Do you feel intimidated by the thought of public speaking? When you present, do you blush? Does your voice crack or do you feel like you are shaking and afraid of losing your credibility by appearing weak?
Presenting in front of other people is reported to be one of the most stressful situations a person may encounter in his/her job. But contrary to what many think, a good presenter is created, not born.
Recently, I appeared in a story in The Globe and Mail newspaper about public speaking, and I wanted to share some of my insights with you.
First of all, I want to say that I love public speaking. I enjoy the chance to talk to other people about topics that I care about and to try to persuade them to care about these issues too. I didn’t always love presenting. I was just like many of you who would much rather be anywhere or everywhere other than ‘taking the stage.’
But, I have always been very career driven and realized at a fairly young age that if I wanted to progress in my career, I needed to learn how to get my ideas across confidently, concisely and often persuasively. I wanted to learn how to write effective speeches, so I studied what the pros did and eventually landed a job as the speech writer for the President of General Motors. After years of putting myself out there and volunteering to speak to as many people as possible in my past jobs, I can now say that I really do love public speaking and am frequently asked to be a keynote speaker at events and conventions.
You don’t have to commit years of your life to be a great public speaker. I want to share a few of my tips with you I have learned along the way that will help you get up to speed on what it takes to make effective presentations.
- Be aware of your tone. Women, especially, tend to speak at a higher tone when they are nervous and this can come across sounding a bit screechy or even childlike. The key is to aim to speak deeper and a bit lower than normal, resulting in a more confident, stronger voice.
- Speak up! This is your time to be heard. You have got important ideas to share. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for your cause. What you are saying has a right to a voice.
- Look at the faces of your audience. I have read so many books that say stare at the back wall and no one will notice. Your audience will notice! And I find it is often less nerve-wracking to feel like you are engaging in a conversation with people by looking at their faces instead of them staring at you while you are looking at the back wall, inside praying for this moment to be over.
- Dress for success. If you feel you are looking good (and appropriately dressed for the occasion you are speaking at), this will be reflected in how you carry yourself.
- Do not read off notes. This is my pet peeve. If you want to have a few small bullet points you look down at occasionally – fine. You can also memorize what you want to say and practice it enough so that it sounds conversational or actually engage your audience by being flexible enough to speak to your points from the heart.
- Another reason I want you to look at your audience’s faces is so you can gauge the success of your speech and their interest. If people are laughing or nodding and looking interested, you are on the right track. If you see people checking their watches or looking like they might have a sleep, then you need to add some more excitement. Move around a bit if you are standing still. Don’t be afraid to move closer to the audience if you can. Speak a bit louder or ask a question of the audience. Research is also key here. You want to know your audience, what interests them and what their hot buttons are to engage them.
- Relax your face. Be aware that your face muscles are likely a bit tightened as you present due to nerves. Simply by being aware of this, you will automatically relax them.
- Avoid dairy products two hours before speaking to keep your voice sounding nice and crisp.
- I work with my clients and participants of my ‘Present Like a Pro’ courses on breathing techniques they can do a few minutes before they ‘go on.’ Here is one. Simply breathe in through your nose while counting to five. Hold your breath for the count of three and then breathe out through your nose to the count of five. Allow your hands to rest apart in your lap so you are not giving yourself the death grip by holding your hands too tightly and therefore tensing up muscles throughout your body.
- Consider what actually scares you most about public speaking. I find often with my clients that when we dig deep we see that what is holding them back from being stellar public speakers is actually holding them back in other areas of their lives.