Some brief tips on public speaking
Those of you who’ve done public speaking, if you were to give a five minute talk on getting into public speaking to a group of people, which points would you want to make sure you make in it?
I replied with 2 tweets of suggestions, which I have slightly paraphrased here with some expansion on my suggestions:
- Nervousness is normal for most people, the only way to reduce it is to do some public speaking.
I happen to be in the minority of people who don’t get nervous speaking in public. I have however spoken to many people who do and the universal experience they’ve shared is that the only way they got over or at least reduced this nervousness was to do some public speaking. It terrified them the first few times but gradually it became less nerve-wracking.
I strongly believe it helps to ask yourself what the consequences would be if you mess up the public speaking - aside from some mild and brief personal embarrassment you may find that while your nervousness and fears are completely real and valid you can ignore them knowing the stakes aren’t drastic if you make a mistake.
- Slow down - you should sound in your head like you’re speaking a little too slowly.
This is a little tricky to get used to because you’ll feel like you must be talking too slowly and sounding odd. It can help to record yourself reading something in your “normal” voice - when you play it back you’ll probably find you’re talking quite quickly. Try it again while being deliberately slow and you may well find it’s easier to follow and listen to the recording.
- Don’t look down - if you can’t make yourself look at people, look at the top back corners of the room.
Audiences want to look at the person addressing them - if you’re not looking back but are rather studying your shoes this can cause many people to stop paying attention or at least pay less attention. An audience feels considerably more engaged if you move your gaze around the room while you speak, so you’re not staring at one member of the audience all the time. Looking directly at people can however be very difficult if you’re already feeling nervous. If you have a few friends in the audience you can scan your head around and look at each of your friends for a brief while, tuning out people you don’t know. Alternately it can help to instead look slightly over your audiences heads, towards the top back corners of the room. To the audience you still appear to be looking out at them.
- If you naturally move your arms or walk around, do so
Many people gesture when they talk or move around a little. If you do this in conversation with people you know, don’t try and suppress it when addressing an audience. Speakers who force themselves to stand rigidly in place when they want to gesture with their arms come across to an audience as unnatural and off-putting. Don’t however force yourself to make robotic gestures if you don’t normally gesture when you talk - that looks equally unnatural. Speak to an audience as you would speak any other time and you’ll come across as an engaging speaker and keep your audience’s attention.
- It’s perfectly ok to stop if you get flustered or lost and take a small pause - your audience will probably not even notice.
If you make a mistake or lose your train of thought or your place in your notes, it’s perfectly fine to pause briefly, gather your thoughts and then resume. It’s very likely your audience won’t even notice. Even if they do, a brief pause is natural in conversation and feels natural when being addressed as well. Many people fear their audience will stop paying attention as soon as they make a mistake. If you think about having a conversation with your friends though, this fear looks ridiculous. No one thinks less of someone they’re talking to if they stumble over a word or take a pause. Your audience is made up of humans who stumble over words and make mistakes in their own conversation - they won’t stop paying attention if that happens to you.
- Don’t whisper into microphones - their function is to allow everyone to hear your normal speaking voice.
Microphones terrify many speakers, even experienced ones, causing them to timidly whisper for fear of being too loud. A properly set up microphone is however supposed to make your normal voice audible to everyone in an area. Talk into the microphone as if it isn’t there (which I understand is far more easily said than done).
If you are using a microphone, don’t forget it’s always listening and will broadcast anything you say near it - don’t make comments to people near you that you don’t want everyone to hear!