Public speaking scares many people – so much so that it consistently makes it to the top of many “most scary” lists – along with spiders, snakes and going to the dentist. While many people try to avoid speeches and presentations at all costs, sooner or later many people find themselves in a position where they have no choice but to speak in public. The good news is that, with practice, you CAN learn to be better at it. These tips will help:
1. Know Your Material
When you know your material well, you will feel more confident and be prepared for anything. This reduces your fear of public speaking because you have now become the expert, and people focus more on your message than you. Your confidence and preparation are also transmitted subconsciously to your audience by your tone of voice and body language.
2. Get the Audience Involved
The more you engage with the audience, the more comfortable you will feel with them, as well as they with you. This could be in the form of a question/answer session, an open forum, or a quiz, among other activities. And they’ll also give you better feedback at the end – adults learn better when they have fun, and are actively involved in the content.
3. Relax Before the Presentation
Try to set aside some time before the presentation to use relaxation techniques. If you know how to meditate, this would be a good time to use it. But, it can be as simple as going into a quiet room and taking some deep breaths. Some people will even get a massage before their presentation. Figure out something that might work for you, and give it a try before your next presentation.
4. Know Your Audience
If you’re presenting to professional peers or workmates, it’s easy to understand their level of knowledge and the current challenges they face, and structure your material accordingly. It’s harder when you’re presenting to an audience you don’t know, and it’s usually worth trying to find something out about them before designing and delivering your speech. One way to do that is to call the relevant workplace or professional organisation, and speak to the person who organised your speaking engagement – they will often have a good understanding of your prospective audience. Another is to do a brief online survey (using a tool like Survey Monkey) and ask them specifically about who they are, what their job role is, and what their greatest challenges are at the moment.
5. Try to Anticipate Questions and Concerns
If you can project what types of questions your audience may ask, you can prepare possible answers ahead of time. This is what politicians and business leaders routinely do before a speaking engagement or media appearance. One way to figure out possible questions is to rehearse your speech in front of friends or family, and note down the questions they ask you about your material at the end.
6. Start Out Small
If you are new to public speaking, don’t take on an audience of thousands of people. Start out small with an audience of five to ten people, and build up from there. You may even consider co-presenting with a more experienced public speaker. You can observe how this person delivers their segment of the presentation, ask for feedback from them at the end, and they might even throw you a lifeline if you get stuck!
7. Tell a Story
When you think about it, most of the history of humanity occurred before writing was invented, in Mesopotamia in 3200BC. Australian Aboriginal culture, for example, is over 60,000 years old, and relies on a rich and culturally-diverse oral history to transmit important Dreamtime stories, knowledge and law to younger generations. Many researchers believe that our brains are hard-wired to tell and remember stories – one of the reasons, I am sure, for our love of fiction and movies. So when planning your next presentation, consider how to format your speech into a story – with a beginning, a middle, and an end – to increase audience engagement and message retention.
8. Use Visuals!
The old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” has never been truer than when applied to public speaking. Images evoke emotion, and carefully-selected ones can evoke strong emotions and make for a memorable speech. Images are also much more effective at conveying information than the spoken (or written) word. So the next time you are crafting a presentation, resist the urge to commit “death by powerpoint”, and instead replace words with relevant and meaningful graphics whenever you can.