Effective Public Speaking

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It’s natural to be unenthusiastic and uncomfortable doing things we’re not strong at. We tend to get others to do such tasks for us, put them off or avoid them entirely. But would we really rather be dead than face tasks we dislike most?

Countless studies have shown a majority of people would rather be dead than speak in public. This seems preposterous. We’re born with the ability to speak, have an inherent need for social contact, yet if we had to stand in front of a group of people and present, the majority of us would chose death. Truly staggering!

Overcoming Glossophobia – the fear of public speaking – and becoming a competent orator is like most skills, practice makes perfect, or better at least! That said, just like some people are naturally good cooks, some of us are more naturally more gifted at public presentation than others. Considering most of us will have to speak in front of others semi-often during the course of our lives, it’s something we should all logically invest some time in. Even more so, if you’re one of those who would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy, as comedian Jerry Seinfeld famously joked, it’s time you put some serious time in to getting comfortable speaking in front of others.

An article on entrepreneurial website YouInc.com discusses what it takes to become a successful public speaker and got me thinking about times I’ve presented over the years. Regardless of how well I knew my topic, or how comfortable I was with the crowd, there was always a pang of nervousness that overcame me at some point. And I’ve been speaking in front of crowds as long as I can remember, having started my work life as a DJ at a roller rink, a mic’s pretty much been in front of my face for much of my life. A few points in the YouInc article resonate and are worth taking note of, regardless of the crowd you’re about to face:

  • Stories: relate an interesting, ideally personal story
  • Humor: get a couple laughs in there
  • Customize: make sure your presentation is completely geared to the audience
  • Video: record yourself, review, improve, and refine for next time

Another useful article, 9 Simple Things Great Speakers Always Do, from Business Insider, had some handy tips to ensure greater success before hitting the podium:

  • Qualify: let people know who you are, why you’re there, and provide them opportunities to learn more about yourself after the talk
  • Entertain: do this as much as you inform
  • Timing: use allotted time wisely and don’t be afraid to not use all of it

smcoates-public-speaking-3Here are a few of my own tips that can often be the difference between a successful, memorable presentation, and an oratory disaster:

  • Mirrors: Practice at home, out loud, in front of a mirror as much as you can. Wear the clothes you’ll use on the big day and get comfortable hearing your own voice.
  • PowerPoint: Keep it simple – avoid lots of text, no small fonts, no complicated graphs, and whatever you do, do not read the text on your slides word for word. Effective slides can are digestible in mere seconds by the audience and should not take attention away from you.
  • Eyes: Look around the room as you speak, creating the illusion you’re speaking individually with everyone. To avoid getting nervous look at peoples’ shoulders rather than directly at their eyes – no one will no you’re doing it.
  • Notes: Keep notes just that – short, bullet point, and as simple reminders to keep you on track, ideally written on small cards that fit in your hand.
  • Devices: Don’t use them for notes. They generally distract, malfunction, are difficult to hold, draw attention away from your presentation and will more often than not cause you to fail.
  • Cadence: Speak much slower than you usually do. As nerves settle in you’re very likely to be speaking faster than you think. Make an active effort to slow down.
  • Breathe: Another way to help you slow the pace, ensure your voice is natural, and avoid hiccups, which can set in if air supply becomes scarce.

So good luck! Get out there as much as possible, seek opportunities to speak, get a bit better each time and try to have fun. Remember, it’s much more effective to keep a presentation simple, communicate one or two core points really well, and send people home remembering you, your presentation and wanting a bit more.

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