If you’re like most people, you’d rather have a root canal than speak in front of a crowd. Speaking in public is one of those things we try to avoid. However, knowing how to speak confidently in front of others can pay off big for your career.
For example, being a great speaker can help you confidently ask your boss or HR team for the promotion you’re perfect for. It can help you get interviewed for the job of your dreams. This can help you make a presentation that will convince your team to move forward with any of your ideas, giving you the opportunity to get noticed by senior leaders and continue to move up the corporate ladder. business. Whether you are a small business owner or a self-employed person, excellent public speaking skills can help you grow your business, attract new clients, or raise much-needed venture capital.
And these scenarios are only scratching the surface. Improving your public speaking skills can pay off in a thousand different ways. Let’s see what you can do to overcome your fear of public speaking and improve your technique.
The many benefits of public speaking
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers rank verbal communication skills as the most important trait they look for in applicants. You might have a higher degree or years of experience in your field, but if you can’t communicate effectively, your other accolades won’t come in handy.
Knowing how to communicate one-on-one is essential, but so is the ability to communicate with a group. No matter what field you find yourself in, there’s a good chance that one day you’ll have to step out in front of others and talk to them about something. Situations you might face include:
- Facilitate regular team meetings
- Negotiate your salary
- Introduce your business services to potential clients
- Train new recruits in your organization
- Participate in an interview with a recruitment team
- Make a presentation at your industry trade conference
- Convince the leaders of the organization not to fire their team
The ability to speak well in front of a crowd can also be extremely important in your personal life. Maybe your child’s school is facing budget cuts and may need to close, and you want to speak up at the next school board meeting to try to convince them to keep the doors open for another year. Or maybe your city is facing a controversial decision, such as whether or not to allow fracking within city limits, and you want to bring the matter up to City Hall.
Another benefit of developing your public speaking skills is that it teaches you to overcome fear. Yes, it is difficult to stand in front of others and champion your cause, and you often have to think on your feet and deal with surprises. But as you improve yourself, your confidence will skyrocket, which can open up opportunities for you in all areas of your life.
How to minimize your fear of public speaking
According to Chapman University’s American Fear Survey 2017, 20% of Americans report being “scared” or “very scared” of speaking in public. Some people are more afraid of speaking in public than of dying.
Research shows that our phobia of public speaking is so strong that it isn’t even minimized in virtual reality. In a study published in the journal CyberPsychology and Behavior, researchers asked a group of people to take the stage, in a virtual reality environment with a virtual audience, and deliver a speech. The group that had a phobia of public speaking showed a significant increase in signs of anxiety, even though they knew they were talking with a fake.
Seasoned speakers Mark Bonchek and Mandy González write in Harvard Business Review that the fear surrounding public speaking never goes away. You may still feel butterflies in your stomach before taking the stage or your hands sweating before leading your next large gathering, even after you’ve improved your public speaking skills. The good news is that while you can’t completely eliminate your fear, there are ways to minimize it so that you can perform at your best.
You have to give an important presentation in an hour and you are struggling. Your slides aren’t finished, your speaking flow is still disorganized, and you haven’t practiced at all. Can you imagine how anxious you would be on this stage?
Award-winning professional speaker Somers White once said, “90% of the quality of a speech is determined before the speaker steps onto the platform. Being prepared is one of the most important things you can do to minimize your fear of public speaking. If you are not prepared, deep breathing and visualization techniques will be of no use to you.
It takes a long time to properly prepare a public speech or presentation. Some public speaking experts believe that you should spend an hour preparing for each minute of your speech. This is what you need to do at this time.
Step 1: Identify your goal
As bestselling author Harvey Diamond put it, “If you don’t know what you want to accomplish in your presentation, your audience will never know.
Stop and think about why you are making this speech or presentation. Are you trying to convince your audience to do something? Are you telling them something? Are you trying to force them to act?
Identify the “why” behind your speech; This will help you keep your thoughts focused and on point. Then find a sentence that expresses this “why”. You might end up using this phrase as the title of your speech, but at the very least, it will help you stay focused when you start researching and collecting material.
Step 2: Identify your audience
Once you have determined the “why” of your speech, consider who you are going to talk to. When you know your audience, you have a better chance of connecting with them. Ask yourself: Why is this topic important to my audience? What should they learn from my presentation?
Next, think about the existing skill and knowledge level of your audience. For example, if you are speaking to people who know very little about your topic, you should avoid using jargon or complex technical terms. If you talk to people who are familiar with your industry, they will be familiar with terms commonly used in your field.
If you are presenting to a foreign audience, do a lot of research beforehand to identify any cultural differences that might hinder good communication. This will help you avoid miscommunication or a mistake that could damage your reputation.
