We’ve all been there, whether it’s a class project, large presentation, or just a quick wedding address, public speaking is high on the list of things we hate. In fact, people tend to fear public speaking more than death. You are in good company if your next public speech has your palms sweaty and knees trembling, but that’s no reason to let your fear get the best of you. Get your cue cards together and take a deep breath – these nine tips will help you polish your speaking skills until you’re in complete control.
Study Your Topic
The better you know the subject you’re talking about, the less likely you’ll be to stumble when the big day comes. If possible, pick a topic you know a lot about or are interested in, so you start off confident in your knowledge. If you can’t pick your topic, don’t despair. Research the topic you’re going to speak on, especially points you’re not too familiar with. Thoroughly knowing your material will help you speak with authority. It will also help boost your confidence before, and while you speak.
Practice. Then practice again.
Now that you know your subject inside and out, practice your speech as often as possible. Practice in front of the mirror or with a few friends, whichever you’re comfortable with. Practice will help you gauge how long your speech is, and where changes may need to be made. Plus, practicing out loud a few times will help you feel familiar with your speech the day of the event. Growing comfortable with your speech is essential if you’d like to eliminate “um”s, “like”s and other distracting pauses.
Know Your Audience
When in the practice stage, it’s a good idea to consider who your audience is. Are you speaking to young kids with short attention spans, or an older crowd that appreciates direct, solemn communication? If you’ve taken time to craft your speech specifically to your audience, you’ll feel less out of place when you go to address the crowd.
Try and mingle with the audience before the event starts. By shaking hands and chatting with the audience first, you’ll feel a bit more at home when you need to stand at the front. If, like most of us, you get nervous when speaking in public, a warm, familiar smile from audience members can make all the difference. Especially if you’re speaking to strangers, you’ll have some familiar faces to focus on while your talking.
Another way to lessen pre-speech jitters is to arrive early. Familiarize yourself with the space, and make sure you test any AV or visual aid equipment. Not only will you be less likely to run into technical difficulties mid-speech, you’ll also get another chance to practice your material once or twice.
Start your speech with a warm welcome to the audience, and possibly a quick joke or story. By starting out with a few colloquial items, you’ll have a minute to adjust to your position and calm your nerves a bit. Additionally, we all seem most relaxed when discussing something in a conversational matter, allowing you an opportunity to take control of your speech. Plus, by grabbing the audiences attention first, you can help the audience warm up to you.
Though it may seem silly, visualization is a technique used by successful people around the world – from business moguls to athletes. Visualize yourself giving the best, most rousing version of your speech to help you feel confident during your address. Not only does this help nerves, it’s another way to practice and reinforce your material in your head.
Relax. Then Relax Again
Relaxation techniques are a must before going on, even if you’re a seasoned public speaker. No one likes watching someone who seems uncomfortable, even if what they’re saying is useful. Deep breathing techniques, a cup of tea, or a short walk can all go along way towards making you look like a natural.
Finally, even if your stomach is in knots and your knees are shaking, try to project confidence during your speech. Use appropriate eye contact, project your voice, and gesture normally to appear relaxed. Even if you feel out of place, approaching your topic with confidence will maximize the audiences desire to pay attention. If there’s a glitch with the equipment or you misspeak, laugh it off and keep going. The audience will be less likely to focus on imperfections if you ignore them too.
Featured photo credit: Paul Hudson via flickr.com