Whether your professor forces you to give a presentation to your class or you scored a pitch for your dream internship, public speaking can’t be avoided. It makes us sweat, shake and sometimes even cry. We lie awake at night panicking over the thought of slipping over our words, making our audience fall asleep or forgetting what we planned to say. In reality, it probably won’t go as horribly as we expect.
Just in case, check out these helpful public speaking tips that leave us feeling confident after our performance.
1. Practice, practice, practice
If you go into your task well-prepared, you don’t have to be nervous that you may slip up and forget what you rehearsed. Know your subject so you won’t feel blindsided by questions from the audience. “I think the best plan of attack is in the preparation. When you know your material, have figured out your supporting visuals, and feel confident in what you want to say and how you want to say it, that helps,” Ted Spiker said, professor and chair of the University of Florida department of journalism. Live presentations don’t always go right, so work on that you have control over.
2. Look above the crowd
Target your glance consistently to the back of the room. By looking out towards the exit sign (or any focal point out and above the group), the audience watches you gaze directly at them without actually making uncomfortable eye contact.
3. Know your audience
Target your speech to the people you are presenting to. If your audience is a group of kids or teenagers, don’t be afraid to make some jokes or throw a little informality in there. However, if your audience involves a professional group of people, make sure you keep your work extra formal. Make yourself presentable for the group you present to.
4. Make it personal
Without sharing your life story, find ways to make the speech your own. What separates what you have to say from the dozens of other lecture we sit through? Add in some of your own quirks to make yourself memorable. Your intention shouldn’t be to bore the audience, so make your work your own and add in some personal flare.
5. Use a variety of voice
To keep your listener’s active, switch up your sentence structure as you speak. “I think it helps the audience stay engaged and can make for a more compelling experience, just thinking about variety and rhythm, without over-dramatizing it, because you still want it to feel natural and conversational,” Spiker said. Run-on sentences bore those listening, while all fragments make the speaker sound too informal. Find your perfect medium.
No matter how nervous you may be, never reveal that fact during your presentation. Before you begin, close your eyes and take three deep breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. This technique will relax you before you present. You want to exude confidence; show the audience your passion for your performance.
7. Don’t worry about making mistakes
As Hannah Montana once wisely said, “Nobody’s perfect.” To reach the end of your presentation without flubbing up a single word, you probably would have had to attend speech therapy for years. If you get too focused on a minor slip-up, your brain concentrates on that moment too much and you might slip again. The sooner you forget about it, the sooner your audience will.
8. Check the syllabus
If the thought of public speaking keeps you lying awake at night, try your best to avoid it. During drop/add week, check your course syllabus and see if you have any presentations to make. If your major allows it, try to avoid classes that have anxiety-inducing assignments.
9. Be Clear on the Purpose of your Speech
If you don’t know what you are actually trying to say, your audience won’t either. You have to identity a clear idea and goal for your speech. In order to feel comfortable speaking in front of people, you have to first be comfortable with your topic. “What is your intention for the audience? Is it a call to action? To educate or inform? To inspire? Knowing what you want to accomplish should help you prepare your remarks and give you more confidence for successful delivery,” Ivy Cohen, president of Ivy Cohen Communications said. The purpose of my theoretical speech would be to persuade the U.S. government to make it illegal to talk during movies at the theater.
10. Don’t Focus Too Much on Memorization
People make the common mistake of thinking that memorizing every single word will help them deliver the best speech and calm their nerves. In fact, this can make you sound stiff and mechanical, when speeches need to flow and sound conversational. Plus, if you focus on memorizing and happen forget your next line, you may not be able to recover. “Know your material, but don’t memorize it and spit it out like a robot. Have a wealth of knowledge and know your material well enough so that if you lose your place, you’re the only one who knows it,” professional speaker Jody Fuller said. Who has the time to memorize a whole speech anyway? Make it easier on yourself!
11. Have Notes to Guide You
Some people may think having notes with you while giving a public speech shows poor preparation, but it’s totally acceptable. No one expects you to deliver a speech without some help, especially if you are new to public speaking. “I find that the way that works best for me is to identify a few key words on each page you can use as a guide to recall the big ideas that you want to convey along the talk. This helps you become less dependent on each individual word over the course of the speech,” Cohen said. Abraham Lincoln used notes in The Gettysburg Address. Don’t fact check me.
12. Slow Down
Always make sure you focus on the rate you speak. If you talk too fast, people won’t be able to digest what you said and it dilutes your message. “Take slow deep breaths and try to slow your rate of speaking. People who are experiencing anxiety tend to talk too fast,” Dr. Rayburn said. It helps to schedule pauses in your speeches too, so you can catch your breath and pace yourself.
13. Stand Up Straight and Don’t Be Afraid To Move Around
One of the common mistakes, and something I used to be guilty for in my public speaking class, includes leaning on the podium. “[A negative public speaking coping skill is] grabbing the lectern as tightly as they can with both hands, leaning on the lectern on the stomach actually constricts the diaphragm and causes shortness of breath, and that leads to increased anxiety,” Dr. Rayburn said. Instead of feeling restricted by the lectern, feel free to move around your speaking space. Practice your movement and hand gestures so they add to the flow of your speech.
14. Be Conversational
The trick to a good speech involves making others connect with it. Stark differences exist between giving a speech and having a conversation, but your speech should have that accessible quality that makes people tune in. “Look at different sections of the audience from time to time as you speak to invite them in your talk. If you are too frightened to make eye contact, it can help to look toward the back of the room and occasionally to the side walls to give the sense that you are inviting everyone to hear you and want them to connect with your remarks,” Cohen said. If you want people to listen, get on their conversational level. We don’t want to take advice from robots.
15. Understand That Nerves Are a Good Thing
“The fact that you feel nervous is a great sign; it means you care and want to succeed. So yeah, let’s revalue what’s going on with your body to be a good thing,” Dr. Houck said. Nerves actually help us give our best performance, so don’t be daunted that you’re scared. “There’s a big difference between being nervous ahead of a speech and being anxious; the latter can become very debilitating if you’re a person that suffers from high communication apprehension. The good news is that most don’t,” Houck added. So take a deep breath, smell the speech jitters, and use all your newfound knowledge to give the best speech of literally everyone’s lifetime.
*Updated on July 5, 2019 by Jordan Thomas to include points 9-15