According to experts, public speaking is one of the most important and beneficial skill sets for your career. It helps to increase confidence and shapes the perception of others about you when you deliver a presentation.
Despite these benefits, however, many seem to fear public speaking. According to experts, roughly 80% of people get increasingly nervous and lose sleep before a big public speaking moment. Some experts even suggest that the fear of public speaking rivals death. Yet, public speaking is inevitable. Many of us, like it or not, will be put in a situation where we will be expected to speak in front of a crowd and these moments can sometimes be career-defining.
If you tirelessly – and unsuccessfully– have been trying to get the butterflies in your stomach to settle down before a public speech, you’re not alone. Here’s an easy to follow public speaking guide (with all the public speaking tips you need) on how you can overcome your fear of public speaking and impress your audience even if you’re a beginner.
1. Prepare for your presentation
A speaker’s worst fear is to see that the audience is bored or has gotten no value from the speech. This is why thoroughly preparing for your presentation is vital.
Here are a few easy steps to prepare and research for your presentation:
Identify the context of the event
If you’re speaking at an industry conference on AI Technology, you can be sure that your audience will include practitioners and technicians in that space. Recycling basic content that they’re already aware in their industry is definitely a way to quickly lose their attention.
Instead, it’s likely you’d want to introduce big ideas that challenge what they already know about the industry currently, where it’s moving towards or new information about the topic.
When Steve Jobs famously unveiled the iPhone in the 2007 Worldwide Developer’s Conference, he was tackling an existing industry norm of buttons on cell phones. Needless to say, his gamble paid off and set the foundation of the smart phones we now know of today.
With that said, Steve’s presentation style might not be for everyone, it’s up to you as a presenter to decide how best to deliver your speech when the time comes.
Know the demographics of the audience
It’s important to know the demographics of your audience because it determines how you can make your tone suitable for them and make the content relevant.
If you’re speaking to audiences from a particular generation, consider including examples that will resonate with them.
Here’s an example: when speaking to millennials, try referencing recent news on developments in technologies they use every day (e.g. SnapChat or Netflix) to be more relevant to them.
Organising your content
You can have the best ideas and content or feel so strongly for a certain issue that you speak of it passionately, but if they aren’t sequenced in the right order, you’re basically back to square one. You may even confuse the audience at the end of your speech since they may not understand what you’re trying to say.
“An outline is basically a blueprint for your presentation.”
Creating an outline for your speech is essential because it helps organise your content and ensures your message gets across in a coherent and organised manner. Most experts agree that various presentations follow different ‘story arcs’ where they usually fall within three big acts: the Start (or Hook), Middle and Conclusion.
These structures can exist in all sorts of ways such as a Problem, Solution, Call-To-Action type framework for sales. We see this mirrored by numerous presenters where they establish a cause for concern upfront before addressing these concerns with a product or method.
After you’ve decided ideas you’d like to flesh out, begin organising them in an outline that will keep the audience hinged on your every word.
Here is an example of a speech outline:
Basic speech outline template
- Establish topic
- Key message
- A short summary of the supporting points that will be discussed in detail later on
Supporting Point 1
- Sub point 1
- Sub point 2
Supporting Point 2
- Sub point 1
- Sub point 2
Supporting Point 3
- Sub point 1
- Sub point 2
- Recap the main points
- Summarise the key message
- Provide a call-to-action
This formula is simple yet extremely effective. It can commonly be seen in novels, short stories, speeches, movies, reports, business briefings, proposals and many more. So, if you’re unsure of how to start, this outline can help you kickstart organising your content.
Here’s a video of Aimee Mulins telling a story about adversity followed by resolution later on in life:
Understand not memorise
After organising your content in the best structure it can be, now comes the hard part – To be able to connect to your audience while knowing your content at the tip of your fingers.
Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from the slides or their cue cards as they couldn’t memorise their content word for word. Not only is this sure fire way to lose their audience’s interest, you also sound rigid, monotonous. Boring.
One of the ways to prevent that is to understand what you’re speaking of rather than just plainly memorizing your script. This is because according to experts, understanding the content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others. This makes it easier to ‘memorise’ what you want to say because you know what you are talking about.
As a result, this will then allow you to talk more comfortably – and naturally– with your audience which in turn makes you connect with them more.
2. Develop a presentation that will captivate your audience
Picking a good topic and conquering your stage fright is half the battle won in public speaking. Putting it all together in a presentation that flows well and that engages your audience is what differentiates a blockbuster speech versus a lackluster talk.
It’s been said that the first 30 seconds of your presentation determines whether the audience want to listen to you or not.
Here are some proven ways to grab the attention of your audience:
a) Start with an anecdote
If you can draw relevance to your speech topic – sharing a quick story related to the topic is a great way to appear more relatable and lead audiences into your punchline.
Here are some of the purposes of anecdotes:
- To lighten the mood
Telling a story can help make people laugh which then brightens their mood. This can prove useful if your audience needs a good laugh before being engaged in your presentation, especially if the topic is a little dry.
