Guides and tips to take the fear out of your next public speaking event

Regardless of the industry, one of the most critical professional skills is public speaking. Speaking comfortably and effectively to a crowd can facilitate formal board presentations and complex explanations to financial backers. It can also help you present ideas to colleagues and teammates.

Every one of us wants to communicate better. Whether we’re presenting in a virtual environment, participating in a team meeting, or just talking with a friend, spouse, or stranger—we all want what we’re saying to be delivered well. Public speaking offers one of the most effective ways to get your point across, demonstrate your knowledge, and influence others. It helps you stay organised and improve your writing and interpersonal communication.

“Delivering well” means you’re saying what you want to say in a way that lands right with your listeners. It means you come across as comfortable, dynamic, and empathetic. So, what can you do to take steps toward delivering what you have to say better? Having the skills of a good public speaker can set you apart from your contemporaries and give you more confidence which will give a foundation for your ability to take on leadership roles.

Many people who appear completely comfortable in front of crowds start out with a significant fear of public speaking. By overcoming this fear, practising, and gaining confidence, you can give yourself big advantages in life.  Because we all know that you will be called upon to speak to a group of people at some point. Whether this is a project pitch for a new client, a speech at a wedding or an award ceremony for work, these big events will require us to speak up in front of people, so why not get ahead of the pack? We live in a world of zoom meetings and endless communication tools for work and play, but public speaking will always be an important skill to keep working on. Giving yourself an advantage through training and practice in public speaking is important, as it can open up career advancement and build on your confidence. 

Its no easy road, but we are going over 10 tips and practices before and during your speech that has helped our team and many others we have gone on to help and coach to become awesome public speakers;

1. Know your audience

Before you start working on your presentation’s content and structure, you first must understand what people expect from you. What scope does this assignment encompass? Who will be watching your presentation? 

Knowing who your audience will be will help you determine what points are important to include. It also gives you an idea of what your tone should be for your presentation. If you’re in a business meeting, you might not want to include jokes or stories as you would for an award ceremony or personal talk.

How long of a presentation is expected?
Has the topic already been determined, or will you choose it yourself? 
Is there information your topic must include?
Will you be presenting remotely or in person?
What technology will be available to you?
Is a slide deck expected?
Does the audience expect handouts? 
How familiar is the audience with the topic? Should you avoid technical terms?
Is there an expected tone for your presentation — formal, informal, or somewhere between?

2. Start practising when you’re not under pressure

Because jobs that don’t require public speaking are few and far between, you need to improve your public speaking skills to make yourself competitive. Mark Twain once said, “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” So, your fear of public speaking comes from not being fully prepared. One way to overcome this is to practice, practice, and practice some more. Each time you deliver your speech, you will become more comfortable. You’ll begin to learn it inside and out, increasing your confidence when delivering it for real.

The age-old saying is true, the only way you’ll improve public speaking is by doing it repeatedly. Practice your speech before yourself until you feel confident in what you have to say. Try taking a few extra minutes daily to discuss points in meetings or with friends, so you’re better at speaking with others. It’ll pay off on your big day.

3. Keep your structure a simple outline

If public speaking makes you anxious, there can be a tendency to write your speech out word for word so you can look at it if you forget your next statement. However, if you’ve watched a speaker read from their notes the entire time they are on stage, you know this isn’t effective. You will lose your audience. Instead, keep your notes to a minimum, using only one- or two-word prompts for each point you want to make. 

This will help you keep your place without detracting from your audience. An outline is a great resource to develop your points without writing a whole speech. You can brainstorm all possible points for your speech here and then work to add more detail. This will be more useful than writing a speech. Public speaking is about knowing your points and not repeating a memorised script. You’ll have a more detailed understanding of your subject and be able to answer any questions. To create an effective presentation, start by formulating a clear structure. A well-structured presentation offers the following advantages:

  • Holding an audience’s attention
  • Organising complex information
  • Allowing you to avoid awkward silences and stay calm
  • You may follow a conventional presentation structure, such as:

– Pitch structure that attempts to convince your audience of the merits of an idea/product/service

-Situation-complication-resolution structure that attempts to convince your audience how to solve a problem

-Drama structure that adapts Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey to show how an organisation can change

Choose a structure that fits your presentation’s intended aim. For example, if you want to gather support for your new product concept, you may want to use a pitch structure.

4. Practice in front of an audience

It’s important to practice in front of people before you go up and give your presentation. There’s no substitute for the real thing, and you’ll be able to see how people react in real time. Doing it in front of a friend or family member will keep you at ease and make it easier to practice how you’ve been speaking. 

They can give feedback on what you should change, and you’ll have a much better presentation to give because of it. Ask for constructive criticism. Colleagues know your audience and will not soften their feedback to save your feelings. When you ask for specific feedback, you make it more likely that you’ll receive helpful responses. 

Once you have that feedback, make sure you write it down. Then, the more you get feedback on specific aspects of your public speaking skills, the better you can track your progress over time.

5. Decompress and relax before you present

Many people cite speaking to an audience as their biggest fear, and a fear of failure is often at the root of this. Public speaking can lead your “fight or flight” response to kick in adrenaline courses through your bloodstream, your heart rate increases, you sweat, and your breath becomes fast and shallow.

Although these symptoms can be annoying or even debilitating, the Inverted-U Model shows that a certain amount of pressure enhances performance. By changing your mindset, you can use nervous energy to your advantage.

First, make an effort to stop thinking about yourself, your nervousness, and your fear. Instead, focus on your audience: what you’re saying is “about them.” Remember that you’re trying to help or educate them somehow, and your message is more important than your fear. Concentrate on the audience’s wants and needs instead of your own.

