Even the thought of standing in front of a crowd of people, whether it is 5, 50 or 500, and presenting your ideas is enough to get anyone’s heart racing and tongue twisted. But the good news is that public speaking is a skill which means you can always get better at it.
The slightly less good news is that there is no silver bullet that will make you a confident presenter overnight. The only way to make progress is through deliberate practice with lots of feedback and self-reflection. So, do not avoid it!
The great news is that there are lots of tools and strategies out there that can help you become a better speaker. Here, we have included a few that you can try out for yourself. In Part 2 of this short blog series, we will focus on structuring your speeches to keep your audience engaged.
Before you go on stage, consider this:
Who is your audience? Are you delivering a presentation to your peers, tutors or strangers? Reflecting on your audience will help you define what style is suitable for your presentation: formal, informal or somewhere in-between.
Where will you be presenting? Do you know the room layout and acoustics? Have you used a microphone before? If not, find out if you could visit the site and practise before your event.
Start at the beginning: your breath is your most valuable tool. It really matters how you breathe. If you learn how to make the most of your breath, you will feel in control of your emotions and anxiety. Try this:
• Stand up and place your palms on your stomach just below the rib cage.
• Breathe in through your nose and feel your ribs expanding with air.
• Pause for a couple of seconds.
• Breathe out slowly through your mouth, and repeat a couple of times. Try to focus only on your breath and nothing else.
Use your voice: have you ever wondered how your voice works? Are you aware of it? Your voice is your instrument, and like with playing any instrument, it takes practice to learn how to use it well. And it can be fun to discover your full vocal range while singing in the shower, reciting poetry and doing these fun warm-up exercises.
Body language: whether you have to present standing up or sitting at a table, make sure you stay grounded. Feel your feet on the floor, and make your body work for you, not against you! Reflect on what kind of impression you want to make on others. Do you like to use your hands a lot? What does your body language say about you? Relax your shoulders, stop crossing your arms and be yourself. And do not forget to smile.
Slow down: when you inhale you have time to think, so remember to close your mouth and breathe in from time to time.
Channel your nerves well: your enthusiasm will shine in your presentation.
Prep: there is no way round this. If you want to be a more confident speaker, you need to work on it. Use any opportunity you have to speak to your friends, speak up in tutorials, and in front of the mirror.
Find your public speaking heroes: do you know anyone who can captivate their audience? Reflect on why they are so charismatic and what you could learn from them.
Reflect: it only takes a minute! After each speech or presentation find somewhere quiet and reflect on what went well and what you would like to improve next time. Jot down a few ideas and smile. You did it!
If things go wrong: we all have been there and had to cope with technical problems or our minds going completely blank in the middle of explaining a very complex concept. What’s best to do when that happens? Take a deep breath and see what you can control. Can you improvise without your PowerPoint? Mind gone blank? Ask the audience a question and get them involved to give yourself a short break.
If English is not your first language…
We appreciate it may be stressful to even consider delivering a presentation in a foreign language but with a bit more work, everyone can be a public speaking superstar:
• Most people worry about their accent, but if you really think about it then you will realise that we all have an accent and this is what makes us different and interesting. So, instead of worrying about having the ‘wrong’ kind of accent aim for clear pronunciation.
• Rehearse lots and lots: while walking, doing the dishes and brushing your teeth. Instead of memorising your speech, try to express your ideas in various ways so that you feel confident on the big day.
• Record yourself: if you cannot get feedback from anyone, try recording your speech and listening back to it. Create a checklist to assess yourself. Is your pronunciation clear? Do you sound engaging when you talk about your ideas? Are you projecting your voice?
• Pesky words: it is ok to admit that you may struggle with some words. If some are difficult to pronounce, especially when you feel nervous, can you replace them with easier ones? Check your understanding of any tricky words and terminology too.
• Build your confidence by expanding the vocabulary within your field: read books and articles on the topic and listen to interviews with experts.
• Enjoy the experience and do not worry about making mistakes. As long as your audience stays engaged, you are doing well!
While we are putting together Part 2 of this series, take your time to practise and watch this space!
Reflect: now that you have read this article, take a few minutes and jot down answers to the questions below. This will help you remember the most insightful points and put together an action plan that works for you:
- What inspired you?
- As a result, what do you want to do more of?
- And what do you want to do less of?
- What will you do next to achieve these goals?