Whether it’s for work, school or socially, whether it’s to 10 or 1000 people, the thought of having to address a room full of people is enough to bring some people out in a cold sweat. And if this is you, you are not alone; research has shown that a fear of public speaking ranks higher than a fear of heights or snakes! Even royalty aren’t exempt; it’s been said that even Prince Harry isn’t a fan!
One way to deal with it is to simply avoid situations where public speaking would be necessary, however, there may be times where you’re faced with no choice.
Avoiding the need to speak publically is one way to deal with it, but there are lots of reasons why it’s a great skill to have under your belt. Not least the fact that it might help boost your career opportunities! Read on for our top tips on how to ace your next presentation:
1. Make friends with your nerves
Just simply by accepting the fact that you are going to be nervous, and that it’s a perfectly natural response to the situation, is the first step. Unless public speaking is your day job, it’s unrealistic to expect that you’re not going to have some level of nerves in the lead-up and/or on the day. Take the steps you can to help counteract your nerves, things such as breathing exercises, gentle stretching and general self-care (being well rested and eating a light nutritious breakfast etc.), might be useful.
It might also be useful to remember that some nerves are actually good for you, the adrenaline is your body’s way of making sure you’re alert and ready. It also shows it’s something you care about, so channelling this passion can help engage your audience.
2. Prepare, prepare, prepare!
Before you put pen to paper, think about why you’re giving the speech, what the purpose is and what outcome you’re looking for. Research your audience; what knowledge level do they have already and in what tone do you want to address them? Think about presentations you’ve seen yourself; what did you like or what didn’t work? Are you going to use any props or a slideshow? Remember to use Powerpoint sparingly; to highlight key messages or show images/infographics, avoid blocks of text. If you are giving a presentation then we have some separate advice covering all aspects of them here.
Many of the best presenters will start with something to grab the audience’s attention, possibly a fact, statistic or an anecdotal story. Once you have gained the audience’s interest initially, statistics show that you have up to 20 minutes before their attention may wander; so make sure you can be concise without losing your message. Add a personal touch where you can and aim to speak conversationally, it will help the audience relate to you on a personal level and boost your credibility. Finish on a strong note, with a summary or statement that will be remembered.
Some people are advocates of only writing an outline or pointers, to avoid sounding like you’re simply reading from a script, whereas for some, it might provide more comfort to have the full speech down on paper. Either way, practice as much as you can – saying it out loud is a must!
3. It's all in the delivery
Deciding what to say is only half the battle, how you say it is just as important.
Firstly, aim to speak clearly, with confidence and passion. The tone of your voice can make up for a thousand words, and really helps keep the audience engaged. Pause to take a breath or a sip of water after making a key point, it gives the audience time to really digest what you’ve said. A speech or presentation should not be delivered at your normal conversational speed, plus most people tend to speed up if they’re feeling nervous, so a good rule of thumb is that if you think you’re going too slow, you’re probably ok!
Whether you’re seated or standing, your body language is important; keep it open, and use your hands to enhance what you’re saying. If you like to move around, this is fine, but avoid pacing up and down too much as this can distract from your message.
Eye contact is key! Instead of simply looking in the general direction of the audience, try picking out a few friendly faces and making eye contact on rotation.
Above all, smile! Remember that the audience are there to see you and most will want you to succeed!