Just seeing the phrase itself could send shivers down many people’s spines. There’s a stigma that public speaking is a hard skill to learn and master. That people who do it well are able to do so because they are in the right place at the right time, with the right mindset.
However, according to Simon Sinek, an ethnographer and also the third most-watched TED Talks presenter of all time, success in public speaking is achieved because of fears that were faced and erased. Success of public speaking is through trial and error and tireless practice on and off stage.
To help those of you who still have yet to overcome your fear of public speaking, here is compiled a list of 9 commandments to help you improve as a public speaker.
Follow them, and in no time, winning over your audience would be like a walk in the park.
1. Thou shall practice, practice, practice.
We’ve all heard this before and that practice makes perfect. In public speaking, this couldn’t be truer! When practicing your speech to your friend, your mirror or your dog, you are building your brain’s muscle memory to remember what to say.
Not only that, it will also help gauge where you should add appropriate pauses or intonations in your voice to emphasise certain points.
2. Thou shall ask for feedback.
This brings me to my next point.
Let your friends or family evaluate your speech so you can get feedback on how to improve. Were you speaking too fast? Or were you too slow? Was there too much intonation or were you too monotonous? You get the gist.
So let them give you a few suggestions on how you can improve as a speaker. If not, make them record your speech so you can hear – and observe – where you made your mistakes. You might cringe hearing yourself speak, but it’ll be worth it.
3. Thou shall articulate
Jack Wallen, an actor, says this about articulation: “Have you ever listened to someone speak who was hard to understand? What do you do after a while? You tune them out. You find them uninteresting and assume they’re not really knowledgeable about their subject. You can be the most brilliant person alive, but if your audience can’t understand you, you will lose them.”
Articulation is a necessary part in capturing and maintaining the attention of your audience. This is because they need to understand you as a speaker before they can be persuaded.
Hence, there is no no need to use flowery phrases or be poetic if the audience cannot understand a word you say. Instead, make sure to keep your speech simple yet informative at the same time.
4. Thou shall not read too much from cue cards/slides
This is such a common mistake that many speakers make, especially if they only practiced last minute. When you read from your cue cards or slides too much, you’re obviously not looking at your audience.
This makes you disengaged from them and is a sure fire way to lose their attention.
It also makes you look unprepared. Someone who didn’t take the time to get familiar with your speech and your topic which does not help build your credibility as a speaker.
5. Thou shall not use too many vocal fillers
How often have you heard a person speak and he or she fills the silence with sounds or words?
Compare these two statements:
“Actually, another point I want to make is that, umm like, in puppy mills, like, mother dogs are treated like production machines.”
“Another point I want to make is that in puppy mills, mother dogs are treated as production machines.”
Which one of the sentences makes you feel like the speaker knows what he or she is saying? Which one sounds more confident? There’s no doubt you would choose the latter.
This is because, according to Mindtools, using vocal fillers like “umm”, “like”, “just”, “basically” and “actually” reduces your power as a speaker. Although many know this, they are also not aware of the vocal fillers that they use unconsciously.
To avoid this, have others listen to your speech the way you would deliver it and ask them for their feedback so you can adjust accordingly.
6. Thou shall tell a genuinely emotional story
Audiences may not always remember what you’ve said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.
When a speaker talks about a personal story – whether it be a sad or happy one – the audience would be able to feel the sincerity of the what is being told.
This creates an immediate and lasting connection between the speaker and the audience. So, don’t be afraid to be a little vulnerable and share your story.
With that being said, if you are uncomfortable or have no personal story to tell, you can make use of other storytelling techniques such as The Hero’s Journey Approach or Mystery Storytelling. Both are classic and simple, yet highly effective, examples on how you can engage your audience.
7. Thou shall connect with audience members one at a time.
Start in your day-to-day life by becoming “a real expert at one to one eye contact within a group,” says Eileen Sinett, a communications coach.
Great speeches are like one-on-one conversations with each audience member. So put in the effort in making eye contact with at least one person rather than just scanning the floor. It will help establish a connection with the audience, making them feel special and important.
8. Thou shall dress to impress.
The general rule of thumb is the speaker should always be dressed one level more formally than the audience. Choose an outfit that not only makes you look good, but makes you feel comfortable as well. The last thing you want is to be fidgeting in your outfit throughout your speech – especially if you’re already a ball of nerves.
When you look and feel good, you’re giving yourself an extra boost of confidence to speak!
9. Thou shall turn to TED
TED Talks are probably one of the most helpful videos to visualise what a good speech looks like. There’s so much you can learned based on the highest-rated TED Talks videos. This includes how speakers hook their audiences from the very beginning to how they engage them throughout their speech. Even from the way they stand while giving their speech!
These are professionals who are well-versed in the art of public speaking. Speakers who are good role models to follow. Take down notes from some of your favourite TED Talks speakers. Then, practice by mirroring their actions or make use of their tips when your next speech comes around.
By obeying these 9 commandments, you will (hopefully!) be a better speaker. Always remember that good public speaking skills don’t just occur overnight. You need to hone those skills by practicing and refining the way you speak with every speech you make.
Good luck! Let us know in the comments below if it worked for you!