa, Unsplash
Of course, now that I have a speech to write and recite to a large audience of my peers this summer, I’m beginning to understand the sentiment a bit more clearly. I’m incredibly excited, but it’s also nerve wracking. Still, I’m comforted by my knowledge of the tricks you all have likely heard many a time: know your audience, rehearse, shorten your sentences, breathe (and keep breathing and make eye contact and don’t stop breathing…).
It was that kind of advice I was expecting to read in Michael Parker’s It’s Not What You Say: How to Sell Your Message When It Matters Most (Perigee, December 2015). And that type of stuff is definitely in there. But there were a few thoughtful messages and tips I hadn’t heard before that seemed worthy of sharing with you guys—who, as real estate pros, have to make mini speeches and pitches every day.
- Don’t jump into writing too quickly. If you don’t give yourself enough free-thinking time to fully consider the questions your speech should answer, you might come up with an obvious response that won’t wow the audience. They ultimately want to learn something new. So spend some time investigating the less-predictable solutions to the main struggle you’re addressing. As I thought about this point more deeply, it occurred to me that even if what you dream up isn’t the direction you decide to go in, your audience will likely see that you thought carefully about the subject. Also, these alternative theories might emerge in the Q&A period, if not in the speech itself.
- Outlining the points you’re going to make later won’t ruin the surprise. I’ve always had trouble with this practice. Why should I tell the audience what they’re going to hear before I’m ready to say it? But Parker notes that not only will mentioning your main points before you present them point you in the path of a successfully finished presentation, it will also help your audience remember your assertions long after the speech is over.
- The audience is not your enemy. Now, this one might seem obvious at first, but think of how many times you’ve heard someone tell a nervous speaker to imagine the audience naked. That’s a combative move designed to bring listeners down to one’s level (or below, really). And while it might calm the speaker down a bit, it’s not going to help get the listeners on your side. When you’re giving a listing presentation, it might feel like those potential clients are sitting there, waiting for you to screw up. But really, they’re not being held against their will. They invited you to make your pitch because, presumably, they wanted to hear it. So treat them like the willing participants that they are.
- If you’re talking too fast, the solution isn’t necessarily slowing down. Parker points out that slowing your natural rate of speech is actually pretty difficult. What’s much easier, and tends to have the same effect on your audience (making it easier to understand and absorb what you’re saying) is to pause frequently and meaningfully. And contrary to how it may feel, Parker says you’ll come off as more confident if you allow for more space in between your thoughts. Build these pauses into your speech proactively.
- Right before you’re ready to begin, decide what mood you’re in. This might feel a bit disingenuous, but Parker suggests this as a shortcut to the frequent body-language admonitions we’ve all heard in relation to speechifying. He says it’s easier to physically adopt a feeling than it is to keep in mind the 700,000 body-language signals that are available to you at any given moment. Choose a mood that you can easily imagine yourself inhabiting (optimism, happiness, eagerness, etc.) and your body will play along.
The book itself is a very quick read and pleasantly broken up with expressive illustration from Sandra Salter. And while it’s true that the book does also include some of the more basic tenets of effective public speaking that might already be known to many real estate professionals, we all need a reminder to make eye contact and breathe once in awhile.