Staff Sergeant Richard Veysey, an enlisted military based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, understands effective public speaking. He’s either addressing 400-person crowds at high school awards nights, fairs, or helping recruit the future military. He’s also coached Marines on becoming effective, streamlined public speakers as part of a mandatory training for leadership—and to keep them safe. In this four-question interview, Veysey shares tips and techniques on ensuring we sound clear and compelling to our audience in high stakes and low stakes situations.
When you coach others on becoming effective communicators, what shortcomings do you frequently see?
I often see a speaker’s fear of what others think of them holding them back. The speaker may sound quiet, unsure of themselves, and seem uncertain of their ideas—which can prevent them from connecting with their audience. I also see many younger communicators feeling less need to speak their ideas. (They prefer to type messages via text or email vs. speak in person or call.) Then, when they must speak before a group, they feel uncomfortable—and that shows.
Which techniques help control verbal filler and other vocal patterns impeding our clarity and executive presence?
When instructing others to communicate more effectively, we found pelting the speakers with Nerf guns or soft, stress balls helped speakers recognize unhelpful speech patterns. First, we asked the audience to identify what vocal patterns exist in each speaker—like verbal filler or distracting pet words they may insert.
We prompted the audience to listen; then, when the speaker inserted those patterns, or, used unnatural hand gestures, avoided eye contact, spoke too fast, too soft—or whatever else they might do to appear uncertain to their audience, we pelted them.
On recruiting duty, we also listen for purpose so our speakers can sound more knowledgeable—we ensure speakers state their point clearly (and early) with bottom line information on top.
We also find good results with starting with a short, uncomplicated presentation as an ice breaker—an introductory, 1-2 minute presentation. We slowly progress into more complex, longer presentations.
It’s really about gaining confidence. You may be the nervous person in the room, but you must show confidence in what you’re doing through your verbal patterns, body language, and your content. You must know your content, otherwise you will fail.
How do your trainees respond?
The resulting presentations (and mood) become less stiff, more open, and conversational. The Nerf gun and stress ball technique becomes hugely effective. In the first presentation, everyone gets bombarded. By the third or fourth, most distracting verbal patterns have gone because speakers become more aware. Also, everybody knows: When we provide critique on the delivery and content, the intent becomes making everyone better.
We give the speakers something positive to think about and then something to work on. Tell them why it’s great. Give them all of it so they know: I can keep doing this, but, I can also work on this. Most presenters feel very critical of themselves; so, when someone tells you how well you did, then, they can work on where they didn’t do well.
What has most helped you communicate clearly and effectively to a live audience? What grounds you?
Getting over the fear. (I’ve always been an introvert.) I feel best when I practice and go over bullets of high-level ideas I want to hit. When I present, I keep to that same plan (and order) as to not lose my focus. I avoid reading, know my points at a glance, and keep my presentations brief. Otherwise, I just speak to my audience and know: practice makes perfect.