‘I love public speaking.’ Not a statement you hear very often and not one I can identify with personally either. However, over the years, I have come to dread it less than I used to and at times, perhaps even enjoyed it!
My husband is the opposite; he’s one of the best public speakers I know and practically revels in getting up on stage. Much of what I have learnt about public speaking is from him.
SOME PUBLIC SPEAKING TIPS THAT WORKED FOR ME
KNOW YOUR SUBJECT
One of my greatest fears was (is) about looking incompetent and not being able to string two sentences together. The key to this is to really know your subject matter. If it matters to you, you can convey this to the audience and your passion and knowledge will shine through. You won’t ‘be found out’ if it’s something you can speak knowledgeable and passionately about.
NO ONE WANTS YOU TO FAIL
This is quite a comforting realisation. Audiences are more forgiving and patient than you think, and no one wants to see you make an idiot of yourself. Take comfort in knowing that 99% of the audience would hate being on stage doing what you are doing, so give yourself a pat on the back for being the one who is doing the scary thing of getting up and talking in front of them all.
ENGAGE WITH THE AUDIENCE
Focus on those who are visibly engaged and enjoying your presentation. Make eye contact with those who are nodding and smiling. It makes it feel like more of a conversation which to me, is less intimidating. I find that focusing on those in the audience who are positively interacting with you, gives a little boost of confidence and helps make you more relaxed than trying to engage those who are yawning or scanning the room.
TAKE IT STEADY
Public speaking isn’t a race, don’t rush it, but speak slowly – I’ve yet to master this properly! It’s easy to let nerves run away with you and the downside is that your words will quicken as well as your heartbeat. People will be less engaged if you’re racing through things so take a deep breath and slow down. By the way, nerves are normal – don’t see them as negative, view them as excitement and channel that positivity!
I have found that the better prepared I am, the less anxious I am ahead of a pitch or big presentation. To me, preparation isn’t just about the content of the presentation. It’s thinking about what your ultimate objective is (to sell, educate, inspire?), who the audience will be (who are they, how many will there be, what are they expecting?), and knowing what the room I’m presenting in will be like (will I be standing, what is the AV set up?) so I can ensure I have the right equipment. There’s nothing worse than a last-minute tech disaster to totally throw you off kilter.
When it comes to practise, I can concede that it really does pay off. I used to hate practising beforehand and have often opted for the ‘winging it’ approach, thinking it wasn’t necessary. But the times I have rehearsed, it’s ultimately made me feel more prepared and therefore confident, which naturally comes across in your delivery. The crucial thing is to practise out loud and not just quietly mumble your notes to yourself, otherwise the first time you hear what you’re going to say will be when you’re in front of the audience. Rehearsals are the time to get it wrong; make the most of them.
I have found that, just like everything else we may be fearful of, the more we expose ourselves to it, or the more we do it, the less scary it becomes. I would recommend taking the opportunity to practise public speaking in a safe, friendly and supportive environment whenever possible, whether it’s leading an internal brainstorming session, or taking charge of a client meeting. Take small steps and face it head on – your confidence will grow every time.