Did you know that speaking in public is one of the greatest fears for many people? So, if you are frightened to stand up before an audience, you are not alone.
Let me ask you a question though – what is your fear about? You probably know your subject 100 per cent and you’re probably relaxed and confident when talking around a table with colleagues. But, why at that moment when you get on your feet in front of an audience are you suddenly tongue-tied, perhaps even forgetting your key message? Many people are so worried about speaking before others that they will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid it.
Of course, being on platform means that you are the focus of attention. Everyone is watching you expectantly, as well as automatically judging your appearance, body language and of course your words.
No great speech just happens. All the famous orators of our time — Martin Luther King, Barack Obama or Winston Churchill have had different styles, but it was the way in which they made their words come to life that inspired and motivated their audiences.
We are told that Margaret Thatcher even used a voice coach from the National Theatre in London to help lower her shrill tone to one that was deeper and more authoritarian. If you listen to Martin Luther King’s famous speech ‘I have a dream’, you will hear him repeating certain phrases time and time again for greater impact as his passion is transmitted to his audience. If you need help bringing your speech to life, there are online coaching services which can show you how to exploit your talents to ensure your performance succeeds in maintaining your competitive edge.
There are many speaking tips, but here are six really important ones:
- Prepare! Prepare! Prepare! There are no shortcuts to this one and if you think a presentation is going to take you half a day to prepare, chances are that you may need to double this! The presentation needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Your PowerPoint slides should have a maximum of four bullet points with a small amount of content and maybe also include a relevant graphic. Remember that your slides are only to reinforce your words. You are the star on that stage, not PowerPoint.
- Smile and engage. As you get onto the platform, everyone will be looking at you — so smile and look around the whole room from your very first moment. You need to take ownership of the platform — much as an actor looks stage-left, centre stage and stage-right, so must you when presenting in order to engage with all of your audience.
- Use a well-rehearsed ‘opener’ … and I mean well-rehearsed — practice makes perfect. If you know exactly what you are going to say as soon as you open your mouth, it will give you an inner confidence. Then, by the time it is appropriate to move onto the middle section of your presentation, your adrenalin will probably have taken over and you will feel in control. Your ‘opener’ could be a piece of research, a question, a story or a quotation. Remember you want to grab your audience’s attention so think about this one very carefully.
- Repeat your words for emphasis. This is really important and will reinforce your words in the minds of the audience. It also provides texture to the speech so the audience don’t get bored.
- Voice tonality– your voice needs to go up and down so that you bring expression to what it is that you are saying. Never speak in a monotone unless you want your audience to fall asleep. Use your voice to attract your audience so that they actually listen to what you are saying.
- Use pauses. This technique is one that takes practice but makes all the difference. When you read a book, it has commas, full stops and paragraph breaks. It should be the same with your speech. Pauses, used correctly, will give you and your audience time to reflect on and absorb what has been said.
There are many more tools that comprise the public speaking skill set, but the above will give you a better idea of what it takes to stand up on a platform and deliver your message with style and impact. Getting yourself the right coaching programme will show you how to raise your game as a communicator and achieve the desired outcomes through speaking to small groups or whole conferences.
You may not win an Oscar for your performance, but you may well deliver a presentation that will inspire and motivate your audience.