Does the thought of speaking in front of crowd make your knees weak and your guts all twisty? If so, you are not alone. According to an Washington Post Article on American Fears, 25.3% of Americans have a fear of public speaking. That’s over a quarter of us!
Even if you don’t aspire to a career as a politician or motivational speaker, you will likely be expected to speak in front of a group of people at some point. You may be asked to give a presentation at a staff meeting or even invited to participate in an industry panel discussion. The chance to have your voice and opinions heard is a great opportunity, so it’s worth the time and energy to increase your comfort level with public speaking.
Luckily, there are tons of great resources out there. Zach Holman’s Speaking.io is a super comprehensive site that covers everything from planning and prep to dealing with audience members’ reactions and questions. And, in addition to dozens of articles on the subject, many institutions offer public speaking classes, like this one by General Assembly.
But, if you’ve got to get in front of an audience, say, this week, we’ve got a few basic tips and tricks to calm the butterflies and make you look like a pro.
1. Know Your Audience
Finding the right tone and style for your presentation will help you click with your audience. If you’re presenting to your colleagues, you’re already ahead of the game. You’ve got an idea of the personalities in the room and a sense of how presentations and meetings typically run. If you’re speaking to an external audience, spend some time familiarizing yourself with the demographic. What are their professions? Why are they in the room? What’s the age range? Answering questions like these will help you understand your audience’s priorities, which will then help you shape your speech.
2. Know Your Tech
This is a point that Holman makes in the “Scoping out the Room” section of his website. We’ve all squirmed uncomfortably while a speaker fumbled with an uncooperative projector or their frozen laptop. Reduce your chance of technical difficulties by familiarizing yourself with all the equipment you may use during your speech. If possible, do a quick dress rehearsal the day before or morning of. This can also help you gauge the acoustics of the room so you can adjust the volume of your voice. If you feel weird doing this in the conference room of your office, pretend to take a personal phone call in there. You’ll be able to speak out loud and investigate equipment without giving away what you’re really up to.
3. Practice, Don’t Memorize
Kris Carr, author and health guru, says, in her recent article on public speaking, “While it’s tempting to read a script, it’s not very interesting for the audience. Plus, scripts don’t allow room for new magic, new ideas, whim and the guided channeling that can take place when you’re in your sweet spot.” You’re better off nailing down key ideas that you can comfortably riff on than trying to memorize or read something verbatim. Have index cards or an outline handy for easy reference and practice delivering the same information in slightly different words each time. That way you don’t have to worry about losing your place or forgetting your lines.
4. Make Visual Aids Visual
If you’re planning on using slides for your speech, make sure they’re visually appealing and add to your presentation. Slides that read like subtitles or a transcript are pointless and annoying; your audience knows how to read. Holman advises to “keep things as simple and as big as possible. Blow it up to the whole slide.”
So, instead of this:
Go for this:
5. “Who Are You Wearing?”
Your outfit matters. Most of all to you. Your wardrobe should be appropriate for the occasion, but you should also be excited to put it on. If you look and feel good, you’ll deliver your speech with more confidence. In turn, your audience will feel like they’re in good hands and respond positively to your presentation. And, if possible, try to pick an outfit that jives with the overall tone and goals of your presentation. For ideas, check out this article on dressing for TED Talks.
And, remember that public speaking is just like any other skill. Sure, some people are naturals, but most of us have to work at it. It’s okay if your first few presentations are less than perfect.Every chance to speak in front of a crowd is an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t. No matter what happens, you’ll be better prepared for the next time someone passes you the mic.
How do you feel about public speaking? Are you among the 25% who’d rather do just about anything else?