Public Speaking Tips for Conviction
The best way to demonstrate your conviction and commitment to a subject in Public Speaking is simply to immerse yourself in it and get to up and speak about it regularly.
However, two further ingredients would be useful:
(i) having a genuine purpose or goal for speaking
(ii) having an honest source of supportive practical feedback to help improve
If you have a subject that matters to you, then you immediately have a compelling reason to improve your ability to speak to people. I remember many occasions when I was teaching Public Speaking in schools when the hosting teacher was blown away by a child who was otherwise very shy and quiet in class, who stood up and from apparently nowhere delivered a fantastic speech in front of the group. Usually, it was because they had something that they wanted to say and a desire to say it that was so strong that they were willing to overcome any feelings of embarrassment, shyness, or nervousness to put across their message.
Unless you have a good reason for speaking the tendency will be to get up once, decide it is a little too uncomfortable, or to conclude - if it does not go very well - it is too hard, and not try again.
If you are a campaigner you will stand up because you are compelled to share your message.
If it does not go very well you will think about how to improve and then try again.
The discomfort at not presenting well is not as strong as the need to speak.
Napoleon Hill told the story of a slave girl from the old southern states of America who is sent by her mother to ask the ‘master’ for some money. She walks directly up to him and asks for the money.
He is outraged by the request from a little slave girl. He shouts at her, threatens her, he goes to punish her, but she does not move. She just repeats her request. In the end, he relents and gives her the money. Napoleon Hill uses the story as an illustration of how even a person in the most disadvantageous situation can achieve their goal as long as they refuse to be deflected and have a burning desire to achieve that goal. The little girl could not back down. She knew her mother needed the money and there was no other option, so she would not budge, cost her what it may.
W. B. Yeats told us in the poem, ‘The Second Coming’ that anarchy and destruction are coming to the world when:
‘the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity’
We do not need to look too far back in history for leaders whose passion, intensity, and conviction led the world into pretty dark places.
Their message may have been negative or abhorrent, but their conviction and repetition carried people with them.
On the other hand, to balance that out we can also point to people like Ghandi, Mother Teresa, and probably today to someone like Greta Thunberg whose positive conviction empowers them to stand up and speak out against all opposition.
Persuasiveness as a speaker probably requires tact, subtlety, and the ability to relate to an audience in order to win them over, while Conviction probably needs little more than an unshakable belief and a refusal to back down!
You may not even need to be a good speaker to influence people – you just need….conviction!
10 tips for displaying conviction as a speaker
If you believe you have a powerful message to share as a speaker, you will probably be urging people towards some form of change: a change of habit, a change of belief, or a change of perspective.
And of course, no one likes to change!
So if you are trying to convince me of something and I am, for whatever reason, resisting that change, I will immediately be probing for whether if you are completely convinced yourself.
Do you look like you believe what you are saying?
Do you sound like you believe what you are saying?
Do your words convince me that you believe what you are saying?
And if I detect any doubt in you, I have found my excuse for not buying in to what you are saying.
As a sales trainer would say:
‘The first person you need to sell to is yourself!’
Standing on stage is quite exposing and if you have not convinced yourself of what you are saying you are unlikely to be convincing to others.
Often we may believe in our message, and we may be convinced by our own argument, but because we feel nervous standing on stage, we can find ourselves projecting a less convincing message.
Stand solidly or, if you decide to move, move with purpose.
The worst impression is when you get caught between moving and standing:
shifting from leg to leg, shuffling, rocking, or saying.
The visual impact is of someone who looks uncertain and literally ‘unstable’.
The words become lost because the picture accompanying how those words are delivered is so strong.
Your hands can be used to emphasise a point. Clear strong gestures imply a clear strong message.
Normally when speaking I would guide speakers away from pointing fingers as it can look very aggressive.
However, on some occasions, if the message is one of uncompromising conviction, then that may be a suitable exception.
