Public speaking is high up on most people’s lists of things they enjoy the least. But it needn’t be that way.
Public speaking is a very efficient and powerful means of communicating information, and is a central part of being a manager, or a leader of any kind.
Plus, it’s unavoidable.
Everyone, at some point, will have to get up and speak in front of their colleagues at work. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t get away from the importance of being able to present to groups or address an audience.
But the good news is that everyone can learn to become an effective public speaker.
Here we explore the 5 principal lessons that will help you improve as a public speaker.
Once adopted, these core rules of effective speaking will boost your confidence and help you get your point across to groups of any size, whether it be a large crowd of strangers at a public talk or a handful of potential investors at a business pitch.
1) Prepare, rehearse, and rehearse again
Preparation is absolutely key to effective public speaking.
If you’ve struggled with public speaking before, this is the area to start with.
The biggest part of preparation is rehearsal. You need to rehearse before you speak if you want to be able to deliver your words in a coherent way (and if you have more than one point to get across).
Exactly how you prepare comes down to who you are – everyone is different, and each of our brains are unique – and what you prepare depends on what type of speaking you are doing.
But you can never prepare too much, or in too much detail. So make sure to leave enough time to establish the following:
- What you’re going to say
- How you’re going to say it
- How you will kick things off, and how you will wrap things up
- How long you will talk for
Using the notes and plans you’ve put together during the preparation stage, rehearse as much as you can before it’s your time to speak.
Try getting up in front of friends or colleagues to run through it (this is better than just practising with a mirror). Simply let the listener know what your objectives are and ask them to give you feedback on what aspects are working, and where you’re falling short.
2) Start strong
For those who find public speaking difficult, the audience becomes the enemy.
But there are ways to harness the power of the crowd, turning an enemy into an ally.
Starting strong – either with a joke, a personal appeal, or by meeting their expectations from the word go – will help get the crowd on your side. A strong start can ease the tension, giving you a boost in confidence to get you through the rest of your time in the limelight.
Jokes work well to ingratiate yourself with an audience, but just make sure to tell a funny one(!) You really don’t need a joke falling flat before you’ve even got started.
Appealing on a personal level to the audience by showing your vulnerability in some way, or revealing something about who you are that resonates with people, will also help to ingratiate yourself with the crowd, provoking sympathy from your would-be critics.
If that isn’t your style, simply put your best material at the beginning and try to blow your audience away from the very start.
Give the people what they want.
3) Body language matters
Communication goes beyond just words. We all know body language plays a big part in how we get our point across, and this is no different with public speaking.
Firstly, be sure to avoid awkward body positions (propping yourself up on a chair, for example) and movements that betray any nervousness you may be feeling (hands in pockets won’t do you any favours).
If you feel uncomfortable, don’t let it show through your body language, whatever you do.
This is worth concentrating on and rehearsing for, as it will be very off-putting for your audience and will hold you back from becoming a better speaker, reinforcing the awkward feelings you might be struggling with.
Secondly, on a more positive note, be sure to smile and use hand gestures to get your point across.
Smiling helps you make a positive, engaging impact on your audience. Using your body to help support your speech keeps people focused on you as a speaker, and helps them follow what you’re trying to convey.
4) Less is more
No audience, whatever the setting, appreciates a speech that drags on.
Use your rehearsal and preparation time to ensure what you want to say will fit easily into a time period that suits the people you’re addressing. (You’re bound to take longer than expected so long as you avoid speaking too fast).
Less is more when it comes to word count, too. When under pressure to perform, we tend to waffle rather than clam up. Own the silences and choose your words carefully – those listening will thank you.
Try especially to rid yourself of generic phrases or oft-repeated filler words like ‘basically’ and ‘so’.
If you’re using slides, less is most definitely more. Don’t try to pack too much in to each one, and don’t change slides every few sentences. A small number of simple, effective slides gives your audience something to look at, and will help support the points your making.
5) Practice makes perfect
Once you’ve started to apply these lessons to actual public speaking in front of real people, the next step is to do it again and again and again.
Nerves will wash away over time, and the lessons you’ve learned will start to become second nature.
After not too long, you’ll start to enjoy it and will be able to count public speaking as one of your core skills.
Remember, public speaking comes in many different shapes and sizes. While you’re still developing your abilities take advantage of any opportunity, both inside and outside work, to hone your speaking skills.
You won’t regret it.
Types of public speaking you can expect to come across often are:
- Presenting your work to colleagues
- Reporting to senior staff
- Skills sharing sessions
- Chairing or hosting meetings or workshops
- Public talks on a specialist subject
- Pep talks and motivational speeches to teams or groups
- Speeches at private social events