Note from Katie: I met Eddie Foster while studying in Galway. Our friendship is a lesson in being open to spontaneous opportunities, particularly while studying abroad--both Eddie and I responded to an ad for individuals interested in starting a creative writing group, and we've been friends and writing collaborators ever since. Eddie writes a great (and uber nerdy) word-a-day blog at Lexicolatry.com, and I've been lucky enough to write for him on occasion. I recommend reading his Briticisms post, which will also explain why some of his guest post here contains "typos"... they do actually spell "practise" that way on this side of the world.
10 Tips for Successful Public Speaking
Public speaking – the mere thought is enough to set hearts palpitating in dread. Often a necessary evil in both academia and the corporate world, however, it is a skill that, once developed, will continue to be of use throughout one’s career. As daunting as standing up to speak in front of a crowd of strangers might be, though, it is a skill that can be learned and, by following some straightforward steps, you can ensure that you not only manage your nerves but give a strong and persuasive presentation to your audience.
1) Early Preparation
Whether it’s in five minutes or five months, start preparing as soon as you know you’ll be giving a talk. If it’s a long way off, don’t procrastinate, or it will sneak up on you. Schedule your time, having deadlines for completing the first draft, second draft, practice sessions, etc.
2) Be Smart With Notes
There’s nothing wrong with having notes when giving a talk, so make sure they’re fit for purpose, typed in a reasonably sized font that you can read easily and comfortably. Although you might start by writing your speech out word-for-word, try to develop it into an outline or bullet points for the actual delivery – this will help you keep better audience contact and give your speaking a more engaging, extemporaneous style.
3) Practise, Practise, Practise!
Once you have your presentation ready, practise, practise and practise some more. Present it to friends and family and use these sessions to iron out any problems. If there are any sections or phrasings that you’re not comfortable with, change them; if any sentences or words constantly trip you up, find a different way to express that point. The aim is to be as comfortable and familiar with your material as possible.
Before the speech itself, do a little reconnaissance on the venue to get used to the feel of the room and stage. Take note of the rostrum and microphone, if one will be used, and find out who is responsible for adjusting them to the correct height for you. If possible, test the microphone so that you’re familiar with the sound of your own voice amplified and the acoustics of the room.
5) Be an Early Bird on the Day
Arrive to the venue early on the day of your address. Settle in and become at home in the room; talk to and mingle with the audience and introduce yourself to anyone involved in the programme, such as the chairperson, MC, stage manager, etc. Make sure you have everything you need and everything is set-up correctly.
6) Take to the Stage … And … Settle Yourself
When you first take to the platform, do not immediately launch into your speech. Take a second to settle yourself (and don’t apologise for doing so) - set your notes out as you want them and make any adjustments you need to the rostrum or microphone. Only start when you’re ready.
7) Introduce Yourself
Sometimes, even if you’ve already been introduced by a chairperson, details can get lost to the audience with the changing of speakers, and it may be necessary to briefly introduce yourself again. If it isn’t, that’s great – but start with something that will grab the audience’s attention, such as a startling fact or statistic, or a rhetorical question to get them thinking. However you’re starting, start strong – speak clearly, confidently, and unapologetically.
8) Speak Clearly, Speak Confidently, and Sloooow Yourself
When nervous, speakers often speed up – thus, a talk that you rehearsed for five minutes might contract into four minutes on the day. Therefore, make a conscious effort to slow your pace. Some speakers even write ‘SLOW’ in red ink at the top of their notes to remind themselves to slow the pace. Speak clearly and keep good posture, not leaning on the rostrum, but projecting your voice and confidence to the audience. Make sure you’re using the microphone correctly, speaking directly and consistently into it; if you’re not using a microphone, make sure you’re speaking loudly enough to be heard by the whole room.
9) Audience Contact
You have a message to deliver, so do your best to keep audience contact throughout. It’s fine to refer to your notes, but try not to be tied to them; with good preparation, they’re a reference rather than a script. When you can, look at the audience, and look at individual members of it; doing so will help you gauge their reaction to what you’re saying and adapt accordingly. Good audience contact will build both your confidence in yourself and their confidence in you and what you are saying.
10) Envision Success
See the success in your head! And remember, the audience invariably wants you to succeed – they want you to be an interesting, thought-provoking and engaging speaker. Don’t panic if there are any glitches or pauses – while they may feel like an age when standing before a crowd, such minor delays are barely even noticed by the audience. Rather, focus on gathering your thoughts and projecting a strong, clear message in a strong, clear voice.
Public speaking will always be a nerve-wracking task. With good preparation, practice, and a smart plan of attack, however, you will be able to succeed, presenting a strong, authoritative, clear and convincing voice to your audience.
If you liked this post, check out my "The Nun and the Rockstar: Lessons in Captivating an Audience." Also, check out Lexicolatry for some great wordy humor.
Please leave any comments, questions, additional tips, or public speaking horror stories below.