One way to better understand your audience is to talk to the event organizer or sponsor. They may have ideas about who might attend your speech. If you are speaking to a group within your organization, make a list of participants and take time to think about their level of experience and how your topic could benefit them, either personally or professional.
Another technique is to greet people at the door when they enter. This gives you the opportunity to ask questions about your expectations and skill level.
Step 3: Build your diagram
Now is the time to come up with a plan for your speech. This plan will give you a framework to build on.
Your diagram will start off very basic, with just three basic elements:
Introduction. Introduce yourself and explain to your audience what they can expect to learn from your speech. If you are trying to convince your audience of something (eg, that they should buy your product), use the introduction to explain how you are going to solve their problem (eg, how much money they will save by using your services) or how you will benefit from the information he presents to you.
Body. The body of the outline contains your main message and should have at most three main points; more than that and you risk losing your hearing. Start by listing each of your main points, then below list the research, statistics, stories or ideas that you will use to support each point.
Conclusion. Your conclusion should repeat, as concisely as possible, everything you just said to your audience. You should also explain what you want your audience to do with this information. What action do you want them to take when all is said and done?
As you begin to organize and write your speech, think carefully about the stories you can use to better connect with your audience. Yes, these people will be there to learn something new, but they also want to meet you and be as excited about it as you are. How could you make your speech more personal?
You can find more detailed information on how to write a solid plan from Toastmasters International.
Step 4: Organize your visual aids
According to Toastmasters International, people remember 40% more when they hear and see something simultaneously. However, many speakers use their visual aids as a crutch, creating a bunch of slides and then reading them as reference cards. It will bore your audience quickly, which is the last thing you want to do.
A picture can be worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, but you need to make sure it’s a good picture. Use your visual aids to remember your most important points and choose images and graphics that convey emotions or simplify information.
Keep in mind that while PowerPoint can be useful, it can also be tedious for your audience. Each slide must contain a minimum number of words. The more you talk rather than read, the more believable it will be. It’s also a good idea to vary your visual aids, such as using slides and physical objects to get your point across.
Step 5: Practice, practice, practice
Your speech can be compelling and well researched. You can have great jokes and emotional stories. But if you don’t practice and then practice a little more, it won’t matter. Your speech will fail and your audience will walk away without information and inspiration.
Each time you practice you will improve yourself a little. You’ll learn the material, find out which phrases are awkward and difficult to manipulate, and get a better idea of how each of your points should naturally fit into each other.
Start by practicing in front of the mirror. Look yourself in the eye as much as possible and focus on memorizing your content so that you trust your referral cards less. From the start, practice using your visual aids (yes, even when you’re in front of the mirror). This will make wearing them second nature when the big day arrives.
Once you’re comfortable with your content, practice in front of an audience. It could be your family, a group of coworkers, or even your dog. You’ll be amazed at how talking to people, even those you know well, will change the way you get your message across.
Have your friends and family ask tough questions at the end to improve your thinking skills. Also ask them to give you honest feedback, such as:
- Are your jokes funny or missing the mark?
- Did you seem nervous or natural?
- Were your points logical and easy to follow?
- Did any of your gestures distract you?
- Was your pace slow enough?
- Did your visuals add to your post or were they distracting?
If you can, record that particular practice speech so you can watch it later. Pay close attention to your breathing and the speed of your work; probably speaking too fast due to nervousness. Practice slowing down and taking a deep breath next time.
Treat every practice as if it were real. Don’t just go with the moves or casually flip through your slides while mumbling your main points. Include every pause and every transition as you practice. If you act like it’s real every time, you’ll be a lot more polished and confident on the day.
Finally, practice your speech in the environment in which you will be speaking it as much as possible. For example, if you are giving a speech in your company’s conference room, practice in the conference room. If you are presenting at a trade conference, get there and practice there.
The advantage of practicing in your final environment is that you will feel much more comfortable while delivering your speech. You will know the layout of the room, the use of audiovisual equipment and the space you have to move around.
Write down your fears
Without a doubt, preparing for your speech is one of the best ways to overcome your fears. After all, when you feel comfortable with your material, your confidence will naturally increase. But there is more you can do.
In their Harvard Business Review article, Bonchek and González recommend being honest about your fears. To do this, sit down and make a list of all the fears you have about public speaking. Write down these fears by being as specific as possible. Then imagine the worst case scenario and the best case scenario for each fear.
For example, you might be afraid to go on stage and your visual aids won’t work. What’s the worst that could happen in this scenario? You might get caught off guard and end up stumbling over your speech. To avoid this, practice what you will do if your equipment fails. What’s the best thing that could happen in this scenario? Well, you might have to improvise and end up giving a powerful and moving speech that is way better than sticking strictly to your notes and slides.
We tend to dramatize our worst-case scenarios and don’t think much about best-case scenarios. The reality often lies somewhere between these extremes. Expressing your fears can help you make a plan to overcome them if they occur.
