It is said that for 95% of the human population, public speaking is their #1 fear. I don’t know if it’s 95%, but it is clear that the vast majority of people would rather do most anything than stand in front of a crowd and speak.
The upside to this mass fear is that if you can become proficient at public speaking, other people will think you have some mystical superpower and be more apt to listen to what you have to say. Just having the gumption to get up there earns respect.
Truth is, public speaking is like any other nerve wracking endeavor; the more you do it, the better you get and the less you fear it.
However, how you do it matters. Developing bad public speaking habits and practicing them over and over simply makes you a more confident bad public speaker. So, this post will give you three tips that, if you incorporate them into your public speaking, will make you better instantly.
1) Lose your notes.
This might seem counterintuitive at first. It is the biggest complaint I get when I teach public speaking. However, trust me when I tell you that standing up to speak without a bunch of written notes is the very best thing you can do to improve your delivery.
There are three methods of delivering a public speech. First is manuscript. You simply have every word of your talk or presentation written out, then read it. If you’ve ever seen this done, I need not tell why it doesn’t work. You will rely on that manuscript too much, which means you will lose eye contact with your audience, no-no #1. Also, if you lose your place, you will panic, stumble, bumble, turn red, shuffle your pages…In other words, total disaster. Don’t do this.
The second method is memorization. You have no written notes, but you are just as tied to your mental ones, and the same pitfalls apply. You will look at the back of the room, trying to remember your lines, and if you miss one, calamity ensues. This is better than manuscript, but not much.
Then there is extemporaneous speech. This is by far the preferred method of successful public speakers. The only notes you have on the lectern is your outline, just for anchoring purposes. The rest of your delivery is not memorized word for word, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t prepared. In fact, human nature is such that if you know you will not have notes or lines to rely on, you will actually prepare more for the speech. You will know your material so well that you can talk about it in a natural and compelling way, keeping eye contact and answering questions in the moment. You will be an expert on your subject, the hallmark of a professional speaker. This is extemporaneous speech. Do it and you will instantly be better.
Oh, and if you do forget something, it is okay. Your delivery and mastery of the subject will make up for it (see tip #3).
2) Stand still.
There is a school of thought in public speaking training that says you should pace the stage as you speak. The reasoning is you can engage the entire audience that way and add liveliness and excitement to your presentation.
I couldn’t disagree more. Walking back and forth across your speaking space is distracting to your audience and communicates anxiety on your part. In some instances, it can even trip the speaker up, who is thinking too much about when to dodge to the other side of the stage.
Plant yourself in the middle of your speaking area, stand square to your audience, and engage them. Don’t be stiff or robotic. Certainly include the whole audience, just do it with your eyes and hands (the best example of this in action is Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech”). This will do two incredibly valuable things for you. First, it will focus your audience’s attention. They now have one central place to rest their eyes. That way they can focus on your words. Second, it will communicate authority and calm. You will gain instant respect and more trust from your audience if you command the stage like an expert. You have no reason to skirt around. You are the show; you are the focus. This also has the benefit of giving you, the speaker, one less thing to think about.
3) Don’t apologize.
Every single public speaker who ever delivered a public speech has at some point screwed something up. Forgotten an important point, misquoted a reference, gotten a slide backwards. There is no such thing as perfect public speaking. But can I tell you a dirty little secret? That doesn’t matter, because just getting up in front of fellow humans to speak gains their respect and admiration. A big fear of novice speakers is that the audience wants to see them fail. That is not true. People just aren’t (generally) that way. They want to be impressed, they want to see you succeed.
So, when that inevitable snafu happens, don’t apologize. And here’s why: the audience doesn’t know you screwed up unless you tell them. We don’t have your notes. You are the expert, remember? We don’t know what you know so we don’t know you forgot something. Apologizing profusely for bobbles in your talk is a sure sign of insecurity and makes the audience feel awkward, something you never want to do.
If your technology isn’t working properly, just take a deep breath and say “we’ll have this going in a moment.” If you forget a point, move through it like nothing happened. I’m not kidding here; if you move on, we’ll move on with you.
Public speaking is a hard thing, but for those who become proficient at it, there are great benefits. Like any skill, you need time and practice to achieve mastery. However, following these three tips will make you better instantly.
Thanks for reading.