Your knees turn to jelly as you take centre stage. Your hands tremble as you prepare your slides. You suddenly have a lump in your throat and your heart has sunk to your stomach. The time you have been anticipating has finally come, but you’ve suddenly lost all sense and forgotten everything you have practised.
Sound familiar? The fear of public speaking, also known as ‘glossophobia’, is one of the most common among young professionals, with a whopping 74% of people suffering from speech anxiety, according to Statistic Brain.
It’s normal for nervousness to take control during a presentation, but the good news is that there’s a way to overcome this soul-destroying problem. The following top tips will help you fully prepare for your speech to ensure you convey confidence with a faultless delivery.
1. Know your audience
Before you begin outlining your speech, it’s important to think about who the message is for. Find out as much as you can about your listeners beforehand; think about the organisation that it is for, who your audience is and what their level of experience is. If they are beginners, for example, you will use different language to that you would use for experienced professionals. You will need to know the difference between the two and be able to change your presentation based on this.
As the age-old saying goes: ‘practice makes perfect’. The more you practise, the more experience you’ll have and the more confident you will be. All great speakers aren’t naturally experts; they take time to prepare and improve their techniques. Take Winston Churchill, for example, who spent an hour preparing for every minute of delivery.
3. Organise your material
If you don’t organise your material, you’ll be lost going from one point to another, forgetting where you originally started off. Katherine Burik, founder of Interview Doctor says: ‘I always begin my planning with the end in mind… What are the one or two main points I want the audience to leave with? Then I think about it from the audience’s perspective. Frame the entire talk around WIIFM [What’s In It For Me?] and build around your main points and you will have a great talk.’
4. Eliminate fear of rejection
‘What if my audience switch off and get bored?’, ‘What if I get booed?’ and ‘What if I choke and forget my words?’ are among the many dreadful thoughts that run through our heads right before any public speech. By shifting your thoughts to something more positive, though, you’ll automatically start feeling better as you’ll be excited rather than nervous, and this will effectively eliminate any worries. After all, you’re giving this talk for a reason and people want to hear about what you have to say.
5. Focus on pattern
When you speak, focus on your rhythm and flow. It’s important to practise the pace of your presentation and make sure that there are enough pauses throughout to add anticipation to what you’re going to say next.
6. Watch yourself in the mirror
A good technique that many famous speakers use is practising in front of a mirror. When you do this, take note of your facial expressions, hand gestures, body movements and your stance to see what needs improvements.
7. Record yourself and work on your voice
You’re probably thinking ‘cringe alert!’ but by recording yourself, you can listen to your delivery and make notes on how you can improve. You’ll also see how long it takes and can increase or cut it down as necessary.
8. Work on your breathing
When you focus on your breathing, your voice will sound more relaxed and confident. By breathing in and slowly breathing out, you’re allowing oxygen to the brain to have a more reasonable thought process. When you starve the brain of oxygen, it automatically goes into attack mode, limiting your ability to process complex information and making you nervous.
9. Do some light exercise
Similarly, exercising before a speech will reduce your cortisol levels (the stress hormone), effectively making you feel less tense and more focused. If you can’t go for a walk beforehand, try doing a few knee bends and stretches.
10. Take classes
If you’re really struggling, look for public speaking classes in your area. These are great because they can teach you how to communicate effectively, as well as help you overcome your fear and make social connections that may prove useful further down the line.
11. Do your research
Do thorough research on the subject you will be talking about – after all, the more knowledge you have on the topic, the more self-assured you’ll be when speaking about it, especially in front of a large audience.
12. Discover your stage persona
Some people like to have an alter ego when they go on stage; take Beyoncé, for example, who has an alter ego called Sasha Fierce for when she performs – Sasha is a poised, fearless woman. If you find it easier, create your own character for your public speaking engagements, and let them take over.
13. Use the KISS technique
The ‘keep it simple stupid’ technique is popular among professionals from all industries everywhere. When preparing for a presentation, training lecture or speech, use this in order to keep it short and sweet so your listeners remain engaged.
14. Mind your body language
Without you even being aware of it, your body language can let off your nervousness and the tension you’re feeling. It’s important to pay attention to your body language – stand up tall with your shoulders down, take deep breaths and look people in the eye when you are talking to them.
15. Show your passion
In order for people to buy what you are saying, you need to be passionate about it. You should exude a level of sincerity in your emotion when you communicate with your listeners if you want them to believe in you.
16. Avoid talking too fast
When you talk too fast, your audience will get lost and think that you’re unsure of what you’re saying. It is, therefore, vital to talk slowly and pause just before you’re about to deliver a powerful message.
17. Start with a grabber
The first 30 seconds of your speech or presentation are the most important; this is where you will make a connection with your audience and hold their attention. Many great speakers begin with a personal story to relate to their listeners. When you share genuine feelings, you create an immediate and lasting connection with the audience. Emotion trumps speaking skills every time.
It’s imperative to smile throughout a presentation and make your listeners feel welcome. Smiling will also make you feel more calm and relaxed, and you’ll have a few seconds to gather your thoughts in the process.
19. Engage with your audience
Many speakers make the mistake of talking AT their audience rather than TO their audience. It’s important to keep your speech free-flowing like you’re having a conversation with your listeners.
20. Make slides an aid
If you have presentation slides, they should be there to help you remember the key points, not to read off. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association suggests using punctuation sparingly, using bullet points in body copy and avoiding using more than eight words per line or eight words per slide.
21. Don’t apologise
Even if you make a mistake, you should never apologise during a public speech. Chances are that your audience didn’t even notice, so you’ll only be drawing attention to yourself if you do.
22. Channel nervous energy into positive energy
Turning your nerves into excitement will do a world of wonders, so when you next go up on stage, tell yourself how excited you are. ‘When you do, it really has a miraculous impact in helping you change your attitude to what you're about to do,’ says Simon Sinek, the third most watched TED talk presenter.
23. Always end early
People’s time is precious; therefore, you should value it and always end five minutes earlier than your allotted time. This gives them a chance to have a quick break before they carry on with their daily tasks.
It takes a lot of practice to become a powerful public speaker, but with these top tips, you build the characteristics of an effective presenter and continue to develop your technique to giving an inspiring and informative speech.
Do you struggle with public speaking? Let us know your tips and tricks in the comments section below…