Sometimes, the topic we need to talk about are risks and dangers we face. This can be about kidnappings or people falling victim to scams. However, just laying out the rules and regulations for individuals may not be as effective. Sometimes, to get the audience’s attention, we need to hear frightening stories of danger in order to get them to listen. Only then will they follow-up on how to avoid facing these very situations.
- To Persuade or Inspire
If the topic you are speaking about is a social issue like poverty or sex trafficking, an anecdote can help inspire your audience to do something about it. Of course, anecdotes do not have to serve such specific purposes all the time. They can just be part of a natural conversation with other people.
b) Use an analogy
Analogies are a fun and interesting way to begin your presentation. Comparing two seemingly unrelated things can help build a case for what you’ll say next. Not only that, it can be helpful if you need to explain a complex situation that your audience may not understand.
“Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.”
This analogy, is often used from the film, Forrest Gump, showing that life has many choices and surprises just like a box of chocolates.
Here are also a few examples of analogies:
- Life is like a race. The one who keeps running wins the race, and the one who stops to catch a breath loses.
- Just as a sword is the weapon of a warrior, a pen is the weapon of a writer.
- How a doctor diagnoses diseases is like how a detective investigates crimes
- Just as a caterpillar comes out of its cocoon, we must come out of our comfort zone.
- You are as annoying as nails on a chalkboard.
c) Use a memorable quote
Starting with a memorable quote can help enhance your credibility and reinforce your own claims especially if it comes from notable figures or experts. It can also help inspire the audience which will then make them excited about your idea. The end result? It makes them more engaged with your presentation. Killing two birds with one stone!
Use storytelling techniques
Presentations are hardly ever a one-way dialogue. You’ll want to take measures to engage the audience and make the presentation a conversation.
Try to pose provocative questions or use props.
Asking questions to the floor engages your audience presentation and also demonstrates that you value their opinion on things. In some cases, getting your audiences to visualise problems might be more effectively demonstrated than theorised.
Bill Gates is an iconic example of how using props can really drive a message through. During a TED talk, he released a swarm of mosquitos during his speech to communicate how people from countries with a high level of malaria infection feel.
Another example is Cameron Russell, who talked about how she was just ‘lucky’ to become a model because she was born tall and pretty. In her talk, she showed a simple but effective way to change their mind of her as a model in seconds through the use of props:
Use visual aids effectively
Visual aids such as presentation slides are an opportunity to enhance and drive your message home. Furthermore, adding visual aids provide 43% added recall for presentations according to Prezi.
This is because most people learn through visuals, maybe even more than through listening. In fact, one study showed that three days after a presentation, people who only heard a speaker remembered about 10% of the information but those who heard and saw visual information remembered about 55% more.
Here are some reasons why you should use visual aids:
- Engage the audience’s interest
It can be pretty boring to sit and listen to someone talk on and on but having visual aids will help capture and keep people interested in what you’re saying.
- Show the depth of a story
Compare saying millions were affected and many homes were lost due to a disaster vs saying the same thing but with an evocative image. Which one would sound much more impactful? By showing an image, it helps show the severity or depth of a situation without having much to say. This can leave a bigger impact on the audience.
- A picture speaks a thousand words
Putting all the information on a slide may steal the audience’s attention away from you as you’re speaking. To prevent that, make use of evocative images. Not only does it support your speech but it does so without saying much that it steals the attention of your audience.
E.g. picture of disaster that is evocative and memorable
- Serves as a reminder
Finally, visual aids can serve as notes or reminders for the speaker. When you’re giving a speech, it can be very nerve-wracking to the point you could forget what to say. Having visual aids help you remember what you want to say and keeps you from going off topic.
3. Overcome your nerves and stage fright
Picture this: moments before your speech, your heart’s pounding profusely in anticipation for what’s coming next. You step behind the podium and all eyes are on you. The pressure becomes overwhelming and you freeze, unable to utter a single word.
Stage fright. Also known as imposter syndrome. It is an expectation that makes us think we have to perform but we fear that we could make a mistake and embarrass ourselves.
According to statistics, at least 75% of people get stage fright when they present or make a speech. It’s even been long known that public speaking outranks even death as the top fear of most individuals. This then leads to the question – how do the pros make it look so easy?
If you are nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. You may find that your body is tense, breaking in cold sweat or you may feel stiff and your muscles are tight. The audience will notice you are nervous. If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen your tense muscles and relax your body.
When you are nervous, do you tend to breathe faster and take shorter breaths? Nervousness is always accompanied by these very symptoms and if not addressed, you may end up mumbling and stuttering your way throughout the speech. To ensure that does not happen, take slow, deep breaths. This is because it helps lower your heart rate and make you focus on your breathing rather than on your anxiety and insecurities.
Fake it till You Make it
The truth is everyone gets nervous, even seasoned speakers. As Mark Twain put it nicely: “There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.”
These liars “fake” their confidence despite their insecurities and reservations about themselves till they succeed. This can be through achieving a desired outcome, overcoming a fear or selling an idea successfully.
