It’s inevitable that at some point in your career, you will be required to participate in some form of public speaking, whether this is presenting a new design, promoting a product or plan to a client, or reflecting upon and sharing what you’ve learned throughout your career to an audience. And yet, the fear of public speaking, or glossophobia, is very common. If you have a fear of public speaking or simply want to improve your public presentation skills, there are a few techniques you should consider to improve your skill set.
Show Up with a Giving Attitude
Practice may make perfect, but attitude is what can take a well-prepared, well-researched speech to a higher level of engagement. One of the most effective tips is to show up to give to the audience, rather than to take. This shift in attitude is slight, but the motivation of any public speech should be the excitement of the speaker to share the information they possess, with little requirement of the audience giving back. This sounds like conflicting advice, especially if the public speech involves selling something related to your ingenuity or your business. But, those that show up with excitement to give the information communicate a different kind of confident energy.
Simon Sinek, a motivational speaker and author, suggests reminding yourself, “You know something, you’ve seen something, you’ve tried something that someone else thinks that others need to hear.” What does this “giving” look like? The best speakers don’t necessarily start a speech with a long list of their credentials. Typically, either the audience is aware of the credentials already (this is why they are there), or they may be shared within the presentation as a slide. A successful public speaker dives into the pitch or speech with a dynamic entrance and approaches the communication with the mentality and confidence that they are giving a gift.
Know Your Audience
Before you begin to craft your message, it’s important to consider who the message is intended for. Learn as much about your listeners as possible. This will help you determine your choice of words, level of information, and purpose. One important ask to consider as you create your speech is, “What will I gain from listening to this talk?” as if you were in the audience yourself. Be clear about your goal and what the audience should obtain by listening.
Practice and Prepare
Some nerves are beneficial. The adrenaline rush that makes you sweat and be more vigilant may also help you deliver your best performance. But, if you find yourself with anxiety or even if you are fairly confident, practice and preparation are essential to improving your public speaking skills. The more you practice your speech, the more you become familiar with your material. During a presentation, then, you will not need to read off the script; that practice and preparation will convey that you are well versed in your material. Practice allows you to make better eye contact with your audience because you will know what you need to say next, and you will know when you need to drive a point home. When you practice, speak slowly—perhaps even more slowly than usual. Practicing deep breathing and speaking slowly helps you create a routine that you can deliver effortlessly on stage. Practice in front of a mirror, and take note of how you use your hands and how you control your voice. In practice, find words or points that you’d like to emphasize and practice how you will drive those home.
Authenticity Engages: Use humor, emotion, and eye contact
Once you have spent time practicing your speech, get to a point where the speech starts to feel more conversational. This helps you connect more authentically with your audience. Part of that authenticity is making connections with people in the audience. Make eye contact with as many people as possible because it makes the audience members feel like you are speaking directly to them. Be sure to make eye contact with those beyond the front row; look at the people in the back too. And, it doesn’t matter what you are talking about, there is always a place for emotion or humor, or both. If the material is a little dry, adding humor is especially important. Some effective speakers have found a little self-deprecating humor makes an ideal connection to the audience to spice things up. People tend to remember emotions just as much as what was said. This concept is the classic adage, “The audience may not remember everything you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.”
Command the Space
Physical communication can have a powerful impact on how your message is received and interpreted. While practicing your speech, watch yourself in the mirror. Remind yourself to face your audience and stand with your feet “hip distance” apart. Think about the space that is available to you. Effective public speakers don’t hide behind a podium; instead, they move around the space. Practice walking and talking, and make a note when it’s an appropriate time to pause and when to move. Avoid crossing your arms or clasping your hands in front of or behind your back. And, keep your hands free. If you are fiddling with something or putting your hands in and out of your pockets, you will distract your audience.
Effective public speakers can certainly prepare a well-researched speech. However, the most engaging speakers take their speech to a different level by connecting with the audience, using space effectively, and going in with a giving attitude.
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