Public speaking takes on many forms. You may have to deliver a speech in front of a crowd of hundreds, or a small presentation to a few colleagues in the boardroom. It can mean you have to get on stage and give an hour talk, or be interviewed as part of a panel.
No matter what type of public speaking you’re expecting to do, there are some key things you can do that will help prevent some minor disasters. This is a complete guide to public speaking, no matter what size of crowd you’re expecting.
“By failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin.
The overwhelming majority of public speaking flubs can be solved with proper prep. Most of the time people think they can “wing it”, and if you’re not an extremely experienced speaker, this is your first mistake.
When looking to prepare, you’ll want to ask yourself a couple of key questions:
- Goals and Objectives of the Speech. What is the point of what you’re saying? What are you trying to accomplish? What do you want the audience to take away?
- Purpose – Inform, Inspire, Entertain. Do you want this speech to be highly informative, so the audience takes away some knowledge? Do you want it to inspire them to go out and do something great or take action? Is the point to just make them laugh and entertain them?
- Audience Profile. Is the audience mostly grade school kids? Work colleagues? Middle aged business men?
Once you narrow down the goal, the purpose and who it is you’re talking to, you can start to build an outline. There are some pretty standard ways to build a public speaking outline, but the truth is every presentation is different.
The main thing to remember is that the outline is what will keep you on track. Try to keep your outline brief, but complete. You don’t want to write down your entire speech on cue-cards. The outline is just there to keep you from wandering and missing the points you want to make.
“Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong.” – Anonymous
Practice makes perfect isn’t just a cliché – it’s a necessity in public speaking. The amount of practice you need depends on the comfort level of the topic. Keep practicing until you know you can’t mess up. Then practice one more time.
Don’t forget to practice all the non-verbal elements as well. If you’re referencing visuals, point them out. If you’re moving around the stage, practice this. If you gesture to the audience, do it in practice.
You’ll also want to practice any pauses you make in you plan on making. The tone and inflection matter as well. Practice the speed of which you speak. Most people speed up when under pressure, so try going slower than normal.
Try to get some practice done in front of others – especially those that can comfortably criticize your work. They’ll give you valuable feedback. Keep practicing until you feel comfortable.
Before Public Speaking
Before you head up on stage, there are a few things you can do to increase your comfort level and ensure peak performance.
- Hydrate. Keep water available during speech too. This will stop you from getting something “caught” in your throat. Just remember to use the washroom before you go up.
- Use a “relaxing technique”. No hard and fast rule, just use one that works for you. Meditation, breathing, chanting – just find a way to relax.
- Voice “Warm-Up” Techniques. Radio announcers use these before they go on air. Works wonders for public speaking. The last thing you need is for your voice to crack.
- Clothing choice. You’ll want to pick out something appropriate for the occasion, but make sure it also has a high level of comfort. You don’t want to think about what you’re wearing.
While You’re Speaking
Once you’re up there and the show is on the road, your preparation really takes over. If you did everything to prepare, this part should be a breeze. Here are a few points to remember while you’re speaking.
- Articulate. Make sure you’re saying all the right words in the right order. It’s really easy to get lost and start tripping over your own sentences. Just remember to speak slowly. It will help. If you get lost – just stop. Think about what you want to say, and start again.
- Annunciate. Make sure you announce every single word and syllable. When you rush, you won’t be doing this. It will help control your speed. Don’t overdo it, but work at making sure you’re pronouncing the full word.
- Project you voice. If there’s no mic, you’ll want to make sure everyone can hear you. Speak up. Make sure the person in the back understands what you’re trying to say.
Even the best-prepared speech can go awry. If you get tripped up and need to fill a void, don’t do the following:
- Don’t be repetitive.
- Avoid “umms” and “uhs”.
- Reference your notes, but don’t constantly look down.
- Don’t ad-lib. That’s just tossing your prep out.
You’ll hate hearing this again, but the best way to avoid tripping up is to be prepared. If you get stuck, reference your outline.
Get a good night’s sleep – most successful people have several habits they do before falling asleep. If you’re tired or worried, you’ll find that it compounds the pressure. Plan for a good night’s sleep, go to bed early, and your body will be much better prepared.
Public speaking doesn’t need to be scary. Just know your material, and be confident when presenting it. Remember that you’re in control. Don’t panic.
That nervous feeling you get before going on stage is natural. Everyone gets it. Even people that make it seem like public speaking is completely natural. Embrace that high-energy feeling and use it to stay focused.
The more often you speak, the better at it you’ll get. Before long, you’ll be the one writing an article about how you mastered the art of public speaking.