So, you’ve been asked to give a best man’s speech, or the boss has booked you in to deliver a talk on your industry.
You’ll be glad to hear that the feeling you’re probably experiencing right now in the pit of your stomach is something most of us are accustomed to.
There are few people in the world who are nerve-free, natural public speakers. It takes courage, belief in oneself and, most importantly of all, confidence. Bundling all of that together in order to deliver a talk people will engage with and love you for is incredibly difficult.
Public speaking isn’t confined to the big stages of business or politics. Think about it; whenever you’re out with friends or decide to host a house party, you’ll be called upon at some stage to be the only person speaking in the room. An amusing tale told over the dinner table perhaps, or a short speech thanking everyone for coming – our personal lives are filled with spotlight opportunities.
If, when you start speaking, it feels like the world ceases turning and everyone in the room begins judging your performance and level of nerves, console yourself with the fact that we’ve all been there and the lessons learned from such an experience can be very powerful indeed.
The good news is, public speaking is a skill which can be developed; we’re all capable of it. The trick is to learn to love it and, in this post, I’ve got 6 tips which will help you do just that.
1. Remember: What’s the Worst that Can go Wrong?
Quite often, the fear of speaking in public stems from a concern about messing up or getting it wrong. That is entirely natural, but ask yourself this: what’s the worst that can go wrong when you approach that podium?
If you stumble over the odd word, few people will notice. But what if you lose your train of thought? Make a joke of it! The more human you are on stage, the more people will warm to you.
Try filming yourself privately rehearsing your speech. When replaying the video, I challenge you to spot the mistakes. They will have felt huge at the time, but as an audience member, you’ll find they pass by without notice.
2. Forget the Phrase ‘Public Speaking’
The mere mention of ‘public speaking’ may be unnecessarily raising your fear levels. There’s an easy fix for that: think of it instead as ‘story telling’, for that is exactly what you’ll be doing. We all tell stories on a daily basis – you’ll just be doing so to more people.
3. Watch one of the greats
History is littered with brilliant public speakers. And, while you may not be the next Martin Luther King, you can learn from the way such greats approach their own presentations.
The Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement Speech from 2005 is a brilliant example of public speaking taking the form of engaging story telling. You should also take heart from the fact that arguably one of the most charismatic public speakers of all time stumbles over one or two words himself, proving that technically perfect delivery doesn’t make a speech.
Study the pros closely. Watch their body language, the way they breathe and the handsome pauses they insert throughout their delivery.
4. Don’t Picture Everyone Naked
If there’s one misguided piece of advice for public speaking, it’s this one. Contrary to popular belief, picturing everyone in your audience naked won’t give you the upper hand for one very good reason: you don’t need the upper hand.
Public speaking is actually a two-way thing. You talk, the audience reacts either by nodding, laughing or by sitting in captive silence. You want them on your side, so consider the audience your friends for the duration of your talk. It’s far easier to talk to friends, after all.
Depending on the content of your talk, it is often a good idea to pretend you’re speaking to one (non-naked) person. Sure, there may be one hundred people in the room, but treat them as one and you’ll immediately quash your fears of addressing multiple people.
5. Start Talking to Strangers
If you’re not particularly outgoing, public speaking can be a seemingly impossible prospect. Overcome your fears by talking to strangers. A few words to the person who serves your morning coffee, or the cashier when paying for your petrol will boost your confidence immeasurably.
6. Enjoy the Power of the Microphone
If you’ve never used a microphone before and have been called upon to use one, don’t fret. In fact, you’ve got an awful lot to look forward to, because – and again, contrary to popular belief – hearing your own voice booming out of a PA system is actually rather satisfying.
At first, you may not even recognise it as your voice, such is the authoritative and clear tone you hear emanating from the speakers. It is you, though! Enjoy the power of your voice when amplified – it’ll make you feel ten feet tall and help you command the room.
If you conducted a personal end of year review in 2015, conquering your fear of public speaking may have been high on the agenda. Use the simple tips above and you’ll learn to love what can be a truly career- and life-transforming skill.
Who knows, you may even develop a taste for it.