None of us are naturally comfortable standing in front of an audience and talking. If you’ve got an upcoming speech or presentation, you can worry about it or you can use these tricks to instantly get your panic under control.
Here are 8 ways to instantly improve your public speaking.
Throw Away the Script
A sure-fire way to make yourself more nervous is to write out exactly what you’re going to say.
By writing out a script you may feel like you’re planning everything — dotting every “i” and crossing every “t”. But you’re actually putting more pressure on yourself. You’re setting yourself up for more anxiety.
As you practice your speech from a script, the aim is to get your speech to a point where you don’t forget anything.
Trouble is, you will forget parts of your speech. You only have a limited preparation window, interrupted by other things, so you’ll never be able to memorize it word perfect.
What then happens is this: When you’re on stage, you forget a word or two. The doubt starts to set in. The doubt distracts you, and you start to forget other things. Before long you’re umm-ing and ahh-ing, wishing you could run off the stage and never see these people again.
The solution is to throw away the script and focus instead on knowing your subject inside out. The better you know your subject the easier it is to talk about.
As part of your preparation, sketch out your main talking points. Combine your knowledge of the subject with the points you want to talk about when you practice.
Each practice session, and the eventual live delivery, will be slightly different, but you’ll be more confident, make less mistakes and come across as genuine. This is the number one way to improve your public speaking.
Don’t Let Your Slides Derail Your Talk
PowerPoint or Keynote slides can complement your presentation, but they can also derail it.
If you use your slides to drive your talk, you create unnecessary pressure on yourself.
Slides full of sentences or bullet points might make you feel comfortable as you are preparing your presentation — after all, all those sentences will make sure you don’t forget anything, right?
But what those bullet points and sentences do is lock you into an unnatural delivery tone. Your speech becomes more about robotically following what’s written on your slides rather than speaking to your audience.
The upshot of wordy slides, and a talk guided by the them, is a resistant audience (who may go out of their way to show their frustration or make your Q&A session more difficult than it needs to be).
If you opt to use slides, the key is to design ones which follow what you are going to say.
You be the driver and let the slides support, not the other way around.
Push to the Audience
Those first few seconds on stage can be the worst.
Start with a question to the audience to alleviate some of the pressure.
Let’s say you are doing a speech about this year’s financial forecasts. You could start with a question about last year’s performance.
“Who knows what last year’s results were?”
“Who knows which month was our best last year?”
These opening “push” questions get the audience focused on the topic and give you time to breath.
Focus, But Don’t Focus, On Your Body Language
Your body language is an important part of your speech, but you need to do it the right way.
The right way?
In other words, it needs to be natural.
As part of their preparation some speakers practice their body language. The trouble with this practice is that it can make you look unnatural.
Think about it like this: Prior to a conversation with a friend or colleague you don’t practice your body language, right? Because body language is just something that happens as a normal part of communication.
To focus on your body language in the right way, and ensure you look natural on stage, your focus should be on knowing your subject well. The better you know your subject and the more you are able to talk about it without notes (or wordy slides), the more natural your body language will be.
Cut the Filler
For your confidence and credibility it’s important that you cut out filler words.
To reduce the number of filler words you use and improve your public speaking you need to be comfortable with silence.
Let me give you an example:
A bad filler word habit I have had to overcome is asking the audience, “Okay?” too often at the end of sentences. The trick to get rid of this is to make yourself aware of your habits. Then, when you get the urge to say “aaahhh”, “ummmm”, “like”, or “Okay?”, just pause and say nothing.
You’ll find these silent pauses are difficult at first, but the more you do them the better received your speeches will become and the more confident you’ll feel.
Talk to the Audience
Don’t lecture to your audience. Especially if you want them to listen to you.
If you’re lecturing or mindlessly reading bullet points to your audience nobody is listening.
Talk as though you are speaking face to face with one person and you instantly become easier to listen to and improve your public speaking.
Don’t Prepare for Artificial Time Limits
If you want to relieve pressure on yourself, don’t focus on time limits.
Focus instead on getting your message across is the simplest way possible.
If you have a 15 minute time limit, try not to go over that, but don’t try to stretch your speech out to 15 minutes. No one in a business presentation ever complained about a speech that covered everything in only 5 and a half minutes.
The key is to keep it simple and get the message across. After that, it’s time to take questions and sit back down.
Confirm After Answering Questions
You’ve just finished the nightmare of doing a speech and now you need to take questions.
To make your question handling session go smoothly, don’t put all the burden on yourself. After you answer a question, make sure you get something back from the audience…
Ask the questioner if they are satisfied. By doing this you clear up any misunderstandings proactively. You also dismiss the uncomfortable silence that always follows the answer to a question, where you are thinking “Did I answer that okay?” and the audience is thinking “Who’s going to say something next?”
Following the answer to a question, say “Does that answer your question?” or “Did I answer your question?”
You can instantly improve your public speaking by following the steps above. I wish you all the best with your next speech!
For further reading, check out my two most-read articles: