According to a YouGov survey last year a huge 83% of the population don’t think they are ‘good’ at public speaking.
That leaves for a lot of uncomfortable Brits who will find themselves in situations such as team meetings or presenting in front of an audience every so often.
Those who shy away from confidently speaking output themselves at a disadvantage as their voice and opinion will be overlooked or not taken seriously, while those who seize the chance become more noticeable and likely to benefit from opportunities further down the line.
If you’re a natural introvert or come over all anxious at the thought of public speaking, the good news is you can learn to be more confident. Confidence isn’t necessarily something you have or don’t have, for many it is acquired and improved over time – as the age-old saying goes ‘“practice makes perfect”.
Here are ten top tips to help you feel more comfortable when speaking in front of a crowd.
1. Plan Appropriately
First port of call – plan. Nothing new here, it’s the same advice that is given time and time again because it works.
Know the date, venue, audience, topic, previous successes and failures, everything you can gather to make sure you are as prepared as possible. Plan early, give yourself time to rehearse, amend, adapt and reduce stress.
If you’re looking for real-life experiences to draw on in a speech, it’s far more difficult to think of those retrospectively, than using and rewriting parts of a speech to include something fresh.
Planning also means you’re more likely to be prepared for the unexpected, such as an unpredictable question post-speech!
How many times have you put a book down after the first paragraph or moved to a new series when the trailer isn’t catching your interest? Why would public speaking be any different.
You need to captivate your audience from the get-go. Open with something interesting. Something that evokes emotion, something remarkable, outrageous, controversial, secret, unexpected or taboo where possible. This can be difficult to attribute to an everyday topic so some creative spin will likely be needed.
You could start with an interesting statistic, headline, or fact that pertains to what you’re talking about and resonates with your audience. This technique helps to establish common ground with those that are listening.
Once you have done the research and know your topic, practice it plenty of times. You’ll soon highlight the weak points of your presentation (for example, where you have too many pauses, difficult sentences, or topics that don’t link well). Edit, improve and practice again. This process will ensure the best possible performance by identifying and smoothing out any flaws before the event.
Move on to practise in front of others, whether that be colleagues, friends or family. Chances are they won’t be knowledgeable on the topic which is great for when your real presentation requires you to explain things in layman’s terms. It’ll also be a good way to see how you cope under pressure and identify whether your timing and flow is right and whether a joke went down as well as you hoped it would.
It may be nerve-wracking at first but it will help to calm your jitters by making you feel more comfortable with your material and presentation process from start to finish. Make sure to ask your audience whether they have any questions at the end, and seek feedback on both your material and performance.
4. Know Your Stuff
The best thing to do is to pick a topic you know inside out, or at least relatively well, and something you’re genuinely passionate about as that will shine through when you speak. Your audience will see straight through if you try and ‘wing it’ and they will quickly lose interest – so make sure to study up and don’t try discuss anything that you don’t understand comprehensively!
The best speeches are given from memory, which is something that comes with preparation and experience. If it’s your first time then note cards are absolutely fine to use, just don’t read off them word for word or that will come across as robotic. Note cards should contain a few bullet points which you can look at every now and again to prompt yourself, or if you get nervous and your mind goes blank.
5. Video Yourself
This technique allows you to critique yourself before the live event. As you watch, look at your body language – what are you doing with your hands? What’s your stage presence like? Are you rooted to the spot or using the whole stage? Are you looking at the audience or down at the prompt cards? Did you smile? Did you speak clearly? How did you handle surprising questions or comments from the audience?
Try not to become overwhelmed if you feel like you have a lot to work on, that’s normal for beginners! Pick one or two things as a starting point, rehearse again with those things in mind, then record and watch back. Once you’ve nailed those things you can move on to making other small improvements.
Tip: ask a friend or colleague to film the real thing. It’ll give you insight into what went better or worse than the rehearsals and provide learning points for the future.
When public speaking do not be afraid to pause; it allows you to take a moment to compose yourself or can be used to provide emphasis to a point you have just made.
Don’t view a pause as a negative, the common weakness is ‘filling pauses’ with ‘umm’ and ‘like’ which are used without thinking. Again this comes back to the preparation stage and knowing your stuff.
Pay attention to how you’re speaking throughout when you’re nervous, you may find yourself talking quickly. This will increase the chance of tripping over your words, or saying something you don’t mean. Force yourself to slow down by breathing deeply and pausing routinely to collect yourself and reset.
7. Speak with passion
If you care about something then this will come across when you talk about it and the audience will buy into what you’re saying much more. Again practice and knowledge of your chosen topic should give you more confidence to talk with passion, but if you care about something this should come naturally.
Moving around the room or stage will give you a better presence but moving around too much can make you seem frantic.
When you want to get your main points across – usually at the beginning, at certain points throughout and during the conclusion, you should stand still. If you are fixed on the spot then the audience’s attention is entirely on you. Standing still also giving you the best chance of projecting your voice and stand in a more relaxed manner to draw more from each breath.
In between the important sections of the speech you should try and utilise the stage. Where possible, walk up and down the stage a few times before the live presentation and make a mental note or where you want to walk during which part of your speech.
9. Body Language
If you have a fear of public speaking, body language may be giving subtle clues away to your audience.
It can be tricky speaking while thinking about what you should be doing with your hands and facial expressions, but at the very least remember to stand up straight, take deep breaths, make eye contact with individual audience members and and smile! The more you enjoy the experience the more the listeners will too.
Use your hands for gestures but avoid moving too quickly as that will take your audience’s focus away from what you’re saying.
Although many people feel more confident speaking behind a podium they also put a barrier between you and the crowd. Where possible, walk around and use gestures to engage the audience. This movement and energy will help make your voice more active and passionate.
10. Engage With Your Audience
The best talks capture and maintain the attention of the audience. Where appropriate, ask leading questions targeted to individuals or groups. Asking individuals to speak out doesn’t always work well depending on the audience but asking ‘by a show of hands’ makes the audience think and respond accordingly.
Try to retain authority throughout, using ‘weak’ words like “just” and “I think” limit your authority and conviction so avoid using them.
Delivering a speech from memory alone is another great way to engage with your audience. A great tip for those willing to take the risk is to work with prompt cards throughout the preparation stage, and then just before you go up on stage, rip them up so you can’t take them on and use them! If you’ve invested enough time and effort in your preparation you won’t miss them.