A Celebrant's top 5 Public Speaking Tips

Public speaking sucks

...Well for 99% of us it does - I do it for a living and have done so for the best part of a decade. In that time I've picked up a few little tricks and tips on how to effectively deliver a speech that will make all the difference when it is your turn.

In this guide I'm going to quickly run through my top five tips that experienced public speakers use to make all that much easier.

Pete's top 5 tips for public speaking:

One - Use correct mic technique: 
If you don't know how to use a microphone properly - ask someone. This is legitimately my number one tip and why I'm going to spend a bit of time on it. It doesn't matter how amazing your speech is if nobody can hear it. Don't be embarrassed if you didn't know anything about correct mic technique as you're not the only one - I see it enough to make it my number one tip.

A crash course in using a microphone:

Correct use of a microphone does depend on the type of microphone you're using, however, the most common type that you'll come across is a hand held directional vocal mic (the type that you see most singers use).

The number one thing to remember is that you speak with your mouth; not your chest. So hold the microphone to your mouth instead of your chest (see the photos) - Dads are particularly guilty of this. The number two thing is to hold the mic by the body (like I am in the 'do' photo) as wrapping your hand around the head will distort the sound and can cause feedback - Wannabe rappers and DJ's are particularly guilty of this.

Hand-held directional vocal mics have a range of around 10 cm and they only pick up sound effectively in the direction they're pointing. This means you need to point them at the source (i.e. your mouth) and project your voice into (or down the length of the mic) not over it or to the side. Aim the mic at the centre of your top lip within a couple of cm and talk at a consistent volume. If it's not loud enough the sound engineer will turn the volume up.

DO:  We can hear you when the mic is held within 2-8 cm of your mouth and aimed at the centre of your top lip. Project your voice into the middle of the microphone not around it.

DO: We can hear you when the mic is held within 2-8 cm of your mouth and aimed at the centre of your top lip. Project your voice into the middle of the microphone not around it.

Don't:  We can't hear you when the mic is near your chest (or even further away) and not aimed at your top lip. In this photo my voice would be projecting over the mic not into the mic.

Don't: We can't hear you when the mic is near your chest (or even further away) and not aimed at your top lip. In this photo my voice would be projecting over the mic not into the mic.

Two - Don't wing it, but you probably don't need to fully script it:
Tip two point one: It seems simple but lets be honest, by the time you do your speech you probably will have a couple of drinks under your belt, so please don't wing it. You may be an awesome public speaker and think you can pull it off; but even the most confident public speaker has an outline or script. There is a reason they have teleprompters at the Oscars.

Tip two point two: To encourage natural language (and to dissuade yourself from reading) I find it best to break your script into detailed dot points. These notes as a minimum should hit each main idea (sentiment, story, thought etc.) that you want to get across and put them in the correct order. For my script preferring friends - just break each sentence/thought into a dot point. 

It is particularly important that you write out (exactly as you would say it) the things that you just can't forget and just can not get wrong - even if it is your bride's parents names, i.e.

"I'd like to thank Darryl and Tania as well as Mitch for welcoming me into their family as a new son and brother" rather than "thank her parents and brother", or  

"Special mention to the Groom's Uncle Charlie that's travelled from England" rather than "Thank Charlie from England" or

"that time in Melbourne we high-fived the Elmo that was playing bag pipes #drunkgroom" rather than "Drunk elmo high-five").

Tip two point three: (This is best tip about doing a speech from dot points I've got) Write these key things with only the wording you will actually say and leave out any extra instructions. For example (using the lines from the above paragraph) I've left out anything like:

"May as well get divorced now if you don't.." before "Thank Darryl and Tania..."

"Don't forget to give a..." before the "special mention to..." or

"tell the story about..." before "that time in Melbourne...".

Including these types of instructions (the first one is just to illustrate the point) just makes it more complicated for your brain as you're reading one thing while you're trying to say another. Unnecessary wording is the second biggest cause (see tip four) of stuff ups in speeches. Imagine if you accidentally said "may as well get divorced now" in your wedding speech?

Three - Eye contact:
There is a thousand different suggestions to make sure you maintain eye contact, however, the one that's always worked best for me is to find 5 people that you know (or are otherwise smiling) that are spread out through various parts of the room (i.e. someone in the front left and right, back left and right and in the centre). Speak to each one of them in turn for roughly 10 seconds at a time and refer to the next dot point (remember we broke the speech into roughly sentence long dot points) in between each person and repeat. If the people you pick are spread out well enough, every person in the room will think that you were talking directly to them for the whole speech. Also if your timing and phrasing is really good, a short pause between sentences or roughly every 14 seconds will actually draw the audience in.

Bonus tip: If you're a very nervous public speaker - this method can make you feel like you're only talking to one person at a time. I'm sure at some stage in your life you've had a conversation with one person in a crowded room - this is exactly the same except you just have a microphone (that you're now using correctly).

Four - Only include words you use in the real world: 
I actually do use words such as 'however', 'notwithstanding' and 'therefore' when I talk to people and that's why I'm allowed to use them in front of an audience. If you don't use the word at least 10 times every day, don't include the word as part of your speech. Not only will everyone think your just trying to impress them by using a big word; words that you don't use regularly are the number 1 cause of embarrassing moments such as stumbles or mispronunciations during public presentations.

Five - Don't stress about being perfect:
Why does your speech have to be perfect? Unless you're addressing the UN, court or parliament, nobody is going to pick apart the exact wording of your speech, so don't stress about making your wording and delivery perfect. Don't get me wrong aim for the best possible speech you can deliver, however, don't beat yourself up if you don't quite get to perfection.

It's a wedding, the audience will forgive you for being emotional, stumbling over words or not having the prose of a poet. Worry instead about what you're trying to say and make sure that you say something sincere, meaningful and kind about your guests, best friend or son/daughter.