How To Be A Better Public Speaker
Along with being trampled by raging bulls and being stung by hoards of angry bees, public speaking can be very high on the list of things that people would like to avoid.
Then there are those of us that push ourselves past the fear and do it anyway.
I’m in that group. I don’t love speaking in public, I don’t even really like giving speeches, but I do it because of these very important reasons:
1. I feel really proud of myself afterwards for accomplishing something most people wouldn’t.
2. I am seen as an authority on my topic, and my credibility as an expert is bolstered with each speaking event.
3. I have an opportunity to touch many people’s lives at one time, and potentially help them, inspire them, or teach them something.
There are a few things that I do to prepare when giving a speech in front of a large group.
For me, this preparation is vital, so that I can accomplish my ultimate goal (not looking like an idiot) AND enjoying the process as much as possible.
The preparation starts about a week or two (or more if I have time) before the big event.
I research my audience, the type of event I will be speaking at, and think about what message I could deliver that would be important to them. I believe knowing who you are speaking to, and why they are attending the event as well as considering what they may be hoping to get out of the evening is a really important step in the preparation process.
Then I start writing the outline for my topic. And I re-write, and re-write and re-write until it seems just about right.
After I get it all down on paper (yes, I think better when I write by hand instead of on the computer) I begin to read it out loud to see how it all flows.
Then I take what I’ve written and turn it into an outline of topics or ‘idea starter’ phrases that help me to remember key phrases or transitions from one idea to another.
I start practicing out loud again, to assess how well I remember my key points and fill in any key phrases or notes I need to keep me on track.
Then I do something unique.
This is purely my own coping mechanism since I know that I can often lose my breath while giving a speech.
As my heart-rate raises, I can often hold my breath out of anxiety, and then my voice starts to tremble, then I hear my voice trembling and get self-conscious, then its all over…Im doomed.
So, to avoid that mess this is my first big secret to success:
I practice my speech out loud while I walk on the treadmill at the gym (note: I go to the gym early in the morning, so it’s less weird and I disturb fewer people, but most of them have headphones on anyway).They can see I’m practicing something because I have my notes in front of me.
If people are curious about what I’m doing, they will ask, and I’m happy to tell them.
Usually, I find they are interested, not annoyed at all, and they end up feeling invested in my success. (more on that later…cute story below*)
So this practicing on the treadmill technique usually lasts for a few days, until I can remember the speech without my notes.
The most important parts of the practicing out loud for me is making sure I nail the beginning and the end of the speech. So I practice that over and over again.
When I get that down, I know that I can fudge the middle if I need to. As long as I start strong and tie it up nicely at the end, I’ll be okay 🙂
My preference is for the whole speech to go smoothly (of course!) so I practice it from beginning to end as many times as it takes to nail it 5 times in a row.
The day before and the day of the speech, I start practicing in front of a ‘studio audience’ (which is really just a large image of an audience staring at me from my computer)
You can see how I do this in the video below.
I’m being sort of silly as I describe this in the video (because when you think about it, it really is sort of laughable) but it really and truly helps me to get used to a bunch of faces staring at me while I speak.
Finally, the day of the event, I wear something that I think I look great in, but that I am also comfortable in so that I don’t have fidget or pull at my clothes to adjust them. I want my outfit to work for me instead of against me!!!
I keep my notes in my purse until right before I step up on stage. I never let my audience see me practicing, as I think it detracts from my credibility.
I hand my cell phone to the person seated next to me (or a friend in the audience) and ask them to snap a few photos while I’m on stage. (this also saves me from my phone randomly ringing or buzzing while I’m talking, which would be really distracting for me)
When I step on stage, I keep my notes in front of me, but I do not hold onto them (struggling with the papers and making noise over the mike is a no-no)
Most of the time I never need to look at my notes, they are there mostly just as a precaution (and a bit of a security blanket)
and I breathe, and smile…and remind myself that I’m excited, not afraid…then I begin!
*cute little story: I have made a friend at my gym that works out very early in the morning like I do. He asked me about my technique of practicing my speech on the treadmill the last time he saw me, and I shared that I was prepping for a keynote speech in a very big (1000 seat auditorium). He asked a few more details, then shared that he used to be a litigator, and often practiced his opening and closing remarks in the courtroom while jogging. After my last speech, he saw me in the gym and quickly came over to see how it went. I showed him the photos from the event, and he cheered for me and congratulated me on my success. The moment made us closer friends since we had an opportunity to bond over a similar speaking challenge. Pretty cool, huh?