If time allows, use deep breathing exercises to slow your heart rate and give your body the oxygen it needs to perform. This is especially important right before you speak. Take deep breaths from your belly, hold each one for several seconds, and let it out slowly.

Crowds are more intimidating than individuals, so think of your speech as a conversation that you’re having with one person. Although your audience may be 100 people, focus on one friendly face at a time, and talk to that person as if he or she is the only one in the room.

Focus on being relaxed before you give your speech. Meditating, exercising, or taking some deep breaths are all things that will help you before you go on. Worrying about things that could go wrong will kill your confidence and start you off on a bad foot. Find an activity that puts you at peace and do it before you present. You’ll be rested, confident, and ready to kill it.

6. Pay Attention to Body Language

If you’re unaware of it, your body language will give your audience constant, subtle clues about your inner state. The audience can soon know if you’re nervous or don’t believe what you’re saying. Have you ever talked to someone who is all worked up and noticed that their hands are flailing wildly? Some people naturally speak with their hands. When they’re nervous, this type of gesturing can ramp up. 

While some hand movement is a great way to emphasise certain points, it’s also important not to let these movements distract from what you’re trying to say. So, pay attention to your hands when you’re speaking. Slowing down their movement may also help slow down your brain, creating a greater sense of calm.

Pay attention to your body language: stand up straight, take deep breaths, look people in the eye, and smile. Don’t lean on one leg or use gestures that feel unnatural.

Many people prefer to speak behind a podium when giving presentations. While podiums can be useful for holding notes, they put a barrier between you and the audience. They can also become a “crutch,” giving you a hiding place from the dozens or hundreds of eyes that are on you.

Instead of standing behind a podium, walk around and use gestures to engage the audience. This movement and energy will also come through in your voice, making it more active and passionate.

7. Watch Recordings of Your Speeches

Whenever possible, record your presentations and speeches. You can improve your speaking skills dramatically by watching yourself later and then working on improving in areas that didn’t go well.

As you watch, notice any verbal stalls, such as “um” or “like.” Look at your body language: are you swaying, leaning on the podium, or leaning heavily on one leg? Are you looking at the audience? Did you smile? Did you speak clearly at all times?

Pay attention to your gestures. Do they appear natural or forced? Make sure that people can see them, especially if you’re standing behind a podium.

This will help you find those little mannerisms and strange behaviour – those little things you’re doing that will be distracting to your audience. Taking the time to record yourself and re-watch or re-listen so that you learn from your presentations and develop your skills every time you step up and speak will develop your skills quickly.

8. Engage With Your Audience

When you speak, try to engage your audience. This makes you feel less isolated as a speaker and keeps everyone involved with your message. If appropriate, ask leading questions targeted to individuals or groups, and encourage people to participate and ask questions.

Keep in mind that some words reduce your power as a speaker. For instance, think about how these sentences sound: “I just want to add that I think we can meet these goals” or “I just think this plan is a good one.” The words “just” and “I think” limit your authority and conviction. Don’t use them.

A similar word is “actually” and “Actually, I’d like to add that we were under budget last quarter.” When you use “actually,” it conveys a sense of submissiveness or even surprise. Instead, say what things are. “We were under budget last quarter” is clear and direct.

Also, pay attention to how you’re speaking. If you’re nervous, you might talk quickly. This increases the chances that you’ll trip over your words or say something you don’t mean. Force yourself to slow down by breathing deeply. Don’t be afraid to gather your thoughts; pauses are an important part of the conversation, making you sound confident, natural, and authentic.

Finally, avoid reading word-for-word from your notes. Instead, make a list of important points on cue cards, or, as you get better at public speaking, try to memorise what you’re going to say – you can still refer back to your cue cards when you need them.

9. Think Positively

Positive thinking can make a huge difference in the success of your communication because it helps you feel more confident.

Fear makes it all too easy to slip into a cycle of negative self-talk, especially right before you speak, while self-sabotaging thoughts such as “I’ll never be good at this!” or “I’m going to fall flat on my face!” lower your confidence and increase the chances that you won’t achieve what you’re truly capable of.

Use affirmations and visualisation to raise your confidence. This is especially important right before your speech or presentation. Visualise giving a successful presentation, and imagine how you’ll feel once it’s over and when you’ve made a positive difference for others. Use positive affirmations such as “I’m grateful I have the opportunity to help my audience” or “I’m going to do well!”

10. Craft a strong opening and conclusion

Effective presentations quickly grab your audience’s attention and conclude with a memorable, thought-provoking, or motivating takeaway. Though the meat of your presentation comes in the middle, the ends can leave the strongest impressions.

Generally speaking, your intro should take 10-20% of your presentation’s length. It helps to start with a 30-45 second hook, which can take the form of a:

  • Relevant statistic
  • Description of a current problem/situation
  • Provocative rhetorical question

During your conclusion, pull together the story you’ve told or the point you’ve argued. To do this, try:

  • Making a call to action
  • Describing the possibilities, you can envision
  • Quoting a public figure who inspires you

Taking these tips and practices into your next speech will help your confidence and skills grow; you may even enjoy public speaking. The team at Executive Central have all had a good share of public speaking experience, and we have made sure to pool all our knowledge into our public speaking programs. Public speaking can be scary, so let the team at Executive Central help you find the strong voice within to help your career and voice get ahead. 

If you’d like more information about how Executive Central can assist with public speaking, or talk to us about our programs, please email us at [email protected] or call 1300 737 495.
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