How do you feel about public speaking? Are you terrified? Get a bit nervous? Cope ok, but put it on the ‘glad I don’t have to do that too often’ list?
If you’re someone who HATES public speaking, you are not alone. Worldwide studies show it’s many people’s greatest fear – even scarier than death!
As Jerry Seinfeld joked: “That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
No matter how you feel about public speaking – whether you’re terrified, terrific, or somewhere in between – there are many things you can do to make the experience less daunting and your presentation more engaging. Here are 10 of them:
1. Know your audience. Who are they? What messages do they want to hear? What do they want to know? What will connect with them? How do they want to hear it? Use this information to develop a presentation with clear and concise messaging that engages your audience immediately and answers their questions before they even ask. It’s not just about what you want to say, it’s about what your audience wants to hear. For example, the information you include in a best man’s speech at a wedding should be different to that you’d use at a 21st! Similarly, the detail you’d give the community about a project that impacts their properties is different to that which you’d give a roomful of engineers.
2. Don’t commit death by PowerPoint. If you use presentation software, keep slides simple and clean. Stick to dot points, images and video snippets if appropriate. Do not use long word-for-word sentences; slabs of text; tiny font; or graphs, tables and charts so small or complex they can’t be read. There’s nothing worse than being in a presentation where every word is on the screen and the speaker says things like, “I know you can’t read this graph, but what it shows is…”
3. Facts tell, stories sell. Stories create a human and emotional connection. They bring what you’re saying to life and make your message relevant and memorable. Your stories don’t need to be long. In fact, it’s better if they’re not. Keep them short, sharp, real, relevant and relatable. And most important of all – make sure they serve a purpose.
Stories can be added to any communication. Even a dry monthly financial report can be made more engaging with stories. You saved $10,000 last month – great! Bring it to life by telling your audience what that equates to. What could you buy with that money? What does it mean for your business?
4.Practice, both in your head and aloud. We all sound better when we deliver a speech in our head. We don’t pick up repetition, clunky sentences, mistakes, or words we tend to stumble on. Practice your presentation out loud (in the car is my favourite) and time yourself so you know if you’re on track. If you do stumble or ramble in places, re-work these sections.
5. When delivering your presentation, do not read from a word-for-word script. I repeat – DO NOT. I know you think having a word-for-word script will make you less nervous, but the opposite is true. Reading word-for-word will make you more nervous as you worry about making a mistake, missing a line, or stumbling. And guess what? You probably will.
Prepare and practice word-for-word if you must, but then summarise your speech into dot point for delivery. If you miss or muck up something when using dot points as a prompt, you’ll likely be the only person in the room who notices. Remember, no one else in the room knows what you plan to say. It doesn’t matter if your delivery is a little different to how you practiced if the content and key messaging are there.
6. Nerves are normal; don’t fight them. Don’t be surprised when they show up, nerves are simply a physical response to fear. Your body is being hit with adrenalin and cortisol, creating a fight or flight response – great if you’re trying to escape a saber toothed tiger, not so useful when you just need to speak at a team meeting.
My advice? Reframe the feeling. Instead of calling it nerves, call it energy. Use that energy to engage your audience and show your passion. Take a deep breath through your nose and blow it all the way out through your mouth, like you’re blowing out a candle. When you’re nervous you tend to forget to exhale properly.
Go somewhere private and hold your body in a strong power pose (think Superman or Wonder Woman – feet shoulder width apart, straight spine, hands on hips) and talk back to the nerves in your head: “I’m nervous, so what? I’m not sick. I’m not in danger. I know my stuff. I’m doing it anyway.” You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.
7. Remember, there are no boring topics, only boring speakers. It doesn’t matter how interesting your topic is, if you appear bored, disinterested or speak in a monotone, your audience will be bored too. Be enthusiastic. If you want your audience to care about what you have to say, show them you care.
8. Embrace the pause. ‘Um, ah, like, you know’ – they’re all filler words used to cover a pause while we think about what we want to say. We use them to buy ourselves time while our brain catches up. Don’t fear the pause! A well-timed pause is powerful. It helps punctuate what you’re saying, adds drama and weight to your words, and shows your response is considered. Pausing also stops your audience becoming distracted by your filler words and counting how many times you say ‘um’ or ‘like’, rather than paying attention to your speech (I’ve done it while listening to speeches before and you probably have too).
9. Project your voice. Speak like you’re trying to be heard over a noisy room, even if your audience is silent. You want everyone to be able to hear you clearly. Having people call out, “Speak up, we can’t hear you!” only feeds nerves. Don’t yell, but don’t speak at normal volume either. Project your voice up and out. It will make you feel more confident and controlled, while also minimising audience distraction as people will be more engaged.
10. Always run on or slightly under time, never over. This is important as it shows you respect your audience. Make sure you’re clear on the time you have to speak before you get up to present. Start on time and finish on time. Adapt and adjust your content if need be. Your audience will thank you for it.
If you’d like to learn more skills and strategies to improve your public speaking, get a ticket to my next public workshop, Public Speaking: For the Terrified, Terrific and Everyone in Between at the Mercure Warragul on Tuesday 16 October from 6:30pm-9:30pm.
Tickets are on sale now at https://warragulpublicspeaking.eventbrite.com.au.
Leah Mether is a communications specialist, trainer and professional speaker. She has extensive experience delivering presentations and speeches to a wide range of audiences. To find out more about Leah’s workshops and training, visit www.methmac.com.au.