Five Ways To Become A Better Public Speaker
By Ashley Stahl
Nervous before a big presentation? Welcome to the club.
Early into my career as a coach for job hunting millennials, I landed my first ever speaking engagement… A TEDx talk.
Not so shabby for a first time gig, right? Well, I panicked backstage among a sea of polished speakers who ended up confiding in me that they, too, were terrified.
(The good news were that the stage lights blinded me from seeing the audience of 4,000 people.)
In fact, it’s estimated that at least 75% of people have speech anxiety, making it one of the most common phobias out there. In fact, we’ve all be told that fear of public speaking ranks among the top five human fears (hint: It shares a slot on the list with death). I’ve even had clients tell me they are afraid to to go on interviews because they are stressed about speaking in front of a panel!
Even if you aren’t afraid of speaking in front of groups, this is an area in which we could all use a little maintenance. Public speaking can hardly be avoided. But fear not! There are ways to improve this critical skillset, starting with simplicity.
Simplify the message
No matter what kind of presentation or message you are trying to deliver, remember to meet your audience where they’re at. Who are you delivering to? What do they know about the subject matter? Chances are they haven’t studied the topic extensively like you have, so don’t go over their heads with nonsensical jargon. You’ll lose your listeners when you need to do quite the opposite — find a connection. Another key way to simplify your presentation is to break it up into questions, pieces of advice, or insights that shift the focus of the presentation throughout. This wakes up the audience, and the change in topic stops them in the tracks of dipping out to check their iPhone!
Connect with your audience
Connecting with your audience, whether it be the CEO of a company or your peers, is a simple, effective way to get your message across. Have respect for your listeners, believe in the message you’re delivering, and don’t be afraid to be authentic. This means tapping into your own vulnerability and radical honesty. We are all human and at a basic level, just want to relate to one another. Play around and personalize it by telling a story or sharing an experience from your life. One of the biggest mistakes speakers make is making their presentation all about themselves — share about you in service to connecting more deeply to the audience, and always remember that the goal of your talk is to make an actionable difference in their lives.
An effective presentation leaves the listener inspired and wanting more. Close your speech by encouraging your audience to take action or try a new way of thinking, and your speech will live on well past your moment in the spotlight. Better yet, find a way to help people improve their lives and they will be forever grateful. It’s key that you deliver actionable steps in a clear, and concise way. You know you’re winning when you see members of the audience writing them down.
Practice on video
While doing a couple of run-throughs in front of a mirror the night before a presentation is not a bad idea, recording yourself is even better. Watch your presentation back on video, keeping an eye on your body language. Listen to your tone of voice, and make sure you aren’t speaking too quickly. Practice enough so that you get the framework in your head and it feels natural once you make your debut. Just be sure not to memorize it word-for-word; the message will sound forced and lose its authenticity. Plus, the mind works like train tracks… Have you ever noticed how people have to start completely over if they forget something they memorized? That’s what often happens when you forget a word during a memorized speech.
Hire professional help
There is a difference between good and great, and as a career coach I’ve seen it all.Sometimes, professional help might be the next logical step to up your game, so look into coaches and professional organizations to see what’s right for you. Invest in yourself and you’ll be sure to reap the benefits.
Don’t let your fear of speaking in front of a crowd hold you back from pursuing something great. Public speaking is part science, part art, so implement these tips and start practicing. The more you work on this valuable skill, the more it will benefit you in the long run.
And remember… Everyone is just as nervous as you are.