Public speaking is something many people struggle with, even as they move into management. But like any skill, it can be practised and perfected with the right methods. From captivating your audience to preparing for questions, these seven useful tips will help you become a better public speaker, turning those fumbling nerves into a professional-level orator in no time.
Get your audience hooked
You only have 15 seconds to make a first impression. Use this time to grab your audience’s attention.
Start with a surprising statistic, a personal experience, or entertaining anecdote. Then draw your audience in with a captivating introduction.
Your introduction should tell your audience what to expect, but more importantly, it should make clear why what you have to say is so valuable to them. It should also be tailored to suit each audience. For example, when presenting to the general public, you’ll need to include a brief background on the topic and avoid using technical jargon – an approach that even a group of seasoned, knowledgeable experts may find difficult to digest in the early going of any presentation.
Keep your audience interested by using a variety of media to convey your information such as…
• Anecdotal examples
• Case studies
• Prototype models
Relying too much on regular slides is too much of a gamble if you’re nervous about holding the audience’s attention. Unless you’re confident in your delivery and can rely on your charisma to keep people focussed on you, it’s well worth mixing up the way your information is presented. Make sure you allow plenty of time to set up and check that all of your visual aids are working correctly.
Prepare to be questioned
When rehearsing your speech with friends or co-workers, encourage them to ask questions. This will allow you to prepare well-researched and succinct answers, so you’ll feel less nervous if you find yourself under scrutiny on the day. The last thing you want to happen, especially if the rest of your speech has gone so well, is to get caught out by a tricky question that leaves you on the spot.
When someone asks you a question:
• Repeat their question back in your own words. This shows you have listened, clarifies your understanding, and also gives you a little extra time to compose your response.
• Break down complex questions into simple parts. This makes complicated questions easier to address and stops you feeling overwhelmed.
• Remember it’s not a personal attack. If your audience is asking questions, you have successfully engaged their interest!
• You won’t have all the answers. Be honest and direct when you’re stumped by a question. State that the answer will require further research and suggest that you follow up with the person after the presentation, such as: “You make a good point! One I’ll need to give some more thought. Are you happy to hang back at the end to talk about this in more detail?”
Practice out loud
No matter how many times you go over a line in your head, it will always sound different when spoken aloud. Avoid getting tongue-tied on the day itself by practising aloud until you’re pitch-perfect in the run-up.
Check that you are pronouncing technical terms correctly. Silly mistakes will hurt your credibility and alienate an informed audience.
You might be surprised by how long it takes to get through your speech when reading aloud. Rushing through a particular section will signal to your audience that this information is less valuable, so they will be unlikely to give it their full attention. Be sure you’re giving each section the balance it requires, and don’t be afraid to jettison any parts you feel are dragging things down.
If in doubt, slow down
Remember that although this speech may have been playing in your head for days or weeks, your audience is hearing this information for the first time. They can quickly lose interest if you rush through your material. Going too fast makes it difficult for your audience to understand complex arguments, making them feel they’re being ‘talked at’ rather than ‘spoken to’.
If you start to feel nervous, try speaking unusually slowly. This might feel strange at first, but you’re probably going at double time already! Speaking slowly makes you sound more confident and less rehearsed, giving your presentation a natural flow that’s more engaging to audiences.
Not sure when to take a break? Insert a 3-5 second pause before important statements to help prepare your audience for new information. Pausing at the end of a story will encourage your audience to reflect on its meaning, too.
If you slip up, dust yourself off and carry on. Nothing makes an audience feel uncomfortable like an under-confident speaker. And the fact is, they probably didn’t even notice the error in the first place.
Be confident in everything you say (and if you’re not—fake it!). You must be 100% behind your argument to have any chance of convincing your audience.
If you are serious about becoming a better public speaker, recording yourself delivering your pitch or presentation is the most efficient way to recognise and eradicate your weaknesses.
Video your practice sessions or record yourself talking into a webcam, then ask a friend or colleague to record your final presentation.
Whether you deliver presentations regularly or are preparing for an important appearance, these simple strategies will help you approach your next public speaking gig with more confidence and help you achieve better results in the process.
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