How to Become a Better Public Speaker Despite Crippling Nerves
Does the idea of getting up on a stage with all eyes on you make your heart race? Whether you’re cool as a cucumber under group scrutiny or you have nightmares about public speaking, it’s likely that at some point in your life or career you’ll have to take the stage and deliver a presentation. It might be tempting to pretend that day is infinitely far in the future, but if you start preparing now, you’ll be ready to impress when the time comes.
Besides obvious advice like practice makes perfect, what behaviors can you employ before and during your speech to connect with your audience and meet your presentation goals?
Know the Room
Whether you are standing up in front of a dozen coworkers in a conference room or hundreds of strangers on stage at a conference, you’ll feel more confident if you have a good idea of the room layout, stage, and equipment beforehand.
As public speaking coach Ian Cunliffe said to Business Insider, “Don’t wait until you arrive onstage to realize that there’s a post blocking your view of half the audience, or that they will be serving dinner while you speak, or that there are problems with the audio visual equipment provided.” Investigate well ahead of time and get a routine down so you can get your point across smoothly when it comes time to take the floor.
Human attention spans are short. Don’t save your best material for the end, and don’t launch into a long tale without any indication as to how it’s relevant to your speech. Entrepreneur quotes Speech Coach Steve Siebold in saying “Make a point, then tell a story.”
If the audience doesn’t have a good idea about your theme or what points you’ll be making, the context for a long-winded story is not adequately established. It may help to make a written outline of your speech that starts with equidistant main points and builds outward from there. In the end, it’s your job to help the crowd follow along with your words, so choose a format that keeps them on track and attentive.
Adjust Body Language
A presentation is about so much more than just what you say. Chronic slouchers may want to sit up straight for this one: adopting a “power pose,” or an open, expansive stance, can boost your confidence levels and prepare you for public speaking better than a closed stance can. This theory comes from Amy Cuddy, a psychologist and professor at Harvard Business School. One example is putting your hands on your hips and spreading your feet, much like Wonder Woman. The takeaway is that there is a valuable link between your body, your brain, and your confidence. Tapping into that confidence and channeling it into your speech will give your presentation invaluable energy and presence.
Let the Audience Talk
The benefits of letting the audience voice their opinions during a presentation are two-fold. It makes the session more of a conversation and less of a one-way lecture, which reduces the pressure on you. Secondly, you can utilize genuine feedback to help make your presentation as impactful as possible. One key way is to employ polling in PowerPoint such as the PollEv Presenter Add-in, which integrates with your existing slides and allows the audience to respond to customizable prompts that you write. People can use any cell phone, computer, or tablet to contribute their answer, and part of the collaborative magic is that the screen adjusts in real time as people respond. As Forbes confirms, asking for the opinions of the crowd is a premier way to inject some much needed interactivity into your presentation, and you can use whatever knowledge you gain from polls to shape your presentation moving forward.
You may always get a twinge of nerves or a full-on attack of butterflies in your stomach before delivering a talk, but you can control how you prepare and how you appear outwardly so your speech doesn’t have to suffer for it. Best wishes on your future public speaking endeavors!