Public speaking is, in essence, any form of addressing a crowd or speaking in public.
It could be reciting a poem in front of your classmates, making a new proposal in a meeting at work, or you could be inspiring a group of fellow activists on a subject you’re passionate about. Regardless of why you’re speaking publicly, the ultimate aim is to be persuasive and get your message across, whilst feeling comfortable speaking.
This act of effective communication, speaking to an audience, requires quite a lot of preparation for some whereas, for others, it comes somewhat naturally. That said, different environments and audiences can play a big part in how you react under pressure so even the most confident speakers can crumble under extreme pressure when feeling speech anxiety!
When public speaking, the information is intended to have a purpose, i.e. to educate, influence or entertain the listeners so it’s important to speak with confidence.
When it comes to your career, good leadership and conversational skills can make you stand out from the rest of your team, ensure that people listen to your points, help you to make sales and leads, and allow you to be more transparent, among many other reasons to work this skill.
However, public speaking isn’t all about looking out for yourself in terms of job security and promotion. Being able to speak confidently can, outside of the workplace, help you to adjust to social situations that once made you uncomfortable (such as mingling, making small talk with strangers, etc…), enable you to showcase your knowledge on a subject and allow you to learn more about your interests.
Does the idea that you have to speak in public give you a fright and fill you with nervousness? Then keep reading for some tips on how to get rid of public speaking anxiety.
Learn from the best public speakers of our time. Photo on Visualhunt.com
Want to master presentation skills? Then you first need to get to grips with the basics of oral communication.
Here are some tips and tricks for getting better at speaking to the masses and diminish performance anxiety.
Being nervous is normal: pounding heart, sweaty palms, dry mouth, we’ve all experienced it. But nerves are also good, as they show that you care.
The best way to overcome these feelings, however, is to be as prepared as you can be when giving a presentation. If you have re-read your notes a hundred times, then you have no need to feel worried about your speaking skills!
Get to know who it is you are addressing because remember that delivering presentations is about them and not you.
Find out as much as you can about the crowd so that you can choose your vocabulary wisely in your presentation to engage the audience, work out how much information you feed them and decide how to organise the speech (with kids, for example, you’ll need to keep injecting fun activities in between chunks of detail if you want to keep them hooked throughout!).
While you should know your audience and should, therefore, have an idea of how they will respond to your speech, it’s wise to try to feel their response and work with the feedback and vibes they give. If it means forgetting your cue cards and going off on a tangent because that is how the speech evolves, then go with the flow if you are confident to do so! Everyone hates it when politicians keep returning to the point they want to make instead of answering the question put to them… the greatest speeches keep your listeners on side.
Be yourself, during your speech, as otherwise, you will be too focused on trying to maintain your alter ego or persona. You will have better credibility if your personality shines through while you address the crowd and your audience feels it can trust you. Be real, even if you don’t like the sound of your own voice and you’ll deliver a great presentation!
One of the most common phobias in life is giving a presentation to an audience… how to overcome fear? Be funny!
Making the odd joke here and there, especially at the beginning of a speech can be a great way to captivate the audience however steer clear of any dry humour as you don’t want to wind up upsetting people.
Using humour in most situations can break the ice. Photo credit: benzado on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA
Even though you may have written down an excellent speech, don’t read it word for word, that’s a failure to grasp any presenting skills. Or, if you really have to because you struggle to retain a script, then make sure that you make eye contact with the crowd regularly. Otherwise, you won’t be able to keep an eye on their reactions!
The way you hold yourself and the way you present yourself on stage can be just as important as how you deliver your speech vocally. Use hand gestures and, more importantly, use your face to get your message across more powerfully. You need presence if you want to influence your audience and thankfully adrenaline helps a lot with this.
Ending a speech well is almost as important as to start it off on the right foot. What’s more, people will usually remember the beginning and end more, since they are more likely to drift during the middle of your speech. Make sure you conclude with a strong summary and give them food for thought.
Contrary to what we said above, introverts might like to try pretending they are someone else, but not a different person entirely. Very nervous people might do well imagining that they are not the quiet person they are by nature and instead act as though they are full of confidence and self-esteem. Speaking is performing, after all.
You might even discover a new, more extroverted side of yourself that you didn’t know was there before!
Introverts are normally riddled with negative feelings – are they laughing at me, have I got spinach in my teeth, are my flies pulled up, etc… – so it is important to focus on your appearance before you take to the stage so that that is one thing you can tick off your list and be sure of. Maybe go to the toilets just before your speech and start your checklist in front of the mirror to ensure you are well prepared: Hair, tick! Teeth, tick! Shirt tucked in, tick!!!
Remember also, your audience aren’t going to judge you solely on your appearance so it’s not the be all and end all. The most important thing is getting your message across with little speaking anxiety.
Even if it is masking a whole bucket of feelings, starting your speech with a smile is proven to get more people on side. What’s more, even if it is slightly forced, it is likely to make you feel happier and distract from your nerves. Seeing a few warm and friendly smiles back at you could also put you at ease as you begin.
If you are a nervous person by nature, then you may need to work extra hard on your public speaking. Photo on Visualhunt.com
I know, this is supposed to your time to shine, to take the limelight. But you didn’t really want it anyway, did you? If you are clever, you could mask your fears by delivering a short and sweet speech and then encouraging participation and getting your audience to do a bit of the work for you, all the while keeping them engaged and managing to avoid speaking much yourself. Genius isn’t it?!
After your speech, you’ll probably be buzzing that it’s over but also worrying about if it went well. And all that nervous energy will probably linger! Public speaking, for anyone, can be quite draining, especially if you’ve spent a long time memorizing and working on your delivery skills beforehand to make sure you nailed what to say. Make sure that you don’t arrange to do anything that means you are rushing about after the speech. Just get yourself home, with a nice cup of tea (or glass of wine, if you prefer!) and put your feet up!
See here which online resources are available to those wanting to give great speeches.