Making a speech needn’t be scary!
Okay, you’ve prepared your speech, or presentation, and you’ve begun to realise that this fear of public speaking really is all in the mind. By now you will have started to hone your presentation skills and realised the importance of non verbal communication (a subtle glance to one side, or a pause and a half smile at just the right moment can prove very eloquent!).
So now, before actually making a speech, is the time to get down to some serious practice and build your confidence even further. Even if you think your presentation skills are getting better all the time, you need to get your delivery down to a fine art.
Practise, practise, practise …
Now, time for the rubber to hit the road! Spend some time rehearsing actually making a speech. Do it aloud, as though you are really in front of an audience. And if you have someone you can trust to help you, get him or her to be ‘your audience’ – give them the speech, as embarrassing and as awkward as that might feel, at first. This will give you the feeling of working a real audience, even though, for the time being, it is only an audience of one.
As you speak, mentally make your way along your memory journey and watch out for your key images. As you see them, incorporate the related ideas into your speech, elaborating on each one just enough and no more. Try to find just how much is enough, and get your ‘audience’ to coach you. If he or she is any good at all (and that means really honest), they’ll let you know if you go off-piste too much, or if you leave anything out. Take it all good naturedly – remember, they’re only trying to help – and you did ask!
After you’ve got it off pretty good, you should be getting a feel for it, and making the most of all those public speaking tips you’ve been taking onboard.
You’ll be getting used to making a speech and using your presentation skills to ensure proper audience engagement, and hopefully you’ll be seeing the desired effects – your ‘audience’ will be giving you their full attention.
Now, make sure you’re taking care of some particularly important aspects of your presentation.
By this I mean …
- Movement – don’t be completely static
- Eye contact – don’t ignore your audience
- Breathing – don’t get gaspy or whispery
- Gestures – don’t be like a windmill!
- Expressions – keep it real
- Pace – don’t rush
- Pauses – don’t keep banging it out like a machine gun
Movement – You should try to add a bit of movement into your ‘performance’. Nobody likes to see someone standing stock still in front of them, delivering a speech like a robot. It’s not natural, and anything that’s unnatural detracts from whatever it is you’re saying.
Eye contact – You should try to make proper eye contact with your audience. Fix your gaze on someone and keep it there for maybe just a second or so, then shift to someone else. Give the audience members the feeling that you’re speaking directly to them. Don’t feel obliged to keep staring at individuals – gaze at the audience in general sometimes, and at individuals when it feels right to do so.
Breathing – Work on controlling your breathing. I assume you’ll be using a microphone, but regardless, you should feel that you can project your voice forcefully (though not necessarily loudly).
Gestures – Your gestures should be as natural as possible. If, at any time, you feel you’re ‘forcing’ them, change them, or drop them completely. Forced or ‘stagey’ gestures just look so wrong.
Expressions – Your expressions should be as natural as possible. Even the merest hint of a smile can be picked up by your audience, so don’t lay it on thick. Humans are very skilled at catching and decoding facial expressions and body language. If you want to gain assent at some point, nod slowly and smile as you speak – you’ll have them in the palm of your hand!
Pace – Try for a reasonable pace. Speak just a touch slower than your normal speaking voice. You should feel that everybody can follow what you’re saying. If your ‘audience’ (your friend, that is) tells you he or she can’t follow you properly, take heed – you need to slow it down a bit.
Pauses – Don’t be afraid to put pauses in. Nobody’s going to jump in on you and try to hijack your presentation. Slow down a bit and pause for effect at the relevant places. It will add so much to what you say.
Pay attention to these key points in your presentation
(but prepare for the worst)
If you’re aiming to use slides, make sure you have them fully prepared. Double-check that things are spelled right and look good. If you’re going to use anything that can go wrong (i.e. anything that can be plugged in!), then make doubly sure things are fully charged up and you have a backup plan in case things actually do go wrong.
Knowing you’re fully prepared will put your mind at ease.
Don’t use words (in your speech or on your slides) that people might find awkward or difficult. Don’t try to impress – you might fail miserably. Be sure to use language and terms that will be familiar to your listeners.
Make good use of images. Balance them out nicely with the text. A presentation too heavy on text is dry and boring and you risk losing your audience’s interest.
Get on with it! Be aware that an audience will ‘drift away’ after about ten or fifteen minutes, unless you grip their attention. If there’s something striking to say, don’t wait too long to get to it.
Remember the old rule – tell them what you’re going to say, then say it, then tell them what you just said! In other words, give a preliminary chat, then get on with the main course, and follow with a summary of the main points. This really helps people fully understand, and remember, exactly what it is you’re saying.
- Everyone wants you to be successful.
- Nobody wants you to fail.
- The atmosphere will be encouraging and supportive, regardless of what you might have been expecting.
- Remember too, you know your stuff. You’ve had the relevant experiences, you’ve learned your stuff, and you’ve reduced it to its essentials. There’s no reason for you to make a mess of anything. Don’t even think about that happening. Seriously, don’t!
- You’ll be fine. Everyone (well, almost everyone) has to give a speech sooner or later. It’s no biggie.
- Making a speech isn’t rocket science. It’s talking out loud – you do that every day … the only difference is this time there’ll be several people listening instead of just one or two. If that seems like a frightening eventuality to you, get over it!
My personal breakthrough
The first time I ever found myself making a speech I had the same fear of public speaking that is very common and widespread, and that you might still have now. I had turned up at a night school class for public speaking and overcoming the fear of public speaking, purely out of curiosity. I was looking into several classes on different subjects, trying to find something new to study.
I found myself drawn into agreeing to be given a subject and, after a break, giving a short speech to the group (each member of the group was to do the same, with varying subjects). I was nervous, naturally. But I was also surprised to find that my nervousness almost completely evaporated as soon as I stood up and started speaking.
We were each critiqued at the end, and I was gratified to hear that I’d done well. Actually, I’d done better than some who’d been a part of the group for quite a while. I kept to the ideas I’d prepared, I spoke calmly and fairly confidently, and I (apparently) used very few ‘non-words’ (fillers, such as ‘erm’, ‘what I mean is’, ‘you know’, ‘um’, and the like).
I realised then and there, that my fear of public speaking was a thing of the past! It had been founded on virtually nothing, and once I made an effort and gave it a shot, I was up and running.
Get some positive thoughts and affirmations going between now and the time of the speech. Come up with some suitable affirmations, such as:
I know my stuff!
I feel fine. It’s all going well.
I like working an audience – I wish I’d had the opportunity sooner!
Actually, I’m really good at this. I didn’t realise just how good!
My presentation skills are awesome!
I’m calm and confident – I love getting my point across effectively!
You’re more than welcome to use these affirmations, of course, but to make affirmations most effective you should really write your own, and personalise them – putting them in your own words makes them feel right for you. Then you should make a point of repeating your affirmations, over and over again, for a full five minutes or so, at least two or three times a day. Say them with real conviction and feeling! Stir up the emotions you’ll actually feel when you make a great presentation and people are showing their appreciation. See them smiling at you and imagine them patting you on the back and shaking your hand warmly.
What you’re aiming to achieve is a change in your self image. Instead of your self image revealing a morbid fear of public speaking, what you want is a self image of you as a confident, assertive person, with something to say, and quite capable of saying it both calmy and effectively.
You want to incorporate in your new, improved self image such ideas and feelings as you being able to easily induce audience engagement, your presentation skills being of the highest, and with performance anxiety a thing of the past.
If you do this work on your self image well, and with that kind of affirmation blanket coverage, I’m sure you’ll be fully brainwashed in no time! But in a good way!!
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