Public speaking can be a great source of anxiety for some people. Whether they’ve never given a speech before or they’re just shy by nature, many people fear the sound of crickets when they take the stage. However, speaking opportunities are a great way to spread the word about a company or cause. With enough practice – and taking the below tips into consideration – you are perfectly capable of rocking your next speaking engagement!
Mentally Prepare. Before you hit the stage or arrive at your booth, mentally prepare for the conversation to come. Sure, having notecards will help you remember talking points, but having the message in your head will subconsciously calm you. If you know what you’re going to say and don’t have to depend on notes or other props to remind you, the speech will flow much smoother. Mentally preparing can also include words of affirmation, breathing exercises and other rituals that will make you feel cool and collected.
Look well, feel well, do well. How you feel on the inside will reflect on the outside. This may seem like common sense, but dressing nice and feeling well should be a priority as it will affect your performance. Wear comfortable, flattering clothes. If you’re going to be moving around or standing for long periods of time, avoid a constricting outfit and uncomfortable shoes. If you’re self-conscious about certain body parts, pick an ensemble that accentuates you as a whole. Also, eating healthy foods and having a balanced fitness routine days in advance will ensure you’re at the top of your game. Walk into the room feeling confident that you’re not only going to give a great speech, but you’re also going to look great doing so.
Engage the audience. Greet the people you’ll be talking to and be attentive to them from the start. People hate when public speakers talk at them, not to them. Engaging audience members includes asking them questions and responding to what they’ve said. Many public speakers ask rhetorical questions in their speeches, but asking a question and listening for an answer creates a stronger connection between you and your listeners. If you acknowledge their presence and see them as a group of individuals rather than one body of people, your message will be that much more meaningful to them.
Use a Flexible Tone. Public speakers sometimes give an otherwise perfect speech in the wrong tone. Pitch, volume and pace affect the effectiveness and meaning of your words. If the speech is low key, try to use the same tone you would when having a casual conversation with a friend. If you’re trying to deliver a profound message, use a deeper tone with intentional pauses to drive your point. For optimal impact, match your attitude to the message in your words.
Don’t Memorize. Memorizing a speech, even if it’s one you given before, hinders the outcome because you run the risk of going on autopilot. First, people will lose interest if they think you’re regurgitating information and rambling on without pause for reflection. Second, if what you say becomes automatic or rehearsed, audience members could perceive your lack of emotion as phoniness. To avoid a bland, overdone message, act as though it’s the first time you’re saying it. Also, believe in what you’re saying and know what you’re talking about. People will pick up on subtle cues that hint at uncertainty or boredom within the message.
Avoid Pause Words. Have you ever had a conversation with someone and grown so distracted by their excessive use of “uh,” “uhm” or “like” that you couldn’t follow what they were saying? Public speaking venues magnify this bad habit. Awkward pauses and throat clearing also signify nervousness or not knowing what to say. Everyone loses their train of thought at some point, but familiarizing yourself with your content will minimize the frequency. Even more, eliminating these pause words from everyday conversations will ensure they become less of a habit.
Accept Feedback. After your speech, make yourself available to the audience. If you don’t have the time to take questions afterward or if the venue isn’t conducive to that kind of conversation, offer an alternate means of communication. Provide an email or physical address where people can send you questions or their thoughts on your message. Not only will people be happy to share their opinions, your public speaking performance will benefit from constructive criticism and new perspectives.
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