How to improve your public speaking skills
It is important to reduce your fear of public speaking. After all, if you’re completely terrified of speaking, you won’t have much intellectual or emotional room to improve your technique.
However, once you have organized your speech and have practiced enough to know your material inside and out, there are many strategies you can use to become a confident and convincing speaker.
1. Use silence to your advantage
According to actor Sir Ralph Richardson, “The most precious thing in speaking is pauses.” Speaking of acting, the same goes for public speaking.
A well-timed break gives your audience a few seconds to absorb something you really want them to know. Pauses can also add drama and emotional charge to your words. As you practice, find places to insert pauses to emphasize your most important points.
2. Practice your gestures
Your body language communicates more with your audience than your words will.
Researchers at the Center for Body Language studied the body language of successful leaders in various fields. As researcher Kasia Wezowski wrote in Harvard Business Review, they found that the right actions can help you build trust with your audience and make you appear relaxed and confident.
For example, one of the best trust-building gestures is called “The Clinton Box” in honor of former President Bill Clinton. Wezowski explains that early in his political career, Clinton used grand, sweeping gestures in his speeches, which made him seem unreliable to his audience. To help control his gestures, his trainers asked him to imagine a box in front of his chest and stomach and keep his hands inside that box. When you use the “Clinton box” your audience is more likely to think that you are telling the truth.
There are many other body language techniques you can use to communicate important messages to your audience. If you are sitting in a meeting, making a pyramid or a steeple with your hands while you speak can signal others that you are relaxed and confident. If you are standing, keep your legs shoulder-width apart; a wider stance indicates greater self-confidence.
One way to improve your body language and gestures is to watch other great speakers online. TED Talks are a great place to start. You can also check out “The Silent Language of Leaders” by Carol Kinsey Gomen, which explains how you can use your facial expressions, body language, and vocal tone to be a more effective communicator.
3. Find a friendly face
You should be on stage in under a minute and your nerves are out of control. What can you do to calm yourself down?
One way to land is to close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply several times. Try not to think; Instead, focus only on the sound of your breathing. Feel your feet on the ground.
Another technique is to find one or two friendly faces in the crowd. Tell yourself that these people are interested in what you have to say and that they are good people. For the first few seconds, if not the first few minutes, focus on their conversation. It can help calm you down as you immerse yourself in the flow of your speech. Once you’re less nervous, make eye contact with other people in the room.
4. Take a pose of power before your speech
In her TED talk “Your Body Language Can Shape Who You Are,” Amy Cuddy, a professor at Harvard Business School, states that maintaining certain body postures for just two minutes can increase the level of testosterone in your body. Whether you are male or female, this testosterone boost can reduce your stress and boost your self-confidence.
Cuddy calls these poses “expressions of power” and they are as old as the human race itself. Even animals use these poses to express their confidence and dominance in different situations.
A power expression pose is basically anything that makes you look taller. Therefore, take a wide stance and extend your arms or stand on your toes and reach for the sky. Your goal is to take up as much space as possible. Remember to hold these poses for a full two minutes.
Do this in a quiet corner just before your speech starts and you will be surprised how effective it is in reducing your anxiety and boosting your self-confidence.
5. Join a public speaking club
Toastmasters International is the world’s largest public speaking club. It was started in 1924 to help people improve their leadership and public speaking skills. To date, there are over 354,000 members in 141 countries.
Toastmasters International gives you the opportunity to learn by doing. Being a member means doing a lot of speeches in front of a live audience. You will be matched with a mentor who is an experienced speaker and will receive feedback from your audience immediately after each speech. It’s a litmus test, with a lot of help and training along the way.
6. Learn from the best
As you can imagine, there are tons of books out there that can teach you how to become a better speaker.
One classic is “How to Build Self-Confidence and Influence People When Speaking in Public” by Dale Carnegie. Another bestseller is “Speak Like TED: The 9 Secrets to Public Speaking from the World’s Greatest Minds” by Carmine Gallo. If you’re looking for a laugh while you learn, don’t miss Scott Berkun’s “Confessions of a Public Speaker“.
You can also head to YouTube to watch videos on how to improve your public speaking skills. A good place to start is “The TED Secret to Great Public Speaking” by TED Talks curator Chris Anderson.
Your ability to speak well in public can have a huge impact on your success in life. Polishing these skills gives you the power to convince people to change their minds or see the value of your ideas. Confidence in your ability to speak in front of a group can keep you visible in a competitive organization, help you get promotions you might have otherwise overlooked, or motivate new clients and customers to try your business.
Simply put, being a good speaker helps you build solid credibility, but it will only come with practice and experience. So practice!
What tips and techniques do you find most useful when you need to speak in public? How did you overcome your fears of public speaking?