I’ve had my share of embarrassing public speaking moments and I can still vividly remember the times that I failed at being a presenter, a good one that is. For a long time, I have wondered how it went wrong and how I could have done it better, until I observed and got tips from the pros- people who are able to channel different personas and wear various “professional hats”. They are the people who can talk effortlessly, are master showmen, and train and hold the attention of an entire room for 8 full hours daily. They are known by many names- trainers, facilitators, presenters. Regardless of what they are called, they all employ the same traits: they are great speakers, and have mastered the skill of showmanship.
Public speaking is not an “all-in-a day’s-work” for everyone. While some people seem to have been born to speak in front of a large crowd and just naturally win the people with their innate charm and pure awesomeness, some people are still yet to get to that state. The fear of speaking publicly, coupled by social anxiety, can be distressing and deter speakers from being at their best throughout their speech.
The symptoms are fairly easy to identify, and can escalate quickly- stuttering, clammy hands, irregular heartbeat, a feeling of induced vomiting, dizziness, and unstable footing which may lead to losing consciousness. The good news is, these can be overcome with sufficient preparation, conditioning, and motivation.
How can a rookie skyrocket into becoming a public speaking champion?
1. Prepare accordingly
Create an outline and draft your speech, this will help you in timing the entire talk and structure the ideas to make your speech organized and cohesive. Read more on the topic, especially if you are participating in a Q & A. Do a practice run and evaluate your performance, repeat until you are satisfied.
2. Condition the mind and body
Having a well conditioned mind and body on your big day is equally as important as the preparation you did the previous day. Get a full night’s sleep and include a simple exercise in your morning routine to pump up endorphins and trigger that positive feeling you need. Eat light and eat right- select the types of food that will boost your energy and keep you hydrated. Diuretics and sweets are not advisable, as these may spike nervousness and drain your energy instead of gaining some. Listen to some music instead of reading your speech before doing your presentation to alleviate anxiety.
3. Dress up and dress right
Looking and feeling good gives you a confidence boost- dress up, choose clothes which are appropriate for the event and elevate the look a notch higher to give you distinction. Use accessories minimally, and select simple ones to complement your look. Wearing a watch is advantageous to help you keep track of time.
4. Channel an encouraging facial expression
Smile and invite a positive vibe to your speech. Set the environment and take control. Keeping a straight face throughout the presentation prolongs facial muscles’ constriction which affects intonation and overall delivery. Loosen up and you will get the audience to do so as well.
5. Expend energy
Speakers feed off the crowd’s energy, and vice versa. Use up energy and the crowd will replicate what they received. Use gestures, project enthusiasm, and do not be afraid to become more animated than usual- it pays off.
6. Know when to pause
Pausing benefits both the speaker and the audience. It helps the audience absorb what you said and get them to think. Pausing also buys you time to formulate your thoughts while you are fronting a dramatic effect to your statement. It also helps you build a composed, in control, and collected perception of yourself.
7. Keep your audience focused on you
If you are not running a training or workshop, make the deck as minimal as possible. Do not expel the attention away from you, keep your audience focused on your speech and not on the slides. Remember that the material is just supplementary, and you, the speaker, are the star of the presentation.
8. Use movements
Do not support your weight with just one foot, stand on both feet to improve your posture and influence your manner of speaking. Walk around the room or on the platform at a slow pace so it will not affect the rate of your speech. Bigger gestures are better, but limit the movements to an “invisible window”, which signals you when your arms are overstretched and is no longer aesthetically pleasing, and tend to be distractive. Do not lean on, or sit on a table and avoid playing with objects in your environment. Motion to participants using open palms, pointing a finger is discouraged as it is considered offensive.
9. Look at the crowd
Do not look away and risk losing your audience. Maintain eye contact for a few seconds before doing the same to a different participant. Smile at the person you had eye contact with and project confidence and assurance. When you start getting nervous, look for a friendly and encouraging face, which helps you get your confidence back.
10. Enjoy yourself
Professionalism does not equate to formality, there is no need to be stiff. Speeches are meant to be informative and likewise, enjoyable. An informal touch can lighten the mood and engage the audience better. If you enjoy speaking, the crowd will also enjoy listening to you. Just like energy, enjoyment is contagious.
Always remember that your audience wants to see you succeed. Be fearless and proud, you’ve always had it in you.