5 Ways to Make Public Speaking Easier
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Monday 08 October
By Natali Drake

PUBLIC SPEAKING NEEDN'T BE SCARY

(This article was first published by The Glass House in 2016)

Glossophobia, fear of public speaking, is the number one phobia in the world. The idea of standing in front of a group of people and delivering a speech creates such a reaction is many that in extreme cases some people break into a cold sweat or feel the need to vomit just thinking about it.

Unlike the fear of snakes or vertigo (falling) or other instances which can result in death, talking to a group of people – when you look at it on a basic level – is really not that scary. We talk to people one on one every day of our lives. You certainly can’t die from embarrassment (even though you may be wanting the floor to swallow you up) and the only thing you can trip over are your words, you can only metaphorically fall on your face. What’s the worst that can happen? You forget your lines and you look silly? So what?

But like any phobia, it isn’t logical and it’s never that straight forward.

This week I'm one of the key speakers at Rise & Lead, a women in business summit in The Hague. To an extrovert like me, someone who has spent years working in sales, studied drama and gives presentations for a living, the idea of all eyes being on me is a thrill. I love it. You could put me in the O2 stadium in front of 30,000 people and tell me the Queen is in the audience and I’d happily prattle on about anything you ask me to. In fact you may struggle to get the microphone back off me.

But as we all know, fears derive from being outside of our comfort zones and lacking confidence, something that only comes with experience and practise and exposure.

 

Here are my 5 tips to ace public speaking. Just follow these simple tips and whether you are giving a presentation at work or a speech at your brother’s wedding, you needn’t feel nervous again…

1: Don’t focus on the nerves

You are completely and utterly terrified. Of course you are. You’ve been dreading this for days, weeks, months! The room is going to be silent, everyone will be looking at you, you HAVE to get it right. Well actually you don’t. If you walk into that room with the pressure of the moment on your shoulders you will crumble. Take deep breaths, convert your nerves into excitement and smile. You are doing this because the event is important to you, and no one will care if you get the odd word wrong or have shaky hands – they want to hear what you have to say. They want you to do well.


2: Plan what to say, but not too much


It’s vital that you plan your speech and do your research. If it’s for work, double-check your facts and feel confident that you know what you are talking about and can pronounce the difficult words. The secret of being a good orator is to look like you aren’t giving a speech, but are actually talking to someone face to face with passion and conviction. If the event is informal, then simply write down key points on cards in the correct order and have confidence in yourself that you can ad lib where necessary. If you are telling a funny story about your friend at her party, just remind yourself on the card and tell it how you have told it a million times, in your own words, it will come across as more natural and relaxed. On the other hand, for those that prefer to depend on the exact words to be delivered perfectly then print our your speech big and bold, add paragraphs so you know when to pause and bold the words you want to emphasize.

 

3: Practice, practice, practice

Write your speech and practice with a loved-one that you trust. Then perhaps ask a few more people to listen, so you are used to talking to a larger group. It doesn’t matter if you are giving the speech to three company directors or a stadium full of people, it’s the same thing. Think about the tone of your voice, the intonations, where to pause, where to stop, where to smile and where to look up. If there is humour then give the audience time to laugh. If there is something poignant you are saying, give them time to reflect. Don’t be scared of leaving a second or two of silence. The audience are there wanting to hear what you have to say, it’s okay to take a deep breath, steady yourself and gather your thoughts.

4: Slow down and keep still

The best tip I have ever been given regarding public speaking is to slow down. If you think you are speaking too slowly, it’s the right speed. Too often people are so desperate to get to the end of their speech that they gabble through it, don’t look up, don’t pause and rush through it so fast people miss what they say and don’t get the facts or the jokes. So take your time. If you are nervous, take a breath. If you feel emotional just smile, look away, count to three and go back to that line. The more you practice the more you can desensitize yourself to the words (father of the bride speeches are the hardest)! Be conscious of what you are doing with your body too. Don’t put your hands in your pocket, tap your feet or fiddle with your fingers. It’s distracting. Hold on to your speech if you need reassurance, it will keep you grounded.

5: Look at the friendly person in the audience

Lastly, when you’re up on stage and the spotlight is beaming down and all eyes are on you, either focus out into the distance or on the friendly face in the crowd. They will all be egging you on, smiling up at you, eager to hear what you have to say – so own the stage. No need to imagine them naked (unless that helps) but do remember that they too are people. They too would be scared to do what you have found the strength to do. And they all want you to succeed.

So breathe, smile, look up occasionally, slow down, read the facts but ad lib when it feels right and most of all enjoy it. You’re up there because at that moment what you have to say is important. YOU are important.

At the end of the day you’re only dealing with words, they can’t hurt you; it’s only a few minutes of your life. But what you have to say is going to make a difference, a big difference to someone, and those words will be remembered forever. So speak from the heart and remember why you are doing this, it doesn’t have to be perfect…it just has to be said.

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