My tips for public speaking come from a lifelong experience with a fear on the entire topic until my early twenties. As a child I was terrified of crowds, especially talking in front of others. I couldn’t even manage to raise my hand in class and answer a question, much less get up in front of hundreds of people and deliver a speech. Lucky for me, my love for public speaking actually found me when I received a wonderful job offer with United Way, working for a children’s shelter, where I was to deliver speeches for my job, promoting child abuse awareness based on my past experience with the issue as a child. Luckily, by this point in my life, I was already very comfortable speaking in front of others after participating in pageants as a teen. Before pageants, I was very awkward and uncomfortable in front of others, but after doing several, I found speaking in front of other people quite easy with a few tips I learned through public speaking training. This prepared me for the job I would hold with United Way, and though I am no longer delivering speeches as my current job, public speaking is something I truly enjoy. If you’re terrified of speaking in front of others, there are 10 key pointers I learned along the way that I feel would benefit anyone. Read on to find on what my top tips are and be sure to share your ideas with me if you have any too.
1. Know Your Material
Whether you’re delivering your first speech or your tenth speech, one of the most important tips for public speaking is to know your material. What you will be speaking about should be as familiar to you as your favorite song, meal or outfit. Pick a topic you are interested in, or research the topic you will be speaking about religiously until you know it like the back of your hand. Knowing more about your topic will keep you at ease, increase your intelligence and give you confidence to freely speak about a matter you’re familiar with. Feel free to use humor, personal stories and conversational language to deliver your material as well. This way, you won’t sound like a prerecorded audiotape, but more like yourself.
You can’t be good at public speaking without practice. If it is your first time, practice in front of the mirror at home, or record yourself. Don’t be judgmental, but pick out things you did well with, and things can improve upon. Rehearse your speech out loud, but don’t memorize it. Memorizing can lead to you fearing you’ll forget a sentence, which can disrupt your entire speech if you mess up on one tiny part. Instead, practice a basic outline of what you will say with all equipment you plan on using. Be sure to pause and breathe during your speech so you don’t hurry though it and practice with a timer, allowing for a little extra time in case anything such as delays occur at events.
3. Know Your Audience
Will you be delivering to younger or older people? Will your audience be primarily male or female, from a corporate audience or from a more casual crowd? Based on your audience, you’ll need to adjust your speech grammatically and conversationally. For example, if delivering a speech for your job, you’ll need to be sure to use professional grammar as well as appropriate conversation, whereas if you’re delivering a speech to a group of young females, you can throw in small ideas about topics females have to deal with, and use some traditional humor to lighten the mood. Also, feel free to meet some of your audience members by greeting them at the door as they arrive. You’ll feel more relaxed and more connected to those you are speaking to, instead of fearing all of them as strangers in the audience. It's far easier to speak to a group of new friends than to strangers.
4. Arrive Early
Don’t walk in 5 minutes before your speech and expect to do well. You need to arrive at least 30-45 minutes early, have time to view the room, walk the room, and get familiar with areas in the audience that have bad lighting, or hard-to-view spots. This way, you’ll be sure you can look to all the audience members so no one feels left out, or be aware of that glare coming from the right corner of the room so you can adjust to your surroundings and not be distracted. Walk around the speaking area and practice using the microphone and any visual aids. You’ll automatically feel at home with your platform and be less inclined to feel out of place.
You’re not delivering a speech that will determine your fate, so relax already! You’re merely talking in front of people that WANT you do to well. The audience isn’t there to see you fail; they are there to see you succeed. Be confident! You’ve got this in the bag, and all you need to do is relax a little. Pretend you’re talking to people that you’ve known all your life and begin by addressing the audience as if you actually have known them all your life. It buys you time and calms your nerves. Pause and smile just a moment when you begin before saying anything. This will help promote enthusiasm instead of nervous energy.
6. Visualize Yourself Doing Well
Imagine yourself speaking and your voice being loud, clear and confident. Then, deliver that visualization. Positive visualization is one of the most underrated tools to success.
7. Keep Water on Hand
One trick I always like to keep up my sleeve is to bring water with me, perhaps not on stage, but at least in my purse. Drink a few sips, but not the whole bottle, before you go on stage so you’re not dehydrated. Dehydration can contribute to high blood pressure, sweating and getting lightheaded, along with dry mouth, which will all derail your speech efforts. Then, drink some more water when you finish so you can replenish yourself after speaking. Staying hydrated also helps calm your nerves.
8. Don’t Apologize if You Stumble
If you forget something important, don’t tell the audience since they probably have no idea, and for goodness sake, don’t apologize! I actually don’t memorize my speeches for this exact reason. Then, I have nothing to forget or apologize for. Get an idea of topics to speak about, but don’t apologize if you mess up and forget. This will make you seem nervous and uneducated.
9. Concentrate on the Message
Forget about how nervous you are, and focus more on what you’re there to convey. What you are speaking about is the important part. All the little things such as nerves, bad lighting, a bad hair day, etc., don’t really matter so much. Focus your attention away from your own anxieties and concentrate on your message and your audience. I actually had to deliver a speech once with torn pantyhose and thought I was going to die. Yet, I made myself forget about it, and guess what? It ended up being my best speech! Luckily, no one ever seemed to notice the minor apparel crisis either!
10. Gain Experience
You can’t be good at public speaking if you don’t keep doing it! Your speeches will most likely never be identical, but they should be consistent. Experience builds confidence, which is the key to effective speaking, and to being good at anything in general. People like experienced speakers, so make it a habit to speak whenever you can. Offer a toast at a wedding, speak at a company meeting, take a class at a local community college, offer to say a short speech at your friend’s bridal shower, or offer to lead a club or church meeting. Anything you can do to gain experience will help you.
I never thought I would need to know how to be a public speaker, yet now, I love it so much, I’d love to do it the rest of my life as a writer and inspirational speaker. Public speaking can be a great way to help others, meet others, and gain confidence at the same time. Have you ever had a hard time with public speaking?