Key learning outcomes:

  • Adopt some new techniques to minimise your fear of public speaking.
  • Learn the benefits of slowing down your delivery and regulating your breathing.
  • Create presentations that will make an impact.
  • Find out how engaging in some story telling and having some fun will improve the experience for you and audience.

Article:

It is widely believed that the fear of public speaking ranks up there with the fear of death for many of us. It is certainly a fear that cripples some people. But to make it easier there are some tried and tested tips that will improve your skills and experience when you are asked, or need, to present to a group. Our top 10 are outlined below.

1. Avoid death by slide show

There are a number of rules of thumb regarding how many slides you should use in a presentation. There is the 10 x 20 x 30 rule, which is 10 slides, 20-minute presentation and no less than 30-point font. Or the 20/20 rule – this is no more than 20 slides and 20 minutes for a presentation. No matter the rule, the theme is the same. You should use slides to enhance and highlight what you are saying and not as a tool to read from. Too much text can be distracting and you will find that your audience is looking at the screen trying to read the slides rather than listening to you. The most important rule when it comes to slide shows is less is more.

2. Slow down

When we are nervous we start to speak faster, and without giving ourselves time to breathe and relax we then become more nervous. This is a dangerous cycle that you want to avoid at all costs. It tends to be an unconscious thing and it can make it harder for your audience to understand you. If you make an effort to slow down your pace, you will find that you are probably speaking at a normal speed. Make sure you take adequate pauses between thoughts and ideas, and don’t be afraid to use a longer pause to really highlight an important point. Breaks in the speech will give your audience a chance to digest some information before you move on.

3. Make eye contact

Making eye contact will help to engage your audience and it tends to make public speaking easier. Try to make contact with as many people as you can, although we suggest that early in the presentation you find one or two people who respond with positive gestures as this can help to ease any nerves. As you gain confidence, start to make eye contact with as many different people as possible. If you are making a sales pitch, try to avoid only looking at the decision-makers. You want to ensure that you have engaged your entire audience. You may be surprised by the influence of support and admin staff on the final outcome.

4. Learn to be a story teller

Being able to tell a good story will bring your presentation to life. Not only will it serve to back up any theories or facts you are presenting, it will also add some entertainment to your speech. An audience is best able to relate to real-life situations. So if you are able to bring these into the mix, you will find that your message has a greater impact.

5. Keep breathing

We know this sounds a little simplistic, but regulating their breathing is one of the biggest issues that new public speakers face. Rather than taking a pause for a breath, they will often fill gaps with “ums” and “ahs” and therefore continue to expel more air. Like speaking too quickly, this becomes a vicious cycle, and as the presentation goes on you actually become more nervous and flustered rather than less. Taking some deep breaths prior to speaking can help, and you need to take some time between points or ideas. If you are starting to feel the nerves coming on, take an extra few seconds to take a couple of deep breaths. The audience will never know and you will instantly feel much better.

6. Know your stuff

This is probably the most important point when making any presentation. The better prepared you are, the more professional and confident you will sound to your audience. When your content is second nature, you will find that your nerves soon slip away. Be wary of agreeing to talk on topics that you are not familiar with or where you have not done sufficient preparation. Speaking in front of people is daunting for most of us, so it is important to control as many elements as you can, and your knowledge of the subject matter is one of these.

7. Practise your presentation

There are very few speakers that have not improved over time. The more that you speak in public, the easier it becomes. We have worked with people that are brought to tears just having to talk in front of a relatively small group of their peers. If you are one of these people, we suggest you seek out one of the many professional groups or consultants that are available. Toastmasters is an excellent group that can assist with building on these skills.

When you are due to give a presentation, we suggest that you always practise by talking out loud. By talking out loud rather than in your head, you will pick up when phrases do not work or do not sound quite right. It will also help you to determine where your pauses and breaks should be. Once again, preparation is the key to feeling confident when you step out on stage.

8. Be early

Nothing will fluster you more than running late for a presentation. Make sure you know exactly where you need to be and leave plenty of time to get there. If possible, arrive early so that you can be 100% familiar with the environment and any equipment you will be using. Once again you want to control as many elements as you can and arriving with plenty of time to spare is one of them. Arriving early will also potentially give you an opportunity to meet some of the people you are presenting to and this can also assist in easing the nerves and give you some friendly faces to make eye contact with early in your presentation.

9. Show confidence

You might be surprised to learn that the audience will generally not notice a mild case of nerves or anxiousness. It is therefore important not to draw attention to it by apologising for or announcing that you are feeling nervous. There is an element of “faking it until you make it” in public speaking. If you stand up straight, breathe, project your voice, put a smile on your face and look your audience in the eye, you will find that before you know it you feel confident and in control.

10. Enjoy yourself

This tip might seem hard to believe especially when we consider that, as mentioned earlier, for most people the fear of public speaking is second only to the fear of death. The thing is, if you can have some fun and enjoy yourself, you will find that this translates directly to your audience’s enjoyment. They will soon feel the vibe you are projecting and will respond with lots of smiles and positive gestures. We guarantee that if you follow these tips, you will begin to enjoy the occasion and will become a more competent public speaker in no time.

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