Public Speaking: a step by step program to get you started!
“I’ve always wanted to do this. I finally decided to not hold myself back” I often hear this statement and many others like it spoken within the first few minutes of my private coaching sessions.
Public speaking can intimidate even the most extroverted personalities. It’s no wonder given it’s not something we are trained in and not faced with until we are required to deliver a speech — sometimes without much notice. Speaking in public is a broad topic that is not limited to professional speakers, speaking at team meetings, to a board of directors or other professional engagements but also at weddings, graduations and other social events.
If you are stepping out of your comfort zone to take the stage for any reason, here are some proven tips you can apply to reduce nerves and deliver with impact:
Acknowledge Nervousness: Ever notice that pretending something isn’t there makes it worse? I have. First step to a great speech is to embrace the fact that you may be nervous. Think of this as a good thing. You are feeling a racing heartbeat, sweaty palms and so on because you care. If you didn’t care about the outcome, I’d question whether you should be speaking in the first place.
Reduce Nerves and Focus: The fastest and most effective way to reduce nervousness, shed excess tension and focus your thoughts on delivery, is to warm up with breathing exercises. I recommend using long deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose out through the mouth. When you breathe out, make the sound of a long, sustained S. Six to eight slow deep breaths 30 minutes before your speech is ideal.
Create Rapport: Start with a warm vocal tone, eye contact and slowing down the rhythm of your speech. This will let the audience know you are talking to them, not at them.
Insert Pauses: If you are someone who uses filler words, like “actually” “so” or “uhm” consider pausing in those moments. The pauses allow the audience time to digest the information in your speech. It also allows you time to breath and focus. You can also use pauses strategically to get a point across. For instance, pausing after asking a question gives the audience time to think, and shows you are about their mental involvement in your speech.
Consider your purpose and setting: Adapt your speech to your specific audience and the venue. This will help you decide on the level of complicated information you need to share or determine your choice of words. You may be able to use specific “ice breakers” or humor depending on who’s in the audience and where and when it’s taking place.
Match tone to content: You can use different tones within the same speech to keep the audience engaged. Start with a warm and welcoming tone. Then, if you are delivering great news your tone could be happy ore excited. When delivering a problem try a somber but resilient quality. Higher energy is a way to create excitement, while quieting your tone creates thoughtfulness.
Body language: Nonverbal communication can help emphasize your message. You can use your hands when delivering verbal bullet points, such as a list of problems you are tackling. Avoid pacing and replace it with deliberate movement such as walking a few steps after you finish one section to start another. Additionally, allowing yourself to freely move while matching your movement to your content is a great way to dissipate nervous energy.
Prepare and Practice: Prepare so you have a clear road map to follow as you deliver your speech. As part of this preparation I suggest assigning objectives to each section. Think through what you want the audience to take with them. Practice on your feet, out loud with an audio recorder. You’ll have a better sense of flow and what content can be cut or added to make the speech more effective.
There are many wonderful resources where you can see the above techniques applied. TED talks, such as Bryan Stevenson’s Let’s Talk About an Injustice, is an excellent example of changing tone to match content and using body language to emphasize a point. Any of Barak Obama’s or Caesar Chavez’ speeches drive home the power of pausing. As you watch, remind yourself not to fall into the “compare and despair” trap. While we can learn much from speakers who have crafted their delivery with years of practice, it’s your job to sound like you and find your own authentic style. Be fearlessly authentic and you will always be interesting to watch.
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Lisa Wentz is a public speaking expert who coaches executives and managers from Fortune 500 companies and the non-profit sector. Her new book, Grace Under Pressure: A master class in public speaking (LID Publishing) is available now in the US.