You’ve probably heard the statistic that public speaking ranks number one in terms of what Americans fear most, with heights and creepy crawlies coming in second and third. While it is indeed a terrifying task, much of it comes down to practice, and shouldn’t be equated to falling to one’s death.
Public speaking is all too relevant in the startup world, where pitching your new business idea, leading a team, or giving talks about your product all requires you to hone in your skills in the area. Contrary to what most of us believe, those who are more comfortable with receiving attention don’t necessarily perform better at public speaking than those who are shy.
Keep reading to hear our top tips and tricks for quickly elevating your public speaking skills:
Practice makes perfect, we all know that. When it comes to rehearsing, nothing's more effective than filming yourself. It’s one thing to memorise every word of a speech you’ve prepared, but another to take into account of the pacing and overall presentation.
When watching the playback, put yourself in the shoes of an audience member, and make sure to get some friends involved too. But remember that being over prepared is a thing, so know you don’t have to memorise everything word-for-word, which can actually increase stress from fear of not reciting it perfectly.
Light exercise is a beneficial habit to get into before public speaking. Getting your blood flowing and improving your circulation can allow oxygen into the brain, making you more clear-headed before having to go on stage. Doing a few squats or stretches may be just what you need to loosen those tensed up muscles too.
Much of what is needed to be a good public speaker is having the confidence to take charge of the room. When we overthink the situation, it’s easy to want to get it over and done with right away. But rather than speaking immediately, take a deep breath and use a few seconds to compose yourself before you begin speaking. This shows the audience that their attention should be on you.
You’ve probably heard this one before, which is to speak…slowly…the…slower…the…better. One of the first things we do when we’re nervous is to talk really fast, which not only makes it more difficult for the audience to understand you, it also shows them how nervous you are. Don’t rush yourself, and let the audience soak in every word - even pausing 3 - 5 seconds after key moments or takeaways. Hey, if it’s good enough for President Obama, it’s good enough for us.
Similar to the previous point, it’s important to get into a good rhythm with your breathing, which can - aside from managing the pace of your delivery - help calm you down as well. Breathing mindfully can steady your heart-rate and give you overall mental clarity.
The term ‘nervous excited’ exists for a reason, as both emotions cause us to sweat, our heart rates to elevate, and get the butterflies goings. When you feel these sensations, tell yourself that it’s just the adrenaline pumping because you’re excited, not because you’re nervous. Just the connotations of the words alone can impact how you feel when taking on a challenge like public speaking. It's all about attitude!
We all know that smiling is essential for giving the impression that you’re an approachable and friendly person, but it can also show the audience that what you’re saying really means something to you. It gives a sense of sincerity, and will keep the them more engaged. Also, smiling gets you into the mood of thinking positively, so allow yourself to be confident and visualise the speech going well, and it’ll likely be the case!
Many of us have nervous gestures we turn to like putting our hands in our pockets, slouching, putting our body weight to one side, or playing with our hair. It’s important to draw a distinction between what is a normal hand gesture to illustrate your point, and what shows the audience how anxious you are. In most cases, it’s best to keep your delivery gesture-free, and try to identify any nervous ticks by asking a friend to watch your speech.
It’s always hard to know where to look when you’re speaking to a large group of people, but it’s important to note that we’re social creatures, so normal social cues shouldn’t be swept aside even in engagements with an audience of people. Make eye contact with audience members so it feels like you’re speaking directly to them instead of panning, which makes you seem less engaged. Once you finish a point, move on to another audience member for a few seconds.
No matter how much we practice, mistakes are inevitable. Maybe you stuttered, maybe you forgot a word, or maybe you lost your train of thought. It happens to everyone, and chances are you’re the only person who noticed. Don’t disrupt the pace of your talk by stopping to apologise, but pretend like it never happened and pick up where you left off. Just remember: none of us are perfect, and even the most experienced orators make mistakes.
It’s undoubtedly very disheartening to look out into the audience to see people who are on their phones, frowning - or worse - talking to their neighbour. Instead feeling discouraged or even angry, focus your attention on the people who are respectful and engaged. Make eye contact with them, and try to block the others out of view.
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