Top 10 Public Speaking Tips

1. What’s the message?

Have a very clear message, something you firmly believe in, perhaps something that challenges conventional thinking or provides some insight and value to the audience. In terms of marketing yourself, it’s great to have a niche and be known for it. It’s fine if it’s narrow. You want to be known as “the guy/woman who wrote that…believes that…claims that…did that”. It’s important to have some credibility and something very definite you wish to share. If it’s clear in your own mind, you’ll be more confident and persuasive with an audience.

2. Be prepared

Success in public speaking is largely about good preparation. This includes practical matters – the size of the audience, the environment you’re speaking in, voice amplification and projection facilities, the time allocated. Speakers often fear being ‘found out’ and knowing your topic will reduce anxiety about being asked awkward questions. It’s absolutely crucial that you know your audience – their level of expertise in your field, their expectations, the issues they’re facing, their age, experience, culture and beliefs. Remember Stephen Covey’s maxim: “First seek to understand, then seek to be understood.” It’s essential your message has relevance.

3. Have a structure

There’s a saying that you should a) tell ‘em what you’re going to say, b) tell ‘em and c) tell ‘em what you’ve said. This approach brings focus to your message and helps the audience take it on board. Some speakers talk about creating ‘dissonance’, in other words building up the problem and then giving the audience the tools and hope to resolve it. Remember the Law of Three – that’s the way stories are structured (a beginning, middle and an end) and humans respond well to this. These first 3 Tips are all about preparation, but ALWAYS be guided by your desired outcome. What do you want the audience to go away with?

4. Nerves – coping strategies

Fear of public speaking is a well known phenomenon, but nerves can be managed. Good preparation certainly helps, and of course breathing exercises assist your delivery. But to a large extent it’s a case of looking at things differently. Professional speakers, actors and athletes ALL feel nerves before going ‘on stage’, but they convert that nervous feeling into a positive thing. They embrace their nerves so it feeds their performance, rather than inhibiting it. And of course the more public speaking you do, the more confident and skilled you become.

5. Use physicality

The way you move on stage is important to your success as a speaker. Too static and you’ll come across as stiff and stilted. Too ‘busy’ and you’ll irritate and distract the audience. Parking yourself behind a lectern is restrictive. Try to have a lapel or hand held microphone and stay mobile. Body language experts talk about being ‘congruent’, in other words your body movements match what you’re saying. Eye contact is important. Rather than look over the audience, speak to different people out there, catching their eye so it feels like a personal conversation. Video yourself and learn.

6. Using your voice

Listen to someone with a flat, monotone voice and you’ll soon get bored. Put some dynamics into your delivery – ups and downs – and don’t rush. Listen to great performers and see how they use pauses, place emphasis on certain words and have a clear rhythm to their speaking. Audiences like speakers with good diction. After all, if you have a great message it’s a shame if people can’t hear it. Look after your voice – if you have aspirations as a speaker it’s your principal tool. Study how breathing affects your delivery and drink water rather than coffee before a speech. NEVER alcohol!

7. Adding colour

Make your speech engaging and entertaining. Beware of making jokes, but do use situational humour and perhaps some self-deprecation. Anecdotes, metaphors and analogies aid understanding of your message and make the speech more enjoyable to listen to. If you’re going to use statistics, add colour to them by saying what that figure might represent (“placed end to end that would stretch to the Moon and back”). Be sparing in your use of slides, and favour images rather than bullet points/text. Keep things fresh by referring to something in the news that day.

8. Connect with your audience

It’s essential you make a connection with your audience, on a practical and an emotional level. Try to have some conversations with audience members before you start, then strike up that dialogue when you’re on stage. Involve them by asking questions, have someone come up on stage, move amongst them yourself or have them do an exercise. The emotional connection starts with knowing what you want the audience to feel – enlightened, inspired, shocked, amused. Build empathy. And remember that reading from notes or slides breaks that connection and weakens the performance. Transfer your emotion to others.

9. Be adaptable

The flip side to being prepared is to be able to think on your feet. Talks that appear over-prepared seem rather sterile. How would you cope if the projector failed and you couldn’t show your slides? What would you do if the published speaker fell ill and you were asked to fill in? The likelihood is you’d do fine, especially if you involved the audience and essentially started a conversation. After all, we all have conversations in everyday life and this is just a chat on a larger scale!

10. Having fun

Using these tips, you’ll start to see public speaking as an opportunity rather than an ordeal. It’s a wonderful thing to engage and move an audience with something you’re passionate about. They really want you to do well, and if you’re authentic and have something to say that brings them some value, you’ll be a winner. Finally, don’t try too hard. If you strive for perfection you’ll probably constrict and falter. Keep it simple, give it your all, be yourself…and have fun!

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