One of the most thrilling, challenging (and for many people) frightening opportunities is that of public speaking. Whether your job requires it, or you find yourself in a position where you have to give a public presentation, you may be overcome with nerves at the thought of standing in front of a group.
It’s normal to be scared. After all, most people in your audience would be just as nervous in front of a crowd. The great Jerry Seinfeld noted that public speaking is the #1 fear among people, higher than the fear of death. As he creatively put it, “that means more people would rather be in the casket than actually giving the eulogy.” If this describes you, don’t worry. There’s hope. You don’t have to be a professional speaker to give a good public speech. You can not only survive in giving your talk, but you can thrive in it. Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to not only keeping your audience awake, but you will be able to ignite and move them to action. Here are some public speaking tips for conquering your fear and becoming an exceptional speaker:
1. Remember that anything worth doing is worth doing well. If it’s worth your time, and especially if you’re getting paid to make the speech, then it is worth doing it well. This is a great life lesson: Do your best, or don’t do it at all. Try your hardest. Don’t just phone it in. Your audience deserves better. So what’s the best way to do your best? Practice! There’s an old saying that goes like this: “Practice makes perfect.” Wrong! Practice only makes perfect if you know how to practice. So you have to learn how to practice the right way. Read some books on speaking. Take a course (like the one we offer at Inspire Coaching), hire a speaker’s coach. Learn how to practice right, and then do it. Know your talk inside and out.
2. Make sure you know your topic. Even if you don’t know everything about your topic, you should know enough about it to make it through your speech. But not only that, do your best to learn everything you can about that topic. If you have a Q & A time, or if people approach you afterward to ask questions, you will want to know more than what was in your talk. If not, you will regret it, and you will look like a phony. So do your homework, and know your topic.
3. Speak with enthusiasm. Passion is a powerful thing, and when we let it show (notably as enthusiasm), great things can happen. An enthusiastic speaker is compelling. You can have nothing to say, but if you say it with great enthusiasm, you can keep your audience’s attention. No one wants to listen to a “ho-hum,” apathetic, monotone speaker. But we will listen to an enthusiastic speaker.
Not convinced? Consider our newly elected President. Whether or not you like or support President Obama, his passionate and enthusiastic style of speaking captivated people and consequently…led to his election. (If you go back and track Obama’s rise in the democratic race, the moments that his popularity grew were times immediately following major speeches he made! That’s not a coincidence.)
4. Maintain eye contact. Glance around the room and use the 3-second rule while looking directly into someone’s eyes. Doing so will make your audience feel more involved.
5. Use humor in your speech. Even if you’re speaking about a dry topic, draw something funny into your speech. Not all of us are born comedians, so don’t go overboard on this if it isn’t natural. Why is this important? Laughter does a few things for us:
- It relaxes us (speaker and audience)
- It brings people back to a point of attention. Zig Ziglar, who gets paid thousands of dollars per speech, intentionally plans humor into his speech in certain spots because he knows the power humor has on a presentation. If you can make your audience laugh, you can make them listen!
- It can be used to make points memorable. Again, what makes us laugh makes us listen.
6. Use personal stories to illustrate your point. Personal stories can be used to drive home your point. Stories compel people to listen, and are very effective at moving people to action. Using personal stories is one of the most powerful ways to ignite your audience. They may never remember your point, but they will remember the story. Anything that moves you emotionally (makes you cry, makes you angry, makes you think, makes you laugh, etc.) can be used. Search your life and stay on the lookout for these illustrations because they are like gold.
7. Don’t be afraid of silence. Pause periodically.This gives your audience time to reflect and think about what you have said. A speak who is not afraid of short moments of silence will recognize the power of silence. When used properly, planned pauses can create dramatic moments.
8. Memorize your speech. Delivering your talk without notes makes you look more professional and shows your audience that you have prepared. It also gives you more freedom to look into the eyes of your audience. But the most important thing is that it actually can help you speak with more conviction. Why? Because you have already prepared what to say, you can now have the freedom to say it without looking down at your notes. It actually makes you better because when you know you’ll be speaking without notes, you’ll be more likely to prepare yourself well. Plus, it makes it easier to keep your audience’s attention if you’re speaking without notes.
9. Own the stage. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, so don’t worry about being perfect. Focus on speaking with great enthusiasm and getting your point across. When you’re the speaker, you have to own the stage. Realize that this is where you belong and you are the right person for this moment.
When I first began speaking around the country, I was asked to go speak at a couple of public high school assemblies. I was nervous, having not done this before. I spoke to one of my mentors, a speaker named, Lori Salierno. I told her I was nervous about this, and she had great advice for me: “Have fun. They’re just kids that need the message you’re bringing. You’re the right one for this job.” So, that is what I did. I had a blast, gave it my best, and spoke with a lot of energy.
10. Use handouts when appropriate. This serves two main purposes: First, it helps your audience follow along and pay attention better. Second, it gives them something to take home with them for later use or reference. (Here’s a tip: Put your name and contact information on the handout in case they want to use you again, or in case they want to tell someone else about you.)
11. Keep your speech within the time you have been given. Event planners will love you for this, especially if they are running behind schedule. Know how much time you have to speak, and stop when your time is up. When you practice ahead of time, you’ll get good at keeping within the time limits.
12. Start strong. You only have a few moments to grab your audience and convince them that they need to listen to you. Before you’ve made your first point, your audience is already determining whether or not they’re going to give you their attention. With this knowledge at your disposal, use it to captivate them from the first word. Don’t start off with some joke your uncle told you, find a creative, dramatic or energetic way to capture their attention from the start.
13. Take a class or find a coach. Always be learning and growing. Stretch yourself. Take a class on speaking, or find a speaker’s coach who can help you grow into the communicator you need to be.
Every speech-giver can become an exceptional speaker by following the steps above. These steps, along with your passion, your knowledge and some hard work can transform your life and ignite your audience.
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Marc Adams is the founder of INSPiRE Coaching, and has spoken to hundreds of groups all over the country. He is best known for using an enthusiastic blend of funny and inspiring stories that will captivate and motivate people from all walks of life. To book Marc to speak at your next event, or for more information on INSPiRE Coaching, contact us at 918-781-9834, or visit our website.
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