Does the thought of delivering a speech to a bunch of strangers cause your heart to race, your palms to sweat, and your body to become fidgety? If so, you’re not alone. The fear of public speaking is one that makes no exceptions across race, age, gender, occupation, or social class. Whether it’s a high school civics presentation,
a training class at work, or an acceptance speech related to an award, many people dread being the center of attention because of one simple reason: they don’t believe they can handle the consequences of making a mistake. So great is the presumed risk of rejection that it paralyzes their ability to collect their thoughts and successfully deliver them to an audience. The following tips will enable you to keep your focus, minimize faux pas and, most of all, maintain your cool under the pressure of public performance.
ADVANCE PREPARATION IS THE KEY
As soon as you know you’ll be speaking in front of a group, start preparing for it. Waiting until the last minute will only add to your sense of panic. Start making a list of the main points you want to share with your audience and then organize them into a working outline. Make the time to study your outline every day, as the more familiarity you have with what’s written on paper; the easier it will be to keep it all in your head.
WHAT’S YOUR POINT?
Nothing is worse than a speaker who rambles on and on without a message insight. The outline you construct should have a definitive beginning, middle, and ending. In a nutshell, the opening remarks will tell the audience what you plan to share with them; i.e., “Today you’re going to learn 10 easy steps to financial freedom.
” The middle of your speech–which will be the longest portion–contains the meat of your subject; in this case, it will explain what those 10 easy steps are. The conclusion of your speech is an abbreviated recap of the material they have just heard; i.e., “In conclusion, you’ve just seen how the discipline of sticking to a written budget will reduce credit card debt and free up more of your income for fun.””
A COMPELLING HOOK
New school teachers often relate how nervous they are on their first day of class. No matter how anxious they are, however, it’s only a fraction of what the students are experiencing. Why? The students have no idea what to expect. What if they get called on and don’t know the answer? What if the teacher doesn’t like them? What if they get caught chewing gum or passing a note?
No matter what age level your audience members are, those childhood fears still linger, especially when you start out your speech with a question that makes them realize they may be called upon to participate. For example: “How many of you have ever dreamt of writing a novel?” With those who raise their hands, this provides a natural segue to questions such as, “Why do you want to write?” or “What was your favorite book when you were growing up?”
The purpose of opening your speech with a strong hook such as a question is that it not only engages your audience right from the start but reduces the feeling that you’re totally alone up there. The other type of hook is a statement or statistic that they were not previously aware of. For example: “A third of the people in this room are diabetic and don’t even know it.” A startling lead-in like that will grab their attention and make them want to take notes to ensure that (1) they aren’t part of that sobering percentage of (2) what to do next if they are.
NEVER READ TO YOUR AUDIENCE
Students in a classroom hate being read to. So do audiences. When you’re reading from a piece of paper, your volume is likely to drop because your words are going down, not out. Because they can’t hear you as well as they should, audience listeners will get restless and start talking amongst themselves, fueling your perception that they’re getting bored.
When you’re reading from a piece of paper, you’re also not making eye contact. Eye contact is essential for engaging their emotions and interpreting their reaction to your words. Thirdly, a read script is likely to be delivered faster and in more of a monotone than one which is delivered spontaneously or with the aid of notes.
NEVER MEMORIZE A SPEECH
You have enough pressure already without having to recite exact verbiage. Instead, jot down your key points on index cards or note paper so that you can deliver your remarks conversationally. Do you wear reading glasses but don’t want to be taking them on and off during your speech? Simply type your notes in a large enough font that you won’t have to put your reading glasses on to see your notes.
PRACTICE YOUR SPEECH ON REAL PEOPLE
Recruit your family, friends or any other warm bodies to help you rehearse. Wear the same clothes, shoes and jewelry you are actually going to wear for the real thing. These rehearsals will help you get over your jitters as well as anticipate what kinds of questions your audience might ask. You also need to set a timer for each rehearsal so that you get used to how much time you have to talk.
Where people often get sidetracked is when they spontaneously introduce material that wasn’t in the original outline; such additions then cause them to omit key information or speed through it to the point that it sounds like a scattered afterthought. Rehearsals are an excellent way to pinpoint the weak spots in your presentation. Just as actors always have a Plan B for what they will do if something goes wrong during an actual performance, public speakers need to imagine what would be the worst thing that could possibly happen and to plan accordingly for it.
SEEK OUT COMPATRIOTS
If it’s possible to plant shills in your class or audience, put one up front, one halfway back, and another in the back row. These then become your emotional anchors, the people whom you can look out on during your remarks and feel assured are in your corner. If the entire group is comprised of strangers, endeavor to chat, smile or make contact with at least a couple of them prior to the speech. Psychologically, it will make you feel as if you already have friends in the crowd.
If you want to invite questions from your audience, establish at the outset whether they’re to be held until the end or if they can be brought up throughout the talk. Constant interruptions can break your train of thought and make you appear flustered. What you need to ask yourself is whether you want the audience questions to help steer your speech or if you only want to fill in the blanks at the end of your talk on any areas that the audience feels needs elaboration.
PICTURING THEM NAKED
Contrary to popular myth, picturing your audience without any clothes really doesn’t work. What does work, however—especially if you’re giving a talk to people you tend to see on a regular basis—is to imagine what manner of attire they wear to bed. The moment you start to do that, the moment you will start to smile, and a smile—guaranteed—will make the journey a pleasant one.