1. Prepare thoroughly. Santa spends most of the year getting ready for his one big night. When he takes off in his sleigh, there’s no turning back. Similarly, when you step on that stage, be sure that you know your material.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sure, on Christmas Eve Santa is the main attraction, but the Big Man can’t do it all by himself. He needs elves to make the toys; reindeer to pull the sleigh; Mrs. Claus to keep him fat. In short, he has a superb support team. Likewise, you can (and should) seek support from others: brainstorm ideas with colleagues for that big corporate presentation; practice your speech in front of friends and family; seek feedback from your Toastmasters club; arrive at the event early and meet the technicians.
3. Make a list and check it twice. Santa’s got to stay on top of a lot of logistical matters: bag full of presents; several billion addresses; fastest routes; best places for a pit stop. Similarly, public speakers have to keep track of several logistical matters. Get in the habit of having a checklist of the things you will need. Here’s a comprehensive one that you might find useful.
4. Deliver the right material for the audience. If Jimmy wants a Lego set, then Santa will bring him a Lego set and not a toy truck. (Of course, the foregoing is based on the assumption that Jimmy has been a good boy). Speakers need to tailor their messages for their audiences. Always ask yourself the following question: “Why should the audience care?” If you cannot come up with a good answer, you’ve got a problem. Perhaps your message would best be delivered to another audience.
5. Create memorable sentences or phrases that will resonate with the audience long after your speech. I don’t care if it’s the middle of August and you’re on the beach, if you hear “Ho! Ho! Ho!”, you’re going to remember Santa Claus. Great speakers spend time working on their speeches to come up with memorable lines that reinforce the message.
6. Dress for the occasion. Santa making the rounds in blue jeans and a plaid shirt just wouldn’t feel right. Only red and white will do. Likewise, speakers should dress appropriately for the occasion. A good rule of thumb is to dress at least as well as your audience, or perhaps a little bit better.
7. Project your voice. Santa knows how to make himself heard. Just check out T’was the Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore: “And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name! … But I heard him exclaim ‘ere he drove out of sight, ‘Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!'”. Although you should not necessarily shout, you do need to make yourself heard. Practice breathing deeply to give your voice resonance. If you have a soft voice, practice speaking in different tones and at different volumes to extend your vocal range. Arrive early and check out the acoustics, especially if you are speaking to a large audience. Test the microphone. Have someone stand at the back of the room to let you know how you sound. And remember, an auditorium full of people will absorb and dampen sound more than an empty auditorium.
8. Be present for your audience. Sure, Santa brings presents, but he also brings presence. He reads all that mail; he sits through all those photo sessions in all those malls; he eats all those cookies and drinks all that milk; he arranges the presents just so. Bring that same level of presence to your speeches and presentations. Your audience wants to feel that you care about them. They don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to be present.
9. Have fun. Look at Santa: “His eyes, how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry! … He had a broad face and round little belly that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly!” He clearly enjoys himself and so should you. Public speaking is both a privilege and a responsibility, and we should treat it as such. However, there is no rule that says we cannot have fun as well. Only the most sombre of occasions will be the exception. So smile and enjoy the ride. You are being given the chance to share your message with others.
10. Leave them looking forward to the next time. Children never get tired of Santa Claus. They always eagerly anticipate his next visit. If you make the effort to do a good job, not only might your audience invite you back, they might also recommend you to others. And that’s a gift that every speaker would like to receive.
Merry Christmas and a peaceful and enjoyable holiday season to you all.