March 9, 2020
Fear of public speaking is common and can be intense.
Some surveys have even suggested that we’re more scared of it than dying (1)! But giving a presentation or leading or speaking up at a meeting doesn’t have to be scary. Here are a few tips that will take your public speaking game to the next level.
Prepare and practice
Preparation is key for successful public speaking. That means doing thorough research beforehand on your presentation topic. Keep your speech simple and create a solid outline. That might mean you write everything down word for word or you keep a few bullet points handy. Just make sure you have a clear idea of what you want to say and at what point in your talk you’re going to say it. Once you’ve gotten the content of your speech sorted, start practicing it. Test run it on your spouse, your dog, or even in the mirror. This will give you an idea of which ideas or phrases are working, if your outline flows, and if you have any nervous ticks you need to address!
It’s also helpful to visit the venue before presenting if possible. Get to know the room you’ll be speaking in and what kind of setup you’ll need. It’s also a chance to rehearse in the actual place you’ll be speaking, which can be a big confidence booster!
But even a researched and practiced speech can fail if you don’t connect with your audience. Doing those things can help you feel more sure of yourself, but they’re not enough on their own to sway a crowd. How you talk and your body language are just as important as your prep work.
Speak slowly and build suspense
Fast talkers can be overwhelming in any situation. Blasting through your speech can sometimes indicate excitement, but more often it makes it hard to keep up with, which may create confusion and irritation. Plus, it could be a sign that you’re nervous and jittery, which can be distracting for audience members. Try slowing down when you’re speaking to a crowd. It gives listeners time to digest everything you’re saying and communicates confidence. You can bring your speed down even more for important points. It’s a way to help your audience focus on what you’re saying and hang on every word!
Let’s face it. Eye contact can be weird. Unflinching and unbroken eye contact is enough to make any of us uncomfortable. But eye contact in moderation can establish trust and show that we’re actually listening. As a speaker, it helps build a connection between you and your audience, helping them be more receptive to what you’re saying. Don’t go on stage and look at your shoes or just scan back and forth through the crowd. Choose one person at a time and establish eye contact with them for a few seconds while you speak and then move on. It’s an easy way of letting a listener know you’re talking to them specifically! Just don’t stare at one person in the crowd. The victim of your ocular assault will feel uncomfortable and the rest of your audience will feel ignored, weirded out, or, most likely, a combination of both.
There’s a reason public speaking is scary. We’re social animals, and the potential of humiliating ourselves in front of a crowd goes against everything we’re hardwired to do. But there’s no better way of overcoming fear than with preparation and then confronting it. Try these tips out the next time you’re nervous about giving a presentation or leading a meeting. You might be surprised how far they go in making your next speech one to remember—in a good way!