Public speaking…..those two little words have the power to instil so much fear. You step up to the microphone, your heart beats, your hands get sweaty and you forget what you have so meticulously planned to say. However, the ability to confidently address a variety of people is essential in business, for you as an individual as well as for your company. Effective public speaking gives you the ability to showcase your expertise, share your knowledge and get your business known in a positive light.
There are many tips to overcoming a fear of public speaking. Here are a few to try next time you walk up to the podium:
- Know your audience
Start by thinking about your audience. Are you addressing a highly professional crowd, or a group from a particular club or organisation, or a mix of people from diverse backgrounds? Your speech will be much more effective if your audience feels you understand them and clearly addresses why they are attending the presentation in the first place. Once you know who you are addressing, incorporate ways to effectively engage with them. Share you own personal stories or anecdotes, use descriptive words to paint a picture around your topic, maybe use a little humour, or even get your audience brainstorming, offering anecdotes and sharing experiences themselves.
- Gather your thoughts
Start by getting down on paper your goal for the presentation and what you intend to say. Use short sentences, written as you would naturally speak. Once you have organised your thoughts, go over it a few times and gradually distil each paragraph into brief points to simply jog your memory. This prevents you from standing up in front of your audience and reciting the words, which will quickly lose you your audience. Instead, you want to be confident enough in your topic to speak enthusiastically, expertly showcasing your skills and knowledge, but also flexible in case you are distracted, disrupted or the timing is out.
- Practice makes perfect
Take time to practice a few times before the day. Watching yourself in a mirror can be intimidating but very useful to assess your body language and facial expressions, or trust a family member of friend to give you some constructive feedback. Your body language will make a massive difference to how you are perceived by your audience, so stand tall and appear confident, even if you are not! Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shares some tips on powerful body language in this TED talk.
As part of your preparation, seek out some meditations that guide you on how to quickly and easily calm yourself using your breath. Taking a few moments before you step out on stage to close your eyes, breathe slowly and deeply and visualise a positive experience can do wonders for your confidence and improve your public speaking skills.
- Start with a bang !
Come up with a punchy, eye-catching or visually stimulating way to introduce yourself and your topic to your audience. This could be with a simple question to get your listeners thinking, a specific prop or costume, or some audience participation to break the ice. Be creative and memorable – for all the right reasons!
- Using visual aids
PowerPoint can be useful for distilling your speech into visual cues for you and key points for your audience, however don’t rely on it for your entire dialogue. Graphs, charts and images in particular can be powerful ways to enhance your spoken words and keep your audience engaged. Where appropriate, incorporate visual aids such as tools or props, or even other people on stage to help get your point across. Lecterns can be useful for holding notes, but try not to stay standing behind a barrier for the whole speech. Let your audience see you and keep your body language as natural as possible.
- Comfort is key
Dress appropriately for the room and your audience – if you don’t feel comfortable, it will show. Think professional but practical too; give yourself the ability to adjust your attire according to the temperature of the room, for example you could remove a scarf or jacket if you are too warm, or have a cardigan or pullover handy in case it is particularly cold. When preparing for your speech, ensure there is room temperature water available to take a short break while on stage. Not only does this give you a chance to wet your mouth and gather your thoughts, but it gives your audience a chance to catch up and digest what you have already spoken about.
- Don’t worry about the audience!
Unfortunately, no matter what you do, there will always be someone yawning, talking, looking at their phone or getting up to move during your speech. Don’t take any of this personally! There could be a thousand reasons they are not fully engaged with your topic. All you can do is your very best and learn and grow from each experience. You have a lot of knowledge and insight to share – and there are many people who will appreciate you taking the time to address them.
For more tips on overcoming the fear of public speaking, take a look at this video by Animesh Gupta.
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Thank you for reading !