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Public Speaking

Become a Better Public Speaker with These 8 Tips

We’ve all heard that old cliché: picture the audience wearing nothing but their underwear. Other than being somewhat unsettling, there are plenty of more effective ways to boost your confidence when public speaking.

  1. Practice, practice, practice!

Did you ever see John Travolta’s notorious blunder at the Oscars? He could have avoided calling Idina Menzel “Adele Dazeem” if he had gone over his cue cards a few times before he got on stage. You should always know your stuff like the back of your hand. Rather than writing it once and relying on cues, you should be able to explain what your speech is about to anyone who asks with the same fluency of the speech itself. As the adage goes: don’t practice until you get it right—practice until you never get it wrong.

  1. Be prepared for anything

It’s vital that you know your speech inside out, but the environment of your actual delivery will always be different to the privacy of talking to your bathroom mirror. A child could start crying, the projector could break, you could trip on the stairs and drop all your cue cards. These are the points where you may curse quietly under your breath but pull yourself together and push on instead of panicking and becoming flustered.

Try purposely dropping your cards halfway through your speech and continuing on, or playing music on shuffle with one or two loud songs to play at unknown points. Play tug of war with your dog at the same time, or explain your speech to a family member over dinner. Understand your speech beyond just memorising the words and you’ll find it much easier to push through when faced with any kind of obstacle.

  1. Treat it more like a conversation

It’s not like you’re delivering an inaugural presidential address (if you are, congratulations!) or putting on a performance of epic proportions. It’s you sharing an idea, explaining a topic or sending a message to another person; you are simply talking about something important or interesting. While you may be speaking to a group, each person is listening as an individual, so try looking people in the eye as you flick through the crowd and it will feel like more of an informal conversation than an embarrassment.

  1. Don’t overthink the audience’s reactions

The vast majority of communication between humans is non-verbal. This often means you get less information from what someone is saying than you do from how they are saying it, including posture, body movements and facial expressions. However, this can become a problem when these signals are misinterpreted.

When giving a speech, it’s easy to look out over the sea of blank faces in front of you and misconstrue negative feedback from blank expressions, yawns and other body language. However, individuals in a crowd often feel part of a mass and will make less effort to offer encouraging visual cues such as nodding or smiling, since attention is not directed on them. In no way does this mean they aren’t engaged with what you are saying, so don’t draw any false conclusions from the crowd you are speaking to.

  1. Remain optimistic

While it’s important that you prepare for the worst, this isn’t all you should be focusing on prior to giving the speech. Instead of thinking “what happens if I freak out”, think “I am well prepared, I’m going to nail it”. Thinking optimistically may seem like cliché advice, but it’s actually an incredibly effective way of creating positive thoughts and setting you up for success.

Besides, do you remember the most recent time you watched someone give a speech or speak in front of a group? It might have already happened three times today, or you may not even remember the last time at all. The point is, no matter how good or bad your speech is, people won’t remember if you stumble a little bit or show some nerves.

  1. Radiate confidence

When people see you walk into the room, they aren’t going to know that your gut is churning, your palms are sweating or you are beginning to get tunnel vision. They have no desire to see you fail, they simply want to hear what you have to say. Expectation theory tells us that it’s far more likely for people to see what they expect or want to see, so fake it until you make it: even if you have to force yourself to use confident body language, the audience will see self-assurance and you will inevitably start convincing yourself!

  1. Focus on the message, not who you’re delivering it to

Stop worrying about what those all those people are thinking during your speech. It’s not about them, it’s about what you have to say. Let yourself become engrossed in your own words as you speak and enjoy the particular words you have chosen to get the point across. Think about how you’ll say your next sentence, not how the audience will react to it.

  1. Do it again and again

You might get over the nerves on your first try. You might still be terrified on your 10th speech. Even some of the best public speakers still feel nervous when talking in front of a crowd—it may be hard to believe, but the truth is that even if you can’t manage to get rid of the butterflies, anyone can learn to cope with it. Eventually, you’ll see it for what it is: explaining a concept you understand to a group of people who don’t. After all, they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t want to hear what you have to say.

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