Public speaking is one of the most commonly feared activities, and the prospect of having to speak at an event or conference can have even the boldest of people waking up in a cold sweat. This is perfectly normal, because unless we are professional performers, it is not a skill that most of us get to practise on a regular basis.
However, like any skill, there are plenty of techniques that can help us to improve our performance. Some people are naturally more comfortable in front of a crowd than others, but being good at public speaking is about much more than being able to rattle off a speech. Here are some key points to bear in mind when preparing for your event.
Use your nerves positively
If you are feeling nervous about the prospect of speaking, don’t take this as a negative sign. It means that you care about your performance and you can use this energy to help you stay alert and engaged during your presentation. Remember that nervousness is a normal feeling, and almost everybody experiences it, no matter how confident they seem.
Focus on the audience rather than yourself
Remember that your job is to communicate information to your audience. In other words, it’s about them, not you. This can help take you out of yourself and minimise any feelings of self consciousness.You are the messenger, not the subject, so turn your attention outwards to your audience at all times, rather than inwards towards yourself.
Tailor your speech to speak in the clearest and most direct way to your audience, rather than to dutifully reel off your own research or drily impart information. Find out what level of jobs your audience is in, and what will be interesting and relevant to them; reach outwards.
Have a clear framework for your speech
While reading word for word from a script can make you sound too robotic and unengaging, it’s important to set down a framework to make sure that you get across your key points. Start off strongly to gain the attention of the audience, maybe with an eye opening fact, an interesting quote, or a relevant anecdote.
Follow up by clearly introducing the topic and main aims of your speech. Keep the central idea of your topic in mind at all times, and avoid straying too far from it. Once you have made all your main points, summarise them concisely, and try to leave your audience with a memorable closing statement that gives them food for thought.
Use audiovisuals sparingly
Audiovisual tools can be useful, especially if your speech is heavy on statistics or abstract ideas. However, too much reliance on screens reduces your eye contact with the audience, and they may become disengaged from your message.
Keep an open mind
Rigidly sticking to your plan is not always a recipe for success. Try to read the room, and sense whether the audience is listening and engaged, or restless and bored. If you feel that you are losing their attention, try and figure out why. Do you need to simplify things, or maybe inject a little more personality and humour into the proceedings?
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