It has been said that speech anxiety ranks higher than death as people’s greatest fear! According to one source, nearly 30% of Americans report that they are afraid or very afraid of public speaking. Does that ring true for you? Why is that? Essentially, it boils down to the fact that people are afraid their audience will reject them. Perhaps the speaker is inexperienced and therefore lacks confidence, even if they are a subject matter expert. The truth is, becoming comfortable speaking in public can have a very positive impact on your career. So, if you recognize this is a potentially career limiting deficiency in your skill set because you are inexperienced or uncomfortable speaking in public, here are 10 steps you can take to change that.
- Build confidence through practice. The more you speak in public, the more comfortable you will be. There is simply nothing like experience to build confidence. Where can you go to build your experience? Organizations like Dale Carnegie or Toastmasters are the perfect forum to do this, and they all have local chapters that are likely near you.
- When you are asked to speak in public, take some time to think about who your audience is and what they are interested in. Too many speakers make the mistake of wanting to talk about what interests them, only to bore their audience. Find a way to match what your audience is interested in, and what speaks to your passion. The more passionate you are about a topic, the more confident you will be in talking about it.
- Once you have determined the topic that your audience will be interested in and that you are passionate about, put your presentation together in a way that flows logically. The best delivered speech can be crippled if it is improperly structured. Public speaking is a bit like a play. It is a sequence of events that builds to a crescendo, leaving your audience satisfied and convinced. Make sure to support your speech with well-crafted graphics. Remember the old adage, a picture is worth a thousand words.
- If you are using PowerPoint, whatever you do, DO NOT read from the PowerPoint word by word! This is the cardinal sin of giving a speech. It will be boring and your audience will hate you!
- If you are relatively new to public speaking, it never hurts to practice your speech prior to giving it for real. Even if you are an experienced speaker, if this is a new audience or an important speech, practice it before hand. A little preparation on the front end will result in a smoother, more polished speech when the time comes to actually deliver it.
- Now that your speech is prepared and you are practiced and ready, the next 5 tips applied to the actual presentation itself. The most effective way to enhance your presentation is to eliminate filler words – such as uh,um etc. Sometimes these words will come out of you without asking, but actively work to minimize them and you will sound more professional as a result.
- Don’t wander or pace while you are speaking, you can actually make the audience dizzy! It will greatly help if you have an opportunity to actually see the space where you will be presenting before hand, so you can mentally plan where you want to station yourself.
- Don’t speak too fast. Your natural inclination is to speak faster than you think you are, which can detract from the effectiveness of your speech. Build pauses in your presentation, which will act as speed bumps to slow down the rate of delivery. Use inflection to highlight areas that you want your audience to grab onto. Nothing is worse than a dull, monotone speech.
- If looking directly at the faces of your audience is unnerving and distracting for you, look directly over the top of their heads. They likely won’t be able to tell, allowing you to concentrate on the message rather than the mechanics.
- Finally, if you do look in the faces of your audience, don’t try to read clues into their reaction – or lack thereof. You might look at their face, and interpret their expression very differently from what it actually is. You might interpret their reaction as one of being bored, indifferent or hostile, but you really have no idea what they are thinking. You will know soon enough after delivering your speech how the audience felt about it, so don’t get hung up trying to figure that out while you are still in your delivery.
These 10 tips can go a long way toward making you a speaker people enjoy listening to!