Public speaking can often be scary, but these tips will help you to overcome your nerves and give your audience a memorable talk
Looking for public speaking tips? Let’s face it, getting up in front of a crowd can be a daunting experience. But with a bit of preparation, anyone can do it!
First, it's helpful to address the three pre-event stages experienced by all speakers.
Three stages of giving a talk
It's normal to be a bit nervous before giving a talk
When we learn we have to (or have even chosen to!) give a talk, the first reaction is usually, What have I done?!, followed quickly by sheer panic. After all, it’s normal to be nervous when you’re addressing a group of strangers, with all eyes focused on you. To deliver a memorable talk requires a delicate blend of charisma, confidence and content.
"Don’t take nerves as a sign of weakness"
Even then, with all the preparation in the world, pre-stage jitters are so common as to be experienced by the most seasoned speakers. So don’t take nerves as a sign of weakness. In fact, if anything, it’s good that you have some doubts, showing that you care enough about your performance and audience to polish your presentation and make it as good as possible.
When you have the opportunity to give a public talk for the benefit of others, it’s preparation that determines your performance. That’s to say, natural public speakers aren’t born, rather they’re made through hours of practice, trial and error and reflection. To give the best talks requires energy, investment and commitment to the craft. So reading this article is a good sign that you’re taking the necessary steps!
This is where the rubber meets the road. After the nerves and the re-organisation of your talk for the hundredth time, it’s important to remember that you’re there to have fun. And so are your audience, who aren’t out to judge you harshly or criticise. If anything, they’re your supporters, willing you to do well.
"It’s important to remember that you’re there to have fun"
It’s also where you receive important real-world feedback. Each talk you give is another rehearsal, where you can learn important lessons to take into your next event.
So, what can you do to enhance your next talk?
1. Eye contact
Instead of burying yourself in your notes, maintaining eye contact with your audience is vital. This conveys connection and builds rapport, strengthening your message and developing a relationship with each attendee.
Good posture is a vital subconscious signal of confidence for an audience. When we’re nervous, it’s easy to slouch our shoulders and try to disappear into the room.
However, this can taint your talk before you’ve even begun. Standing tall with an open, approachable presence ensures a more impactful talk.
It’s important not to rush, especially when nerves kick in. After adrenaline spikes due to fear, our fight or flight reactions cause us to accelerate through a talk, making it hard to follow and reducing its impact.
There's nothing wrong with taking your time
In contrast, consciously slowing down allows an audience to absorb your key points.
Perhaps the best way of slowing down is to use the meditative technique of focusing on your breath. This encourages an excitable nervous system to relax, not only allowing you to enjoy the speech more, but also to appear calmer and more confident in demeanour.
If you’ve ever listened to the best public speakers, you’ll notice that they break up their speech using tactical pauses, to great effect. This allows you to consider your next point and vocalise fluently without rushing or stumbling over your words.
Placing increased emphasis on certain parts of your talk also allows for better recall of your core points and overall audience understanding.
6. Inflection and intonation
How you vocalise your speech affects an audience’s digestion of your message. For example, emphasising particular words can convey emotion, whereas the rise and fall of your pitch can engage an audience—or send them to sleep! Therefore, consciously test your tone of voice for the best results.
Humour can be a double-edged sword, cutting through tension when used correctly, or destroying a speech if wielded clumsily. There’s often a degree of anticipatory tension in the room prior to any public speech, so breaking the ice with a little laugh is an excellent technique.
When done right, humour can help to break the ice
But it’s important to tread gently and err on the side of caution, especially if you don’t know an audience or their likely reaction.
Many venues might supply an induction hearing loop for those wearing hearing aids, but if not, using a PA system is essential for both attendees and your voice!
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, so using visuals to support the contents of your talk is essential. These aids, commonly in the form of projector images, are also a great way of removing pressure from the talk itself, allowing you to break the narrative and utilise a different sensory experience.
Simple speeches are often the most effective and entertaining. While you may be the foremost expert on the minutia of your subject, your audience will likely just want the highlights, so it’s important not to overload them with information. Try to include a selection of main points, which draws them into seeking out more on the subject themselves.
Practice makes perfect!
Although it might seem like a lot to take on board, picking one or two areas for improvement and incorporating them into your next engagement can work well. Constantly reassess the audience feedback and tweak your approach as necessary.
Even if you don’t nail your first few talks, simply getting more performance exposure will be a huge confidence booster. After all, practice makes perfect!
This piece was originally published by the wellness and online talks platform Mirthy. Reader's Digest have teamed up with Mirthy to provide free access to online events and classes. Sign up today to gain access to over 100 classes every month and claim your first free credits.