It’s been described as one of the most terrifying and stressful events in life, including moving, changing jobs or losing a spouse. But public speaking doesn’t have to be all that scary, if you prepare and keep some of the following suggestions in mind:
1. Don’t wing it. Take the time to outline and organize your speech, even if you are well-versed in the material you’re sharing. Most so-called “off-the-cuff” speakers have a repertoire of well-rehearsed anecdotes, statistics and information that has been prepared in advance, probably culled from years of public speaking experience. If someone gives an amazing impromptu speech, chances are it’s been used successfully on an audience before today.
2. Practice out loud. Unless you are a seasoned veteran and have made your particular speech a number of times, it’s important to verbalize it several times before the event. Writing on paper or “practicing in your head” is not the same as hearing the words in the sound of your own voice. And it’s the only way to accurately time yourself.
3. Use note cards. You don’t have to memorize a speech verbatim if you’re prepared and organized. Using 3 x 5 cards can help. Write a word or phrase on each card for each section of your talk to jog your memory and keep you on track.
4. Smile. No matter how nervous or uptight you are before your talk, remember to flash those pearly whites. A genuine smile puts yourself and your audience at ease.
5. Take a moment. Nervous energy can cause a neophyte speaker to rush through the material and sound out of breath. Always begin a talk by taking a moment to center yourself. Take a deep breath and find a comfortable stance. And feel free to pause (and breathe) between segments, too. You’re not in a hurry.
6. Avoid eye contact. It sounds counterintuitive because you want to connect with your audience, but a surefire way to go blank in the middle of a speech is to look down, directly into the eyes of a stranger. Instead, many speakers focus on a fixed spot on the wall at the back of the venue, so their face and eyes can be seen by everyone in the audience.
7. Begin with an image or metaphor. This fixes your subject matter in the mind of the audience in a visual way, and enhances the cohesiveness of your presentation. If you can, end with the same image to come full circle. You’ll have your audience at rapt attention.
8. Keep going, even if you make a mistake. Sometimes we have a tendency to freeze up if we misspeak or stumble over a phrase or idea. Most flubs are noticeable more to ourselves than others, so just keep going. If you draw a complete blank, refer to your notes and quickly reiterate what you’ve just covered. That should get you back in the groove.
9. Speak up and articulate. Even with a microphone, it’s important to speak loudly and distinctly enough to reach the back of the house. Acoustics are not always optimal, and often you’ll be competing with clattering silverware and phones ringing in large banquet hall settings.
10. Use humor judiciously. Being witty is not easy, and not everyone shares the same sense of humor. Even if you are a natural comedian, be sure to cater to your audience’s sophistication and taste level. When in doubt, leave it out.
Do you have any public speaking advice or stories to share? We welcome your comments below.