This is a guest post by Imogen Reed. Imogen is an experienced motivational speaker who loves to share her experiences and knowledge. She covers all areas from alcohol intervention programs to business seminars and uses her talents to help others. In her spare time, she likes to write about her experiences so others can benefit.
To some people public speaking appears to come so naturally, the relaxed authoritative manner, the easy wit, the pithy anecdote are all readily at their disposal, and yet for others the thought of standing up in front of a room full of others is the stuff of nightmares, sometimes real nightmares. However, mostly it is not the actual act of public speaking that causes them to wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, the image of a thousand accusing eyes staring at them still stark in their mind, but rather it is the fear of doing it badly, of looking foolish in front of others, or of drying up completely.
Given a relaxed social setting they can keep a room of friends spellbound with their traveler’s tales, or have them in stitches of laughter over a ribald joke, but inject any formality into the occasion, or transfer it to a business or civic setting, and that’s when terror strikes at their hearts. Well they shouldn’t feel too badly about themselves because even the majority of those who seeming have the knack of speaking to an audience are in fact putting on a show, and are secretly terrified that it will all end in humiliation. Remember that actors and entertainers, who perform for their living in front of hundreds and sometimes thousands of people at a time, often speak about having ‘stage fright.’
The only way to get better at public speaking is to do it, and it’s important to take whatever opportunities that present themselves and make use of them. The dilemma is how to overcome the main pitfalls involved in speaking to an audience and thus have the confidence to prevent your nervousness crippling you. Well here are a few suggestions.
Know Your Audience
Know your audience. If it’s an occasion such as a wedding or birthday party, then the people there are likely be quite forgiving of any slip ups, but what they want is a funny anecdote about whoever it is your speaking about, and lots of kind words and warm wishes.
In a business or civic environment you have to keep it relevant and highlight a few key points that you want them to remember, because if they want detail they can always go to the notes or leaflet you provide them with or maybe ask you in the Q & A slot you’ve built in if it’s appropriate. Remember too that it’s quite different speaking to those who already have an interest or knowledge about the subject you’re speaking about, and a more general audience. Address a town planning meeting and start giving them explanations of what zoning means and they’ll think you’re an idiot. But, tell a town meeting that you think parking charge increases should be based on RPIX rather than CSI and they’ll look at you blankly.
The American journalist Kin Hubbard gave pithy advice on the subject when he asked “Why doesn’t the fellow who says, ‘I’m no speechmaker’, let it go at that instead of giving a demonstration?”
Make a Plan
Make a plan. Don’t try and simply do it off the cuff, only the real maestros can get away with winging it. If what you have to say is relatively short or perhaps a reading, then write it down and read it through to familiarize yourself with the content. The audience will forgive you for looking down more if you are quoting from a source, but if it’s your own words they’ll expect you to be looking at them most of the time. If it’s something longer, or if you’re simply expected to make a few comments then create a list of key words and phrases, highlight things if necessary, and whatever you do make it legible, because there’s nothing more embarrassing than not being able to read your own notes, and it gives the impression that you simply cobbled something together on the taxi ride in. Type and printed is best, and maybe even in a larger type than usual to ensure it’s easy to read when you’re glancing at it.
Speed Limits Apply
Speak up and don’t garble. Survey the venue which you have to speak and try and judge what volume you need to achieve to be heard comfortably. If you’re using a microphone, try it out beforehand if possible. Speak as clearly and naturally as you can and don’t race away. The temptation is to get things over with quickly, but don’t, because that’s when you are most likely to stumble or misspeak. If you’re reading something out and have practiced it, then don’t rely exclusively on the grammar to slow you down, we all have different speech patterns, so perhaps mark up where your natural pauses occur.