If you dread speaking to a public forum—whether you’re reading in front of the class or giving a presentation at work—you’re not alone. Public speaking is a common fear, right up there with spiders and heights. We’re here to help.
Even if you don’t get the jitters when you think about addressing a crowd, you may still need some refreshers on the finer points of public speaking. The right techniques will allow you to be a more confident speaker, whether or not you’re shaking like a leaf before you get to the microphone. Use these tips the next time you have to address a crowd.
Streamline Your Message
When you write your speech, always consider it your first draft. Once you’ve written down everything you want and need to say, it’s time to go back through and remove all the fluff, find your target message, and get to the point.
Make sure your speech portrays what you want to accomplish with it. What’s the purpose of what you’re talking about? Are you getting your point across?
Once you’re sure your speech expresses your key message well, it’s time to whittle the text down. Even the best speakers may get boring if they’re giving lengthy speeches filled with unnecessary information.
Here are some things to consider removing from a long speech:
- Fluff words: While you do want to offer people excitement, you don’t need filler words like just, seems, really, or very. They lengthen your speech, but they provide no added substance to your message.
- Your expertise: You don’t need a lengthy description of why you’re the right person to give this speech. You’re giving it because people know you have the right experience.
- Repetition: While you may want to get the point across on a few elements of your speech, you don’t want to spend the whole thing repeating the same ideas over and over. Save any repetition of critical concepts for your closing statement.
- Anything politically incorrect: Consider the people you’re talking to and what words you’re using to speak to them. Tailor your speech to the audience and use words appropriate for the context. When in doubt, err on the side of using more formal and conservative language.
Rely on Props, But Not Too Heavily
Having props for your speech will give you cue cards, in a sense. Not everyone is an ace at memorizing speeches, so having a PowerPoint presentation or a presentation board will remind you of where you’re going with your speech if you forget.
However, you don’t want to spend your entire speech staring at a whiteboard or a screen. You need to make sure your listeners know that you’re speaking to them and that you care about what you’re saying. The crowd is there to see you, not a slideshow.
If you do use a slideshow, be sure the slideshow supports your speech and doesn’t mirror it word for word. One of the most common slideshow mistakes is turning your speech into a sequence of slides.
Keep Your Speech in the Right Time Limit
If you have a set time limit on your speech, make sure you hit it. Be prepared to start talking right at your start time, and make sure you wrap things up before your finish time. If there are other speakers after you, finishing late cuts into their time and may set the rest of the event behind.
The key to making sure your speech is the right length is to practice. When you’re practicing, time yourself. You can add or subtract content as needed to get the right length.
Not only do you need to practice your speech to get the timing right, but practice will also help you feel more confident about getting on stage or up in front of a group with all eyes on you.
Here are some ways to practice your speech and presentation:
- Practice in front of a mirror. A full-length mirror offers you a view of your body language as well as a chance to see what faces you’re making when you talk.
- Practice on video. Recording yourself doing your speech and then watching it afterward will let you see where you’re making mistakes, like using improper body language, pronouncing words wrong, or saying “umm” too much.
- Practice in front of friends and family. They’ll be able to give you feedback, and using a live audience for practice will help you feel more comfortable talking to people.
Speak Slowly, in a Professional Tone, and with Your Body
You want to make sure that you’re not talking too fast. If you talk fast, your listeners will miss most of what you say. However, you also don’t want to talk too slow and put everyone to sleep.
Make sure you’re speaking in the right tone—authoritative and not monotone. Be sure to speak loud enough, too. Find out if you’ll have a microphone and practice with one if you will.
You watched your body language when you practiced in the mirror; now you want to make sure you use this form of communication to your full advantage. Move around when you have something exciting to say, use your hands to point or to make other motions, and remember that you can say more with your body than you can with words alone.
Know Your Subject
All the practicing in the world won’t help you’re not well versed in your subject. It’s essential to study your subject matter enough that you feel knowledgeable and comfortable talking about it. If you’re a professional giving a speech or presentation, you should already be familiar and comfortable with your subject. If you’re giving a presentation for a class, you need to research your topic thoroughly.
Connect with Your Audience
Who are you talking to? Will your audience be peers who do what you do too, or are they people who want to learn about what you do? This matters when it comes to what you write in your speech. To connect with your audience and keep them interested, here are some things to try:
- Engage your audience: Ask questions, pump them up, and add in some things that will make them laugh.
- Incorporate personal stories: Personal stories may not connect with every member of the audience, but telling your own story will connect you with some, and those that relate will listen even harder.
- Be passionate: Being passionate in your speech and about your subject matter will help the audience feel more connected. If you’re bored, they’re going to be bored. However, don’t let your passion make you talk too loud or too fast.
Show up a Little Early
Last, but not least, show up a little early and take some time to get the lay of the land (if you’re speaking at a venue you’ve never spoken at before). Walk up on the stage, get behind the podium (if there is one), and step up to the mic.
If you’re speaking at a professional event, you’ll be getting a mic hooked up to you before you get on stage, or you’ll at least need to do a soundcheck with the stationary mic. Getting there early gives you more time to find out when soundcheck or mic prep is. When the time comes to give your speech, you’ll be relaxed and ready to go.