If pointing directly at an audience may still seem a bit too aggressive, you can point emphatically to the floor or the ceiling to stress a point, because if you are suggesting there is no compromise in your message, then a no-compromise gesture is appropriate, and pointing fingers and clenched fists are gestures of clarity that imply a willingness to fight and prevail.
You will hear many stories of business deals that were concluded or that collapsed because of a little flicker in the eyes that betrayed uncertainty or defeat and told the other negotiator that their opposition was not as strong as they were trying to portray. Conviction is about power. Will the speaker’s conviction be strong enough to overcome their audience’s resistance or indifference? We probably don’t want to get into the world of ‘power stares’, but strong eye contact accompanying a strong message will make the point penetrate more effectively.
Stance is a visual metaphor. Standing solidly sends a message of clarity of position and is usually effective when ‘sharing’ rather than ‘asserting’. Walking around the stage is once again about power and assertion.
Therefore as a speaker, we need to decide whether we want to ‘share’ our personal conviction, to allow our audience to come to their own conclusions, or do we want to assert our conviction and thereby assert our beliefs over theirs?
Clearly, a good strong voice will support a good strong message.
However in this case the area to focus on is the pace of speaking.
If we refer back to emphatic gestures to support the words, we are probably listening to a voice that is measured and that stresses the keywords of the message.
A fast-paced voice is associated with passion, but a passionate speaker can come across as an emotional speaker, which is fine if we are trying to stir emotions.
Conviction may come from somewhere deeper. It is the belief that still pushes the campaigner forward when the initial emotional excitement has passed.
Conviction is grounded in truth and clarity, passion can come from belief and feeling.
So a slow, deliberate, emphatic delivery style may best support a message of deep conviction.
Fillers are the ‘uhms’ and ‘errs’ that creep into our language between our sentences.
Under normal circumstances, even on stage, they are not a big problem.
However, they do portray a lack of surety and a sense of vagueness; as do filler phrases like
‘kind of’, ‘sort of’, ‘you know’
So if you want to come across with a level of conviction in your delivery, it is worth trying to remove as many as possible.
One way is to slow down the pace of delivery and the other is to learn to love the silence between your words!
Power of the Pause
Part of the reason that ‘uhms’, ‘errs’ and ‘kind ofs’ come across as weak is that they suggest that the speaker is uncomfortable with silence and feels that they need to keep making a noise to hold their listener’s attention.
Therefore the conviction to be able to make a statement or ask a significant question and then remain silent as the words sink in is very powerful.
Add a bit of eye contact to that – looking at your audience as the words resonate – and you have a strong, assertive, confident delivery.
If you want your message to resonate, it needs to be clear, and easy to grasp and therefore the content of the presentation needs to be focused and not wide-ranging. When Donald Trump said:
‘Send them home’ or ‘Build the wall’, his message was very clear and simple to understand.
Everything he says on that subject leads uncompromisingly to that message.
Note he did not say:
‘Send them home – maybe not all of them, but most of them.’
Conviction to a cause usually suggests little compromise.
The reason body language, voice, gestures, and stance are so important in this context is because in this type of speech the speaker is paramount. Returning once again to Donald Trump, unfolding events have proven that the essential ingredient in his communication is HIM and his uncompromising conviction that he is above the rules that others play by, and not the indisputable facts of the logic of what he says.
Consequently, it is essential to seem confident and in control because your audience will take more belief from your ability to deliver with conviction than from the content of what you say.
The best way to achieve this is to rehearse and practise often and then repeat.
The reason that these types of leaders are so persuasive – for better or for worse – is because they are convinced of themselves and their messages, which prompts them to share them regularly, which makes them more fluent in their delivery.
I am not suggesting you should aspire to be a dictator, but I am saying that if you want to come across as confident and convincing, that will take extra practice – and the best way to do that is through repetition combined with honest supportive feedback so that you can refine and improve.