Some people have an almost innate talent for addressing audiences but for most, speaking in front of a crowd is a daunting and nerve-racking experience. Should you find yourself in the latter category, be assured that there are things you can do to help you make the best of public speaking.
Here are a few practices that if done properly, can make the difference between a stressful and a memorable experience.
Know your stuff. We can already assume that since you have been asked to speak in front of an audience, you are considered an expert in the subject or at least more knowledgeable than everyone else. However, when addressing a crowd, your nerves usually take over and when this happens, your brain becomes foggy, your memory is impaired and you find it more difficult to express your thoughts eloquently. A lot of the time though, confidence stems from knowledge. So, if you master the subject you are talking about, most of the fears associated with public speaking, like the fear of being nervous, or not finding your words, will diminish.
Be engaging and memorable. This one is easier said than done, especially if you dread addressing an audience. If you’re speaking at an event, there will most likely be several speakers presenting different subjects. Try to put yourself in your audience’s shoes and ask yourself: ‘how can I make sure that my speech will be remembered?’ Can I maybe integrate humour in your presentation? Can I tell my audience facts that will change their perspective on a topic? Should I use creative visuals and sounds? Can I give my audience materials to take with them?
Make eye contact. There are only a few things worse than listening to a speech where the speaker doesn’t take their eyes off their notes, the screen or looks at the ceiling. A good tip to avoid this is if you have a few familiar faces in the crowd, start with them and as your nerves pass, you can move on to other members of the audience.
Eliminate or prepare for factors that might make you anxious. A few suggestions would include: prepare your materials long in advance, make sure you know how to get to the venue and be there early, triple check your presentation, test all equipment in advance but always be prepared for technical failures, anticipate what questions you might get and think about your answers.
Don’t let personal issues affect you. Whether you’ve had a bad day or you’ve just been given some bad news, you need to put all that aside. Your audience will feel if you are distracted or not your best self.
Practise your speech. Even if you are an expert in your subject, if you are anxious about public speaking, improvising will almost never work. The best to do is practise. You can practise in front of the mirror or even better, in front of your family, friends, co-workers etc. Listen to their feedback and improve, whether it’s making sure your body language is adequate or that you speak loudly and clearly enough.
Lastly, try to enjoy. See it as it is, proof that you are successful and that you have the power to share your knowledge.