Have you ever wondered how some well-known figures make public speaking look like child’s play? As we know, it is not like that at all. Remember that over 50% of UK senior management feel nervous about speaking in public, so you are not alone!
“People think actresses find public speaking easy, and it’s not easy at all; we’re used to hiding behind masks.” – Jane Fonda
My first venture into public speaking was when I had to give a speech at my brother’s wedding, as I was his best man. This was an enormous challenge for me as I had struggled through adolescence with a speech defect. After an operation and speech therapy, my brother’s wedding was my first match in the public speaking arena. Happily, all went well!
Public speaking is an important life skill because if you can master this, you can cope better with job interviews and giving presentations. Here are 10 things you can adopt now to make it all sound smooth and effortless.
1. Prepare the speech.
This seems pretty obvious but many people skimp on this. If you are giving a presentation or seminar, preparation will be crucial. You will also have to practice and decide how much use you will make of the following:
- All written out or just notes?
- Will you use PowerPoint slides?
- Are you aware of your breathing while practicing?
- Are you familiar with the venue?
- Do you know what equipment is available?
2. Research your audience.
In my case this was easy, as it was family and friends. Anecdotes about my brother were expected and appreciated. But when you are in front of a business audience, it is important to know their background. Are they colleagues, middle managers or trainees? Finding out about their business experience and their companies will be very important. Armed with this information, you can make a passing reference to their company’s history or profile, which they can relate to.
3. Don’t read your speech.
There are several reasons why this could be disastrous:
- You may bore the audience
- You will almost certainly not succeed in getting their attention
- You will never make eye contact
- You are at risk of mumbling or failing to speak clearly.
4. Think beyond the words.
Let’s face it. You are communicating a message or information, or entertaining. Or it may be a combination of all three. The words you are using are merely a vehicle for conveying your ideas. They are not sufficient on their own. You also have to use the following:
- Body language
- Tone of voice
- Speed of delivery
Get the combination of all these right and you will make a great speech.
5. Practice makes perfect.
You need to get really familiar with the contents of your speech. If you lack confidence, the best way to do this is to try and memorize the main points, and you can use a list of notes for this. You have to go over and over it again, timing yourself so that you do not go over the time allocated. If you prefer, you can also use cards with the main points on them, just in case you forget. A good idea is to number the cards, just in case you drop them!
6. Avoid the PowerPoint death sentence.
People refer to ‘death by PowerPoint’ because these visuals, while an excellent tool, can become deadly boring, especially if you read what is written on them. Your audience can read too!
It is important to keep the number of slides to a minimum. It is a visual aid and it is not supposed to substitute for you. Go for facts and figures, charts, graphs, or something visually stimulating such as a dramatic photo.
“There are many true statements about complex topics that are too long to fit on a PowerPoint slide.” – Edward Tufte
7. Personalize what you have to say
People still love stories. An anecdote or two can work wonders. Tell them about your personal involvement in a project and what went right or wrong. Jokes are great too, although these should be kept to a minimum. All these things are important for bonding with your audience.
8. Being nervous is good
“Adrenaline is wonderful. It covers pain. It covers dementia. It covers everything.” – Jerry Lewis
You may think that all those irritating and embarrassing symptoms of butterflies in your stomach and a tremor in your voice and hand is going to mean you fail.
But look at it this way: These are just minor things that are happening because your adrenaline is flowing. This is giving you more energy, more determination, and also a much sharper you. Concentrate on these aspects so that you can power up rather than become a frightened mouse. These are primeval instincts to help you fight. Forget the flight bit. It will all be over soon.
“I don’t get stage fright, I actually love the energy, I love the spontaneity, I love the adrenaline you get in front of a live audience, it actually really works for me.” – Brooke Burke
9. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst
While remaining upbeat and confident, there’s no harm in being aware of what could go wrong and to have a contingency plan up your sleeve. Here are some common situations you may encounter:
- Make sure there is a glass of water on the lectern. When your mouth becomes impossibly dry, this is a life saver.
- Check to see that everything is working beforehand and that the PowerPoint is all set up. Do a trial run, if possible.
- If you forget the next point, refer to your notes. These should be brief and clear, with main points highlighted.
- You will not be judged on your quivering voice. You are not doing an audition for a Hollywood film, so concentrate on getting your message across.
10. Observe and learn from the experts
When practicing your presentation or speech, watch people speaking on YouTube. Observe people who you think are great communicators and whom you admire. Watch how they use pauses for effect. Study their speed of delivery and also their body language. Remember that they started out like you and were probably just as nervous and phobic about the whole thing.
One comforting thought is that one journalist noted that President George Washington, in making his inaugural speech, was as nervous as hell. He was “so visibly perturbed that his hand trembled and his voice shook so that he could scarcely be understood.” Nobody ever judged George Washington’s achievements by his public speaking!
Have you any tips about how to make public speaking easier? Tell us about them in the comments.
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