How do you feel about public speaking? If you’re like most people, it’s not on your list of favorite things to do. You may do it just enough to not hate it, or you may hate getting in front of a group of people. Try the following 5 suggestions below to become a better speaker and you may find yourself actually enjoying the experience.
Public speaking ranks near the top on the list of things people are most scared of. A lot of people absolutely HATE it. For some, getting in front of a group of people to speak is worse than spiders, heights, small spaces, flying, and other common phobias. Project managers who are challenged with this fear have to get over it, as they are called on to speak in front of groups on a regular basis.
Countless articles have been written about putting the presentation itself together. We all know the basics: don’t crowd too much information on the slides, don’t read each slide word for word, and keep things moving. But, what can you do to present yourself as a more confident speaker? What about the presenting part of the presentation?
Incorporate the following tips the next time you need to get in front of a group of people, and you will be perceived as natural and self-assured, even if you’re not. In other words, fake it until you make it. You’ll benefit from the vibe of confidence others have in you once do it successfully, which will, in turn, imbue you with more confidence and um, polish. This confidence and polish will come across to the audience, who will then view you as even more of a confident and polished speaker. Next thing you know you’ll be a speaker that is confident and polished.
#1. Use Gestures
Gestures are an important way to show you are relaxed. If you are relaxed, others will be. Rather than hold the podium in a death grip, use your hands to tell the story. Descriptive gestures are a great way to show how big, small, long, tall, or short something is.
Use emphatic gestures to show your conviction, such as waving your finger in the air or pounding your fist or hand on the podium. You can even use facial gestures to show surprise, disgust, fear, or any other emotion you want to convey. Gestures are great because they not only help you loosen up, but they also convey a message.
Are you in a large room with lots of people in attendance? Your gestures will need to be a little larger than may be comfortable for you. Don’t worry; it doesn’t come across as unnatural to the audience. It just makes it easier for them to see, as any stage performer would tell you.
When was the last time you sat through a monotone presentation? The speaker just dribbled on in the same tone of voice from the beginning to end; their discourse had no variety, spice, or life. The audience was bored to tears. Don’t let this be you!
Use modulation to add some zing to what you are saying. Employ some pitch, pace, and power when you speak. Use pitch to vary the tone of your voice. You may be talking about something that is exciting to you; if so, use a higher tone. Or, you may be reflecting on a somber moment and it would be more appropriate to use a lower tone.
Pace can also add diversity to your presentation. There’s no need to be stuck at just one speed the whole time. View a presentation on a road trip with on ramps, off ramps, sections of the highway where you’ll need to be cautious and go a bit slower, and sections where you can pick up speed. Vary your pace throughout and people will be more apt to follow along.
Finally, power is how loudly you speak. You may want to regale your audience with a story told in a quieter voice, so that the emotion or suspense of it has everyone eating out of your hand. Or, you may be nearing the end of your presentation and want to make a memorable finish; if so, increase the volume of your voice to get that point across.
#3. Use Audience Contact
Have you ever talked to someone who is unsure of themselves? Where are their eyes? They look away, down to the ground, or at their shoes. They hate making eye contact. You don’t want to give the impression that you are unsure of yourself as a speaker, or hate being there, by looking away from your audience, down at your notes, or anywhere else. Eye contact assures people you are engaged.
To maintain eye contact with an audience, pick one person in the crowd and look at them directly for a couple of seconds. Then, shift your gaze to someone else in the room and speak to them directly for a couple of seconds. Go from one side of the room to the other in that manner, making eye contact and speaking directly to a number of different people. It makes a HUGE impression on an audience to connect to them where they are. It tells them you are a professional speaker that is comfortable being in front of a large group.
One word of caution: don’t stare at someone so long that they become uncomfortable. That just makes things awkward. Distribute your attention across the room evenly and everyone will benefit from what you are saying.
#4. Use a Microphone Appropriately
You’ll need a microphone if you are in a large room speaking to hundreds of people. Always be conscious of the fact that the microphone should be about 6” from your mouth, and talk directly into it.
It’s funny to watch presenters who forget they have a microphone in their hand. It gradually drops lower and lowers the further they get into their presentation. The next thing you know it’s on their side and someone has to rush out on the stage to nudge their arm so they know to move the microphone closer to their face. You prepared your part well. You want everyone to hear every word.
#5. Use an Outline
Another hallmark of a confident and polished speaker is that they don’t use notes. Actually, let me clarify that. They do use notes; however, these notes are in an outline format. They aren’t reading word for word, nor have they memorized their presentation. Rather, they glance down at the podium every now and then to pick up a sentence or two. This sentence or two conveys an idea that they want to discuss next. This allows them to speak extemporaneously and not robotically. Don’t stress if you miss a thought or two. Nobody will even pick up on the fact that you skipped something or didn’t say it the way you originally planned. They’ll just appreciate your conversational and relaxed presentation style.
Here’s one more bonus tip that is actually more of a pet peeve of mine than anything. Don’t start with a joke! I know back in the day it was all the rage to get up on stage and, in order to make an audience (and themselves) a bit more comfortable, start with, “I just in flew in last night. Boy, my arms are tired,” or a million variations thereof. It’s so cliché and cheapens the presentation.
Prepare for your next presentation by keeping these 5 suggestions in mind, and who knows, maybe public speaking will plummet to 9 or 10 on your list of things you are scared of.