A typical list of the scariest things in the world might include monsters living under your bed, Stephen King books, abandoned amusement parks, or…gulp…public speaking. Yes friends, for many, the act of speaking in front of a group of people brings about intense feelings of fear, anxiety, and dread. Whether you’re presenting in front of the class or leading an important meeting at work, speaking with confidence is key. Here are some great tips to help you master your fear and become a great public speaker.
Let Yourself Be Nervous
You read that right. The secret to dealing with nervousness before public speaking is to lean directly into it. The truth is, everyone feels at least some degree of nervousness before speaking publicly, and knowing that you’re not alone in your feelings is the first step to overcoming them. Even your favorite songwriter or performer still feels nervousness from time to time-they’ve just learned to roll with it.
A great way to mitigate feelings of nervousness is to practice. If you have a presentation or a meeting coming up, take some time to prepare by speaking in front of friends or family members. Take it a step further by asking your audience for some constructive feedback, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Do your best to stay calm during your presentation, and speak slowly and deliberately.
Along with practice, take the time to tailor your presentation to be specific to your audience. Your audience could be fellow students in a particular course, team members at your place of business, or any other group of people. This will help you to avoid including unnecessary information that could cause listeners to lose interest or become confused about the topic at hand.
Another great way to prepare for a presentation is to create an outline. It is important to distinguish the difference between a script and an outline. If you read from a script, it can make your presentation seem wooden or over-rehearsed. Whenever you’re speaking publicly your objective should be to come off as relaxed and natural. An outline will allow you to have a roadmap for your presentation, while also providing some wiggle room.
Start with a strong introduction that will get the attention of your audience quickly. The best way to work on a good introduction is to practice it with real people so you can gauge their reactions. Next, move on to the bulk of your presentation, which should include all the relevant information about your topic. Similar to your introduction, craft an outro that will drive home the point of your presentation by practicing with a live audience.
Now that you’ve got a nice outline to work off of and some willing practice partners, it’s time to work on getting more of “you” into your presentation. If you’ve got some personal experience in the form of a story that relates to the information you’re presenting, it can help to throw it into the mix. This will keep the attention of your audience, as it will make you more relatable and “human.” Just make sure if you’re going to add a little humor into your presentation that it’s inoffensive and appropriate for your audience.
Using body language for emphasis can go a long way to make you seem natural and confident. Try practicing your presentation in a mirror, and use your hands while you speak. This will help you to avoid any awkward or nervous gestures, and will give you an idea of how you look to others while you speak. Of course, you should also practice your body language in front of your trusty practice partners. Don’t forget to watch for their reactions, and take stock of what is effective and what isn’t.
Put in time to learn how to project your voice without sounding like you’re yelling at your audience. Whether you’re sitting or standing, practice good posture, and smile. Smiling while you talk will make the tone of your voice sound friendly, while projecting with good posture will exude confidence. Friendly and confident…now there’s a winning combination!
This one may not apply to all types of presentations, but with many schools and businesses adopting the work from home paradigm, visual aids are becoming more commonplace. Whether you’re using a program such as PowerPoint or you’re sharing your screen, do so in a way that doesn’t eliminate the “you” from your presentation.
Each time you turn to your visual aid, you’re breaking your connection with the audience, so use them to enhance your presentation, but don’t rely heavily upon them. For example, if you’re providing data points, a graph can be useful for your audience, but don’t let it do all the talking. Find the right balance through trial and error during your practice routine, and make sure you’ve got enough to say over each slide or image.
It’s important to remember that no matter how much we might practice something, mistakes can happen. If you put the time in and allow yourself to make mistakes once in a while, the stress of public speaking becomes much more manageable. Lastly, keep in mind that whenever you’re making a presentation and you feel nervous, that the people around you also understand how nerve-racking it can be. More times than not, your audience will be impressed with the simple fact that you had the courage to stand up and speak.
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