Post No.: 0284
Public speaking can be nerve-wracking for many people but you can develop more self-confidence by applying some tips and by simply practising more public speaking. Speaking is a gift so use it to share, teach, inform and persuade!
The number one rule is that when you talk, your talk is for the audience and not for yourself, so don’t focus on yourself. By not focusing on yourself, it also means that you aren’t focusing on any worries that you might have when speaking to a large audience. So to reduce self-consciousness – think about the audience instead. You are the messenger and it is the audience, as well as the message, that are the focuses rather than you.
Successful speaking is the art of eloquence. Speak with purpose, passion and compassion. You likely have something important to share, such as some expertise or some goal that you believe is important for others to know about or to join in with. It’s far easier to speak about something when you truly believe in and have a passion for the subject you are speaking about. So keep your heart in your words and believe in your words. Have warmth and kindness for your audience because you are performing the presentation for them. Offer humility, humour, positivity and touch their hearts. Woof!
Some nervousness is absolutely normal – in fact, a little bit of nervousness means that you care about doing well so let it drive you. Re-label your physiological responses, such as an accelerated heart rate or sweating, from apprehension to excitement. Take a second to compose yourself, be clear, remember to pause when appropriate rather than try to reach the end as quickly as possible (jokes need space afterwards for the audience to laugh too – this was one of my own early mistakes but now I remember to put them in because I always keep a note written on my paws…
…), check your body language, and most importantly respond to the audience even if it means breaking your flow (i.e. if the audience doesn’t get you, don’t ignore it or carry on – raise it with them). Talking slowly can even exude an air of gravitas. If you make a mistake then joke about it and laugh it off! These things happen to everyone.
People tend to behave less apprehensively than they actually feel inside, so everyone feels some nervousness inside but they’re maybe just not quite showing it on the outside. To deal with any excess stress, use relaxation techniques such as centring yourself in the present and on your breathing (rather than on the past or future), and focus on your message and the audience (rather than on yourself). Speak the first few lines then enjoy the rest. Speaking should be totally approached with fun in mind and having a good time with everybody there.
In general, the audience will be friendly and rooting for you – if you’re nervous then they’ll empathise and want you to do well. So let the crowd lift you, stir you and make you feel very important while you’re on stage! The greater the crowd, the more stimulation and inspiration you should feel. One tip is imagining that everyone in the audience owes you money and they are all asking you for an extension of credit. (This is probably less awkward than imagining them all naked – although you could try that too if you wish!) You’re in charge when you’re on the stage.
Deep and full breathing and powerful projection are at the root of a good delivery – breathe out slowly and fully after every intake. Breathe at a steady rate and deeply from your diaphragm (as in not shallowly with your shoulders). Project at volume and at an unhurried pace so that even those 10 rows behind the last can hear (we don’t want to lose out to environmental sounds and there could be distracting ambient sounds at the back of the room that we cannot hear from the front; a little bit of echo is usually a good sign). Good, properly deep breathing and projection at volume will also knock out any waviness in your voice (a wavy voice is a symptom of being too soft and not breathing deeply enough) – it also obviously helps us with being heard, authoritative and understood.
Another key is to prepare your speech as a speech, not as a reading. Also, change your approach so that it’s not about an overly formal presentation but like it has more of a conversational orientation or tone, if appropriate. Even formal topics can be approached more informally, and might even benefit from it. All any speech is about is simply talking and communicating your point(s) to the audience, and that’s it, thus one slip or two doesn’t mean you’re bad or evil(!) Mistakes are again natural and the audience will understand it and won’t make a big deal out of it if you don’t.
The more you do something, the easier it gets, and this includes public speaking. Your first speaking attempts likely won’t be great but if you take them as learning opportunities rather than as signs you should never do it again then you’ll gradually get better. Even before giving a speech for the very first time, rehearsing and refining it helps you to gain confidence. Practice and perseverance is a reliable way to make you feel more confident about any task. Perform it in front of a mirror, run it through friends, family or on camera first. Record your rehearsals and replay them to yourself many times to analyse and improve on them. Imagine speaking to gradually increasing audience sizes as you look into the camera (a form of ‘systematic desensitisation’). Picture yourself in your mind talking to the crowd with perfect poise, clear delivery and feeling great. Visualise a great performance (a form of ‘cognitive modification’). Listen to and look at other people’s speeches too, as knowing what makes a good speech when you hear and see one will help make you a better speaker yourself.
Plan and know what you are going to say, then dictate and revise/refine, dictate and revise/refine, and so on until you’re happy; but do keep your talk as simple as you can make it. Speak aloud, clearly and use gestures that are communicative yet feel natural to you when you do – always imagine that you are actually there and are addressing a real audience in every way when you rehearse. Therefore remember to deliver your practices with vivacity and vitality as well. Rehearse whilst picturing everyone enjoying your compassion for them. Maybe try progressing briskly when practising, without pondering on missed-out points or mistakes? Albeit, in general, practice your speech exactly as you intend to deliver it. You could also rehearse inside your head silently (e.g. when on the train) if there are limited opportunities to rehearse out loud.
Good speeches sound like they’ve been practised a couple of times – but excellent speeches sound like one is just discussing an idea with the audience i.e. it has been practised enough that the topic is practically second nature.
To prevent boredom from practising and losing freshness for the actual day – remember that you are not practising to memorise your speech word-for-word but practising to perform your speech. So don’t just say the same sentences the same way all of the time – stand up and use synonyms and antonyms (but be sure that any flowery language or jargon is appropriate for your audience), paraphrase and use different emotions (e.g. try a more passive or enthusiastic tone) to experiment and add variance and freshness. This exercise will also help boost your vocabulary.
Use notes at first if you want when practising but learn to not use any notes at all (unless just pointers on slides). Carry notes with you just in case though – but use them only if you absolutely need them, write down only key words and prompts, and make sure the audience cannot see them.
Really desire with a fire to become a capable speaker. Belief doesn’t on it’s own make something true but it can raise one’s confidence – so believe you can. Act as if you are enjoying it and you will. Talk as if you are determined to say what you want to say. Have persistence and courage; never give in. Public speaking is just a skill like any other and it can be trained. And you can only improve if you challenge yourself beyond your comfort zone little by little and by keeping up the dedication (similar to how we improve our physical fitness). Become used to a wide variety of speaking situations (often people are okay in one context but not in another). Accept more speaking opportunities that come your way.
Really desire with a fire to be an expert in your field too. It’s really important to know your topic inside out, and it’ll show when you speak about it.
Gain experience to remove doubts of not knowing what you can or cannot do (the only way to swim is to jump into the water). Get a record of successful experiences behind you (but don’t expect them too soon – no one starts off being the best they can be). A great way to practise and get going is to research, brood upon and try some short 3-minute speeches on various topics that interest you. Remember to speak from your own firsthand experiences, observations and desires, and convey them with stories that have genuine personal feeling.
It’s more about being a good speaker, not just about giving a good speech. Everyone has a unique public speaking style and often it’s about working out what’s right for you and what’s right for you in front of an audience. There’s therefore no single right way to speak – it’s about the marriage of the speaker, the topic and the audience. Cultural (time and place) differences can also place constraints, or they can present opportunities for creative ideas that could potentially be borrowed and tailored.
Woof! Remember that a heart beating at a million miles an hour is a sign that you are doing something meaningful – you are talking about something that you care about (otherwise you wouldn’t be there). And remember to ultimately focus on your audience and what you are offering for your audience, and that you are respected and command attention (otherwise the audience wouldn’t be there). You have something to share and people will listen. Have confidence but with humility. Then perform like a star!