When you fake confidence, you naturally create a positive impression of what your capabilities are instantly, making you more confident than you actually are.
With that being said faking confidence is not always the best answer because it isn’t real confidence. But sometimes, we need to fake confidence because we don’t have the luxury to build this skillset since it takes time and effort to develop.
Be conversational and authentic
It’s easy to have a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. Public speaking does not need to be that different. Imagine speaking to one audience member at a time when you’re up on stage and you’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.
Presenters like Elon Musk sometimes appear comical on stage, but always authentic. He does so by speaking directly to the audience and in a language they can understand:
Know your content
Knowing your content at your fingertips help reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. So one way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech. However, you don’t want to memorise your script word by word. It can work against you should you forget your content.
Instead, memorise the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch as it helps you speak more naturally. This will let your personality shine through. Speaking exactly from a memorised script may make you sound rigid and robotic.
Still, if you need to have a reference just in case you forget your speech, it is okay to have prompts in your slides or cue cards.
Mouth your words when rehearsing
Another method that most speakers use to embed their presentations into their conscience is to ‘mouth’ the words as they rehearse.
Not only do you begin to instinctively memorise your presentation each time you practice, it also aids in muscle memory when you need to deliver the speech on stage naturally.
4. Deliver an impressive speech
We’ve gone from prepping for a presentation, to finding ways to engage your audience with presentations and combating stage fright. All that is left with is for the speaker to steal the show by delivering an impressive performance during the speech.
Here are some things you’ll want to take note of to ensure you’re in tip-top shape when it’s show time:
Seasoned speakers swear by this and amateur speakers use it to great success. Hand gesturing is a great way to avoid looking stiff and awkward on stage. Furthermore, consultant Vanessa Van Edwards who studies famous TED talks observed that popular speakers are the ones that who used their hands the most.
A key tip is to have your hands held high above your waist at all times and let your hands gesture naturally as you talk. This makes you look more confident and also helps you engage well with the audience.
To signify something small, pinch your fingers and if its big, feel free to gesture your hands widely in the air. However, never point. It can be interpreted as aggressive, unwelcoming and off-putting to many in the crowd.
What great speakers have in common is how confident they are. Just like any other human being out there, these people also get the jitters before every speech – even great speakers like John F. Kennedy spent months preparing his speech beforehand.
Most people struggle to sound confident and it’s okay. This is because, at times, confidence is not all about how you speak but through your body language.
Standing tall with good posture can do wonders for your perceived confidence and your actual performance. Using big hand gestures while standing firmly on your feet, a shoulder width apart, helps even the most nervous presenters open up on stage.
“Our bodies change our minds and our minds change our behaviours, and our behaviour changes our outcome.” – Social Psychologist, Amy Cudd.
Small gestures like these give signs to your audience on how to think and feel about you and whether they should listen to you in the first few seconds of your presentation. Hence, it is important to take note of your body language as it is a stepping stone to make you feel or at least look confident – even if you’re not.
Tone of voice
Your voice plays a critical role in your success as a presenter. According to an analysis of media appearances by 120 top financial communicators, the sound of a speaker’s voice matters twice as much as the content of the message and even an evaluation found one of the most popular TED talks concluded these very speakers have 30.5% higher vocal variety than other speakers that are less popular.
Technical speakers focus a lot on how they train their voice as they articulate words. Some use a higher pitch when communicating an idea with energy and a lower pitch in solemn instances.
In short, it is about matching your emotions to the idea. For example, if you are sharing a sad story, it only makes sense to match that mood with your voice in a lower tone and volume.
Pause and emphasis
Pauses and emphasis are a powerful tool in a presenter’s arsenal. When used purposefully in the right moment, it can create a dramatic flair to further reinforce what you have said, make the audience ponder over a topic or it can provide time for the audience to let the message sink in. It’s basically a ‘full-stop’ used but in spoken word.
Check out how to master the pausing technique from Brian Tracy:
Connecting with the audience
Many understand confidence is essential when delivering a speech or presentation in order to get the message across but many forget that engaging with the audience is also what hooks them to your presentation/speech.
There are many ways to engage with the audience such as asking questions, holding eye contact or even finding out the demographics of your audience to shape your speech’s tone and content to what’s relevant to them.
Practice, practice, practice!
Like most people, many of us are not naturally talented when it comes to public speaking. Rarely is there an individual who can walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation yet many people seem to mistake that it is possible to do so.
Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!
Ending too early or too late can spell trouble for speakers that are on the clock for an event’s schedule. At times, event schedules get delayed and leave little time for speakers to deliver their full speech.
The key tip to avoid an awry moment is to be very familiar with your content and to practice several versions of your presentation at varying durations.
Summing it up
And there you have it, these four big steps are what will help you ace your public speaking.
Don’t shy away from your next chance to speak in public. Instead, make full use of the opportunity and apply these public speaking tips:
- Study your audience before preparing your topic
- Develop a presentation that will captivate your audience
- Overcome your nerves and stage fright
- Never Wing It. Practice Your Voice, movement and time-keeping
Leave a comment below if it worked for you!