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Say It Hot

DH Lawrence famously wrote: “Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you have got to say, and say it hot.”

Public speaking is a critical skill that everyone needs to master. Admittedly, we do not all have silken, golden voices like Ronald Raegan, Richard Burton or Kofi Annan, and there are very few orators of the ilk of Adolf Hitler, or Winston Churchill, but this does not mean that we cannot become impactful public speakers.

Like most things in life, public speaking requires baby steps; very few are born orators. For many, the prospect of speaking in public is terrifying; this is not surprising – research shows that public speaking is most people’s number one fear; death is number two.

As a talent manager, you play a critical role in helping team members develop good public speaking skills; this should be an important area of focus for introverts in your team. Build their self-confidence by getting them to provide oral feedback to you, to team members, and eventually to the entire department. Budget permitting, send them on public speaking courses – there are various providers or get them to join a local Toastmasters.

Public speaking builds self-confidence and assists individuals to build their professional profile. Here, it is important not to wait to be invited to speak – take the initiative. Approach conference producers and offer to speak.

Websites such as;;, and list various conference. It is also useful to do a google search for special interest conferences such as talent management, IT, remuneration, skills development and so forth. Your research should not be limited to South Africa but should include a global search.

Conference producers often call for papers to be submitted, or outlines, plus speaker details. They are always looking for new blood; speakers and case studies that attendees have not heard before; this provides a golden opportunity, but it is also a hard sell. Sell yourself, and look for a fresh, exciting angle for your speech.

In print media, we always look for the “ah-ha factor;” the same applies to public speaking. Coming from Africa is often a door-opener, for international conferences. However, you also need the “street-cred.” You must be recognised as being at the forefront of your specific area of expertise.

Conference speaking slots are not paid for unless you are a keynote speaker of international renown. Expect a thank you, a bunch of flowers and an opportunity to attend the conference for free. Budget for your own travel and accommodation expenses.

Public speaking dos and don’ts

  • If you are a nervous speaker, open with an ice-breaker, preferably a great, humorous quote.
  • Unless you are a natural comedian never tell a joke – these usually fall flat if you are nervous.
  • Ensure that your quote or joke does not offend anyone.
  • Practice your speech, time and time again, preferably in front of a mirror.
  • Tape record your voice; it is important to ensure that you do not speak in a monotone; this will put your audience to sleep, especially if you have the graveyard slot.
  • Structure your speech; ensure that it is logical.
  • Say what you need to say and no more.
  • As in writing, less is more; do not repeat yourself – make the point and move on.
  • Ensure that your speech is not boring – include fascinating statistics and facts that your audience is unlikely to have heard before.
  • Rule of thumb, one page of writing (600 words) equates to 5 minutes of public speaking.
  • Time your speech; never exceed the time limit.
  • Never rely on technology – you must always be prepared to speak off the cuff
  • Use speech cards; only use keywords for the main points
  • Never read a speech – you have been invited to speak, not read.
  • Use as few slides as possible; 3-5 has a magic ring to it.
  • Be prepared to answer difficult questions.
  • Never hand out hand-outs until you have spoken; you want the audience to focus on what you are saying.
  • Speak with passion and enthusiasm; if you are bored, your audience will be bored.
  • Above all else, “say it hot.”

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