Big Presentation? Keep These Public Speaking Tips In Mind
Here’s the thing: if you plan on being successful in life, you’re probably going to have to do a bit of public speaking at some point. Possibly even a lot of it. This doesn’t (necessarily) mean you’ll be expected to inspire millions of people with your TED Talk debut. Or that you’ll need to be polishing off that Oscars thank-you speech anytime soon. It could simply be the best man’s speech at your mate’s wedding. But having the ability to simplify information and speak clearly, with relevant points to make, in an enjoyable way for others is a super power that serve you well in any situation, whether that be motivating your co-workers, expressing your affection for a loved one in the presence of others at [insert important life event here], or making new friends in unfamiliar situations. Taking the spotlight doesn’t have to feel like preparing for battle (or like you’re on your way to an untimely demise) – here are some tips to ease you into it.
#1 Avoid negative self-talk
We’re all guilty of this. Some may even claim it’s culturally embedded in us to do so. But when it comes to public speaking, we can’t just rely on fans in the audience or smiling faces for encouragement: we have to be our own cheer squad first. So trash the negative vibes in the days (or minutes, or seconds) leading up to the big day, and take note of all the things you’re good at and/or have succeeded in the past. Maybe a friend complimented you on your ability to be graceful under pressure, or perhaps someone once pointed out you have admirable intonation when you speak – remember that you did this, and that you can probably do it again. The conversations we have with ourselves are as – if not more – important when it comes to facing challenges big or small.
#2 Get feedback on and then polish your draft
Despite what Leo Tolstoy or David Foster Wallace would want you to believe, long isn’t impressive. Learn to edit (enjoy) getting rid of your words when you’re drafting up a speech or talk – it’s painful, but it makes it better. Good talks or speeches should feel like poetry – getting a lot said, with as little words as possible, in as little time as possible. That said, try to squash your inner perfectionist into over-editing. Anything over six drafts might mean you’re starting to make things worse rather than improving them. This is where having a friend, professional, or someone who represents an ideal audience member who can look at a draft for you comes in handy. Get them to check things like structure, articulating what they think your main point is, and whether or not they feel convinced or learned something new. Avoid getting your work muddied by too many external opinions, though – ultimately, the content has to be carried by your own voice and your own point of view.
#3 Use pauses to your advantage
The magic of pauses in public speaking is that if you use them to your advantage, people barely notice you’re even using them. Think of pauses as vocal full stops, commas, colons or semicolons: they help you punctuate as you speak, and help your audience understand the difference between where one thought ends and another begins. They’re also handy for conveying a particular emotion – happiness, sadness, anger, surprise – and if deliberately extended, can help you control the overall pace and delivery of your speech. Remember that pauses are also healthy and necessary – they help you take a breath or a sip of water, and help your mind catch up to your mouth (after all, public speaking is the ultimate in multitasking: thinking of what to say next, projecting your voice, using body language, and interacting with the audience).
Tip 4: Throw questions back to the audience
Spoiler alert: your audience probably isn’t expecting to be simply talked at for the entire duration of your time in the spotlight. And if they are, surprise them! Just like one-on-one interaction, asking questions and being interested in what the other person has to say is a great way to build a rapport with the audience. The likely difference in a public speaking scenario is that you, as the speaker, probably know the answer to the question being asked. Sharing expertise, or taking your audience through a simple activity where they learn something new, is a great way to connect with them, and make your main point heard in a different way.
Tip 5: Use your quirks to your advantage
Be yourself! It sounds a bit corny but ultimately, that’s who your audience wants to meet. Try not lose yourself and what made you passionate about your chosen topic when going through the process of having to put a speech together. And don’t worry about having to emulate your heroes. Know that the best speakers have equal parts courage and good judgement and remember that the only real cure for self-consciousness is experience. The tricky bit is just knowing that being ‘bad’ just at something means you’re willing to give it a go before you’ve mastered it. There is an upside to making a fool of yourself the first couple of times – you’ll soon get comfortable enough at it to show someone else how it’s done.
Nathania is a writer, video editor and snack enthusiast based in Melbourne. You can find her on Twitter @unicornology