Public speaking (understandably) can be very daunting. There are lots of ideas to string together, lots of words to memorise and lots of people to stand before. Just the thought of presenting a speech might make your palms clammy. But, public speaking is a valuable life skill (believe or not, there’s a reason why we are forced to do it in school!)
Our top 10 public speaking tips are here to boost your confidence, improve your performance… and make those hands a little less clammy when you present your next speech.
- Identify your audience and purpose
Ask yourself: to whom am I speaking? A history assignment that will be presented to the class and your teacher is different to a speech for a public speaking competition, appealing to a diverse panel of judges. Your audience should influence your purpose (as in the why). It will determine your tone as you write and present your speech, including your choice of words, sense of humour, what you decide to emphasise and your overall message.
2. Engage the audience from the start (be creative)
You could start with a personal anecdote, a shocking statement or an example. Your speech ‘introduction’ should be different from a classic essay introduction… public speaking is all about engaging the audience and to do that you must draw them in from the start. Your anecdote or example should be relevant to the topic. Use it as a symbol to structure your speech - either reference it throughout or come back to it at the end to reveal its relevance and significance.
3. Incorporate your personality
Choose to talk about something that interests you - if you don’t have a choice in the topic, find a way to link it back to you and your interests (although not too much, it’s about balancing the you with the them). Sprinkle in your sense of humour - I’m not saying you should force jokes every second sentence but public speaking doesn’t have to be all serious. Your personality will help you to establish credibility: your audience will believe what you are saying if they know it's from a person they can relate to in some way.
4. Practice practice practice
First, you are going to have to accept that practice will not make it 100% perfect - no one expects you to present perfectly. A good speech will never be exactly ‘perfect.’ It can be authentic rather than ‘scripted’ to a T and that’s often what appeals to the audience. But practice can definitely help ease the nerves which will then help deliver a better speech on the day (it’s all about confidence).
5. Record it
It sounds vain but once you feel comfortable and have practised a fair few times, record yourself saying the speech. As they say, you are your own harshest critic. After watching the recording, it won’t take long to realise you are speaking too fast, swaying too much or not making enough eye contact.
6. Nail your pace
Know the power of the pause. A pause doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten what to say next… It's a powerful tool to create emphasis. You can never speak too slowly - a slow, considered pace gives the audience time to process what you are saying. Feel free to speed up and slow down where appropriate (but don’t overdo it, subtleties in pace are key). A dynamic pace or rhythm adds another layer that will engage the audience. No one wants to hear a speech in monotone.
This is linked to pace: the whole idea that it is not necessarily what you say, but how you say it. Cadence refers to the inflection of your voice, as in how it gets lower or higher as you speak. You might hear some people refer to it as ‘light and shade’. You should speak ‘lightly’ during the delivery of your anecdote then make your point firmly.
8. Try not to rely on your notes
Reading off a piece of paper is never a good look - it creates a visual distraction that detracts from what you are saying. Even if you know most of your speech, we often have the tendency to look down and read from the paper to avoid eye contact (as I know, it can be daunting to keep eye contact with a room full of people for an extended period!) Palm cards will be your best friend. Practice with palm cards and wean yourself off them. Make your palm card notes more brief as you get closer to presenting: just a few points to jog your memory or maybe the first sentence of each section (if you’ve said it enough times, the rest should come to mind naturally).
9. Gestures: less is more
There is a common misconception that you have to include extravagant gestures or pace around the stage to engage the audience. There is no doubt that nonverbal communication is just as important as the verbal (if not more). However, gestures should not call attention but instead convey your ideas clearly and without distraction. If you think about it, you don’t want to be swinging your arms around like a crazy person. Your only body movement should be from your elbow to your fingertips. Keep the rest of your body and your head firmly positioned towards the audience. Avoid swaying or other fidgeting that might indicate nervousness.
10. Read the room
And finally, always keep your focus on the audience. As you speak, gauge their reactions and adjust accordingly. Remember to always stay flexible!
If you want some one-on-one help drafting your next speech, you can choose a tutor specialised in that subject here. Happy public speaking!