I was a litigator in my former career and currently do a ton of public speaking for my business. I have found many people in my life who are very successful in their careers would rather have root canal than get up and speak to an audience! The reality is that if you don’t take advantage of these opportunities, you are missing out on showing people your expertise and gaining visibility for your business. So here are some tips that will help you feel more confident and comfortable the next time you are asked to speak:
1) Prepare. Just like anything else in life, you need to prepare. If you are not comfortable speaking in public, you don’t want to try to “wing” it. You want to have a detailed outline or notecards with your structure and topics fleshed out and go over your material multiple times before the big day. Even if you are comfortable speaking, you still want to make sure you prepare. It will make a big difference with the ease of your delivery as well as your ability to infuse your personality and maybe even some humor into your talk if you have a comfort level with the material beforehand.
2) Watch TED Talks. You can watch various TED Talks on YouTube, on the TED website or even on demand through your television at home. These talks on various topics seem casual and conversational but are actually very well prepared and structured. They are a great way to help you learn stylistic tips to engage an audience and tell a story. A few that I would highly recommend watching are: “Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are” and Monica Lewinsky “The price of shame.”
3) Join Toastmasters. There are local Toastmaster groups all over the world that you can join to get together with folks each month and work on your public speaking skills. With this learning-by-doing approach, you will gain feedback in a supportive atmosphere to help you become a more effective communicator and leader.
4) Don’t read from notes. As a speaker, the worst thing you can do is fail to connect with your audience. You need to make eye contact and engage and you cannot do this by reading your material. Sure, it is ok to glance at some notes periodically to see what the next subtopic is or to read a quote word for word but do not attempt to read your entire talk. Even if you feel you can deliver the words with lots of emotion and personality, it will fall flat. I have learned that it is ok if I don’t remember to say everything I wanted to say because it is more important to connect with your audience. And the reality is; only you will know the portion or points you forgot to mention. Another tip: Always run short.
5) Be real. Be you. The best speakers are just themselves. They show their personality. They have flaws. They discuss personal failures. They are not perfect. No one is. Don’t try to be something you are not. If you are someone that talks with lots of hand gestures, embrace them. If you are not very “formal,” don’t try to be. You will lose who you are and you will lose the audience.
6) Find the head-nodders and people who are smiling at you in the audience. As you speak, focus your attention on your supporters. It will make you much more relaxed and have a higher comfort level to focus on those people that are positively interacting with you. If there are people in the audience that seem unimpressed or disengaged (like on their phone for example), ignore them.
7) Use a powerful quote. A powerful quote is a great way to start or end your talk. You can also insert one or two in the body of your presentation where appropriate. Depending on the length of your talk, you don’t want to rely too heavily on the use of quotes but when used in a targeted manner, quotes can help you to deliver an effective presentation.