Public speaking has always been a huge fear of mine, but over the last year, I’ve been working on getting past my nerves and anxiety.
I’ve been doing this by joining the worldwide public speaking club Toastmasters. (You’ll probably find there’s one in your town, too.) After a few months of regular public speaking, I don’t claim to be an expert. But I have built up a few techniques for overcoming my nervousness:
1. ‘Loud’ is always the most important thing
As soon as you start learning about public speaking, it’s easy to become obsessed with small details. What am I doing with my hands? Am I using meaningful pauses? Am I moving around the stage too much/too little?
Those things matter, but they pale into insignificance if your audience can’t hear you.
I’m naturally a soft-spoken person, so speaking loudly and clearly is something I’ve had to physically force myself to get better at. Part of it comes from confidence. Confidence, in turn, comes from practice (see tip #5).
The good thing is, if all you achieve during your first few speeches is being LOUD and CLEAR, then you’re doing better than at least 50% of speakers.
2. A smile goes a long way
Something I’ve found that immediately makes me come across as friendlier and more confident on stage is smiling.
Smiling big. Smiling a lot.
Sounds simple? It is. But it works.
Yes, you can go too far and come across like a grinning loon, but for my money, the best advice I would give to new speakers is to smile.
3. Keep your energy up
In my everyday interactions, I’m a pretty mellow person. However, on stage, mellow reads as bored. Other energy killers include: mumbling, or drifting into a monotonous tone of voice. As soon as the energy in the room drops, the audience zones out.
So how can you keep your energy levels up? Smiling helps (see tip #2). Using expansive gestures (spreading your arms wide, for example) and making other energetic movements is also good.
Another trick I’ve come up with is to purposely pepper my speech with enthusiastic words.
Instead of saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am your host”, say, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be your host.”
Instead of saying, “Thank you to Jane for that intro”, say, “Thank you to Jane for that fantastic intro.”
Using superlatives like “wow” and “amazing” might be overkill in everyday conversation, but it’s a great way to instantly boost your energy on stage.
4. Own the moment
Most of us able to articulate ourselves well in everyday conversations. So what breaks down when we get up on stage?
In the past, when I was asked to speak in public, I would slouch up to the front of the room, keeping my head down. I’d rush through what I had to say, never making eye contact with anyone in the audience, and then high-tail it back to my seat as soon as possible.
What I was doing was ‘getting it over with.’
This is exactly the wrong mindset to have. If someone’s asked you to speak in public, that means you have something worth sharing. For those two minutes (or five minutes, or ten minutes), you own the stage. You need to stand tall, speak clearly, and take advantage of being on stage, in order to say something meaningful.
Don’t just get it over with; own the moment.
5. Practice, practice, practice
In life, sometimes the things you learn absolutely blindside you. (Hey, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing? No way!) Other times, the things you learn are so obvious, it’s a little annoying.
So when I say I’ve learned that practice is the key to being a good public speaker, don’t roll your eyes. I know. It’s obvious. But it’s also true.
The difference between my speaking when I’ve practised a speech three times and when I’ve practised a speech 30 times is like night and day.
Yeah, the practice is boring. I stand in different rooms of my flat speaking to an invisible audience, running my speech over and over and over again. But, you know what? It works.
By the time I get on stage, my speech flows out me.
Sigh. I know. Appearing effortless requires a lot of hard work. Sorry about that.
Are there any other simple techniques you’ve discovered for being a better public speaker?