Public Speaking Tips

The old joke goes that people’s #1 fear is public speaking and their #2 is death. This means that, at a funeral, they’d rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy!

Have you ever felt like that? When you are faced with the task of speaking before a group, do you break out into a cold sweat? Does your tongue suddenly get thick—or tied up in knots? If so, here are some things that might help you overcome the jitters and make a much better impression.

Remember that nervousness is normal. Nothing you can do, short of giving the same speech hundreds of times, will make your nervousness disappear. The good news is that you almost definitely FEEL more nervous than you LOOK. So, do your best to relax a bit and, if possible, remind yourself that people most likely can’t see your sweaty palms or churning stomach.

Prepare. Now that we’ve got nervousness out of the way, let’s talk about the best thing you can do to improve your speaking ability. Bar none, the best thing you can do is to prepare! This means not putting things off until the last minute. You may be dreading having to speak before a group of people, but the worst thing you can do is to put off preparing. Instead, pick a topic you know something about, or you’re interested in. Learn all you can so that you get excited about the material. This will help to take your mind of yourself.

Pick three things. Here’s an important tip related to preparation: ask yourself “if my audience could remember only three things about mypresentation, what do I want those to be?” Then build your information around those three things. Audiences will appreciate a clear roadmap of what you’re trying to share, and you can avoid the trap of doing a “data dump”—where you tell them everything you know just so you have something to say.

Practice, practice, practice! Another thing you can do that is a part of preparing is to rehearse your speech. Imagine your audience. What are they interested in? What will the environment look like? Try to recreate the conditions as much as possible. Sometimes you’ll have to call on your imagination to mentally put yourself in front of your audience. This visualization can help you imagine how they will respond. You might want to get a friend or a trusted co-worker to observe your practice run to give you feedback. Be sure to pick someone who really wants you to succeed and who you can trust to give honest feedback.

Visual aids. Finally, if you choose to use any kind of visual aid, let me suggest you pack it with punch! Make sure you have pictures and colors. Don’t fall into the trap of putting everything you’re going to say on a slide or a flip chart. The visual aids are just that: aids to help you get your point across. You are supposed to be making the point as you speak, so the aids are supposed to help drive your points home.

I’ll leave you with one bonus tip that I think can make all the difference. When you are in front of a group speaking, consider yourself as the host/hostess of a party you’re throwing. You goal, as the host, is to be sure your guests enjoy themselves. Your focus isn’t (or shouldn’t be) on your concerns and feelings. Everything is focused on your guests. As you prepare and deliver your speech, keep your focus on your audience. Help them to find the same delight and interest in the topic that you’ve found. When you take the focus off yourself, you’ll feel more confident and that can translate into a much better experience for everyone.

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