You’ve no doubt encountered many pieces of advice in books and online that tell you the most important things to do when preparing or giving a speech. From my experience, here are the 10 most important public speaking tips that will actually help you:
- Visualise giving your speech. This is probably the key public speaking tips in the lead up to your presentation. By mentally rehearsing beforehand, your mind starts to build a positive template and expectation for how you will perform on the day.
- Make friends with your audience. Start to think of your audience as friends because, while this may not be obvious, they want you to do well! If you can, meet some of the audience members before you start speaking, especially those that will be sitting closest to you. If you can engage with them at a level that allows you to learn just a little bit about them, why they might be there etc. you’ll find that you will lower your anxiety levels as, now, the audience are no longer complete strangers. If they are people you know well and you are still nervous go and talk to one or two of them and tell them that you feel a bit nervous! As strange as sounds, telling some people that you’re nervous helps because you are sharing your fear. You’ll more than likely find that the people you speak with will share your fear of public speaking and will be completely sympathetic about your fears. They will also provide you with encouragement which always helps to some degree.
- Prepare well and practice as much as you can. Make sure you are very comfortable with your material. Run through the speech with a timer so know how long it will be and that you can get through the entire speech within the allocated timeframe. When practising it’s really important to remember to speak slowly and to pause frequently. Regular pauses are vital as your audience will need time to both listen and process the information that you are providing. Keep your focus on the message that you want to get across and make it is as easy as possible for them to understand it. A popular strategy is to imagine that you are presenting to a group of 12 year olds and ensure that they are capable of understanding the information you are presenting. Keep the message simple and avoid the need for complicated explanations or excessive detail.
- Start with a summary and set expectations. Start off by welcoming the audience, pause, provide a brief summary of what you will be talking about and (most importantly) what they will learn or gain by listening to you and why it is important. This then sets up a positive expectation and ultimately a genuine interest in listening to what you have to say. After a decent pause, begin your speech.
- Eye contact. As you start speaking find two or three people in the audience that you are comfortable making eye contact with, that seem interested and have welcoming, open body language. Glance back to them fairly regularly as well as giving others eye contact from time to time throughout your speech. Avoid looking down or away from the audience despite the urge to do so. This will be a separate blog post, however avoid using speech notes or cue cards where ever possible. Notes or cue cards invariably become cumbersome and distracting so speak from the heart or memory at all times. This is where practicing your speech becomes critical. You need to maintain the ability to speak from memory or experience at all times in order to make eye contact with your audience. Your speech will come across as genuine and you will maintain the audiences attention when you are making meaningful eye contact with them so this really is of critical importance.
- Humour can be the magic ingredient when performed well and at the appropriate time. Try and have a couple of humorous short stories or examples interspersed throughout your speech, ideally making sure that these stories illustrate a relevant point. If you do stumble during your speech, forget a key point or trip over your words in an obvious manner, attempt to make the moment briefly humorous. Generally, everyone will have sympathy and understanding and will join in on your laughter.
- Make your words the focus not handouts or power points. A common mistake by novice presenters is to put too much emphasis on lots of reading material or wordy power points. Keep handouts to a minimum and ideally wait until the end before giving them out. Power points are a great way of emphasising key messages, if they are clear as short bullet points. If you are using a power point presentation try to ad some humour or images that aid in emphasising your key points.
- Make the most of your voice. Your voice is a powerful tool so use it. Vary the tone and pitch of your voice, emphasising key points with more volume.
- Practise how to walk and stand in front of an audience. When you practice your speech also practise how you stand and walk. This sounds simple and yet so many people either stand rigid in one place or more often stride back and forth across the stage. You ideally should look comfortable standing still, with your hands gesticulating every now and then, feet comfortably apart and without fiddling (remember, avoid cue cards or notes. These are easy to fiddle with.). This can take practice when you are speaking at the same time. It’s also good to walk to different parts of the stage every now and then, trying to make sure you speak when still rather than walking. The best speakers will use particular points on the stage to emphasis certain messages, building audience association with these places. So you might use one area when only giving examples or stories. Check out a few TED talks as these are usually really experienced speakers who will be doing a lot of the things mentioned here. One key point, NEVER stand with your hands in your pockets. This can be extremely tempting when you lack confidence however is a definite NO. Always have your hands free to gesticulate where ever possible.
- Get your audience to do the talking for you. Something that many educators forget is that some of the best speakers are the ones that get the audience involved in the speech. Interact with your audience, ask them questions and get their opinions on key points where ever you can. You’ll find that when you take a break from speaking you will recharge and continue your speech with more energy and vigour then before.
- I know this is more than 10 points however the final point is, Enjoy it! The best part is that once you have done it a few times and built up your confidence and abilities, you WILL start to enjoy it, especially when you start getting feedback from your colleagues and peers.
What has your experience with public speaking been so far? Leave your comments and questions below. I’ll be sure to respond.
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