Public speaking is one of the most critical forms of communication in the business world. It comes in all shapes and sizes, from introducing yourself at a networking event to being the keynote speaker at workshops and seminars.
Whether the speaking engagement is small or large, it can cause us to feel extremely nervous. According to Psychology Today, most people fear public speaking more than death! That is a lot of fear.
Sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves to speak perfectly that it causes us to overthink things.
Game-Changing Public Speaking Tips
1. Attend other speeches.
One of the best things you can do is to take the focus off of yourself. Attend other presentations about your topic and see what ideas the speakers have. Take notes. What did you like about their speaking style? What would you do differently? What would you add to their presentation or delivery to make it stronger? The more experiences and knowledge you gather, the more prepared you will feel about your topic.
Side note: There are a lot of terrible speakers out there! Now, we aren’t saying to delight in the shortcomings of others, but seeing other people’s struggles sometimes reminds us that we are a better speaker than we realized. Remember, give yourself some slack! We’re all human after all! Even the most polished speakers still get nervous.
2. Think positive.
Envision yourself doing well with your speech. Know your material, practice, and cultivate confidence to help maintain positive vibes. Part of being a powerful public speaker is practicing positive self-talk. Look at your speaking engagement as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle. Many people would love the chance to be invited to speak at a business function - trust yourself! You were asked to speak for a reason. Don’t allow yourself to give into negativity and doubts.
3. Know your audience.
Learn as much about your audience as you can before your speech. Research their demographic so you know who you are talking to and can tailor your presentation to their specific needs/interests. Do this research before you start planning what you will say. This homework will help you understand what your audience already knows, guide you on which areas to provide more detail, and will ensure you are using appropriate examples. After all, you are trying to help your audience; it doesn’t do you or them any good if you don’t know who they are.
4. Know your goal.
What are you trying to accomplish with your speaking engagement? Does your audience have a problem you can solve? Are you trying to explain what value your business can provide? Do you want to inspire and motivate other business owners? Always keep your goal in mind when planning and preparing for your speech. Having a specific target will help keep you on track and cut out any unnecessary content. Focusing on this goal will also help you remember that the presentation is bigger than yourself - a powerful way of keeping your nerves at bay!
5. Be as prepared as you can be.
There will always be last minute surprises, but the more prepared you are, the better you will feel. The best public speaking tip we can offer is to know your material, understand your audience, and practice your speech! (Pro tip: The best way to practice is standing in front of a mirror and giving the speech audibly! Think about your facial expressions and your tone!) If possible, visit the venue where you will speak beforehand. Knowing the space will make you feel more familiar on presentation day.
Don’t forget to make sure you have a clear understanding of what it expected of you. The last thing you want to do is make assumptions about what you are supposed to speak about and then find out at the last minute that you were off track. Another way to decrease stress the day of your presentation is to print out all of your materials a few days ahead of time. If you wait until last minute, it’s pretty much a guarantee that your printer will run out of ink!
6. Embrace improv in the moment.
No matter how prepared you are, you need to be flexible. The projector may not work. You may have prepared for an hour presentation and arrive to find out you only have twenty minutes. Or worse, you may have prepared for a twenty-minute presentation and learn you need to stretch it out for an hour.
One of the best things you can do to prepare is to practice a “short version” and a “long version” of your talk. This way, when it is speech day, you will feel as though you can adjust however you need to. Some of the best presentations include spontaneous examples and funny stories. Skilled public speakers take cues from their audience and adjust as needed. If your audience is zoning out or looks confused, you need to change something! Know your material well enough that you can improvise!
7. Stay true to your style.
An audience can sense if you are trying too hard. Don’t overdo it. Make sure that as you are practicing and planning what you will say, you are not altering your natural style and personality too much. Being yourself is one of the best ways you can connect with your audience. With that being said, you need to maintain an appropriate tone/style for the venue and your audience. Stay humble, approachable, and as authentic as you can be. Remember, your presentation isn’t about you – it’s about the value you can provide your audience.
8. Tell stories.
Incorporating stories into your public speaking events is one of the best ways to connect with an audience. In fact, there is an entire set of communication theories based on this very concept. Narrative theory has proven to be the most effective way to get an audience’s attention. Humans are storytellers - we all love to hear a good story. Remember 7th-grade history class? How many of you zoned out until the teacher started telling a personal story. The story served as a break for our brains and at the same time, helped us apply the teacher’s arguments to a real-world example. The best stories teach us something when we don’t even realize it!
9. Minimize your use of visual aids.
The business world is constantly shifting, which means the concept of public speaking has changed as well. The trend used to be that you needed to make a PowerPoint to accompany a presentation. However, the focus has shifted. Don’t use visual aids unless it is absolutely necessary. There should not be any reason to distract your audience from what you are saying. Unless it helps clarify or communicate your message, don’t waste time preparing long slideshows. Think of how you feel when you walk into a conference and the speaker is setting up their 97-slide PowerPoint. Groan.
Feeling nervous about public speaking is natural and totally normal. The good news is that there are several things you can do to overcome your nerves. Use these public speaking tips to prepare for your next presentation – your audience will thank you for it!
If you would like help preparing for an upcoming presentation, let us know! We are here to help you research, plan and practice!