1. Embrace the Nerves
Let’s start with one of the most common grievances surrounding public speaking – nervousness. The thing to remember here is that it’s completely natural to be nervous before a public performance of any kind. Accept that you won’t be able to eradicate that feeling altogether. The good part is that by practicing (a lot!) and by preparing for the event, you will feel much more in control and focused.
Also, if you can, enjoy the fact that you’re nervous. It means you’re leaving your comfort zone and you’ll be stronger for it. At the end of the day, it’s just another flavour of excitement.
2. Know your Audience
This is a good rule to remember for any type of communication, from writing an email to giving an elevator pitch. Your decisions about which words to choose, the structure of your talk, your tone, and the level of information you present, should all be guided by who your listeners are.
3. Give, Don’t Sell
You might be eager to present your message as clearly and powerfully as possible, but if you “sell” to your audience, you’ll likely just lose their attention. Focus on what you can give them, as opposed to what you’re expecting to get from them. Choose stories that will inspire them, pick examples that are enlightening, and organize the information so that they don’t get lost. With this approach, your audience will be engaged and open to the message you wish to present to them.
4. Structure your Content
A basic suggestion for creating your talk will be to first divide it into 3 main sections – beginning, middle, and end. Treat the beginning as your grand entrance. Aim to really grab the attention of as much of the audience as possible before 30 seconds have passed. Use a surprising anecdote, dramatic statistic, or unique quote.
For the middle part, you’ll want to create a sub-structure that lists the points you wish to cover. Check that these points are in an order that makes sense, and try to link between each point and the next so that there isn’t a break in your overall message.
For your concluding statements, aim to finish on a high note. This will be the lasting impression you leave on your audience. Summarize your speech so that your audience is clear on the message you presented, but don’t bore them! Keep it dynamic and include an insightful example or personal idea to tie everything up.
5. Present Yourself
Whether you like it or not, your audience will be judging you before your ideas. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just that as humans we are naturally interested in other humans. You’re not a speech-giving robot so don’t try to be one. Let your character shine through. Show something about who you are and what moves you. What do you find amusing? You don’t need to be a comedy writer, but showing your personality is vital in connecting with your audience and gaining their trust.
6. Practice, and Practice. And then do some Practicing
You can be sure that even the most casual looking musician has put in a serious number of hours to master their craft. Practicing will build your confidence and help you test the flow of your writing. Make sure to practice in front of a friend or family member, and record yourself doing your speech in front of a camera. Even an audience of one, or the fact that you’re recording yourself, will better simulate the pressure you might feel on the day.
7. Eliminate the Awkward
If you’re nervous, you might do a few things that at the time you’ll judge as awkward. Don’t waste energy on it. You’re allowed to make mistakes – skip points and go back; cough; drop something – there’s no need to apologize and it’s really not a big deal. Take your time. Pause before and after central points to really let them settle in and smile. After all, you’ve got this. This is your message and you’re the expert.
8. A Word on Eye Contact
Don’t talk out and over the audience’s heads. You should be aiming to speak with them. Create eye contact with individual audience members as you speak. This might seem awkward, but it’s actually more natural than the idea of performing a speech like an actor would. You won’t be able to create eye contact with everyone, but the other audience members will notice and you will have created a dynamic that resembles a discussion more than a lecture.
9. Read the Audience and Respond
It would be great if you could practice your speech at home and then experience that exact same delivery on site. In many cases, circumstances beyond our control will affect the audience. Maybe they’ve sat through 3 speeches already, or maybe they’re really excited to meet each other at the networking session after your talk.
Following on from the previous point about eye contact, try to gauge where your audience is at. Did they react to the last example? Are you moving too fast? While this is a tip more suited to experienced speakers, it’s one to keep in mind right from the start – think, and speak, on your feet.
If you were telling a friend about an amazing movie you watched and noticed them spacing out, you’d probably cut to the chase, or add something that you know they’d love to hear about. The same goes here. By reading your audience, you can learn to stay flexible and respond by making slight changes on the spot.
10. Get Comfortable
When the time has come to start, take your time to get comfortable. While you might feel pressured to begin right away, taking a few moments to get settled will actually help your audience relax as well. Position your notes, devices, water bottle etc in a way that suits you. Take a deep breath, look at your audience, smile, and begin.