“Just Breathe” – And Other Helpful Tips to Get You Through That Speech
Public speaking. Those two simple words have the power to strike fear into even the strongest amongst us. Speaking in front of an audience truly terrifies a lot of people and can be a genuine fear. But it doesn’t have to be so daunting! There are many tips and tricks to make you feel confident and deliver your speech with all the self-assurance you need.
This is perhaps the most important of any public speaking tip to ever be written. It’s no secret that we all get nervous before speaking in front of an audience, whether it be two people or two thousand. Even the most seemingly confident speakers can get choked up when asked to give a speech. Some simple deep breaths may be all you need to calm your nerves and give you the clarity you need to deliver the key message.
Simple and clear
Effective public speaking does not mean jamming in a bunch of words that you don’t know how to pronounce in order to make yourself sound more intelligent. If anything, it will likely have the opposite impact. When writing your speech material, keep the content clear, concise and bordering on repetitive, with one main phrase or piece of information that the speech centres around. The most successful speeches deliver a clear and powerful message that is repeated multiple times with slight variation to leave a lasting impression on your audience.
An example of this is from one of history’s most famous speeches: “I have a dream”. This simple yet powerful mantra was repeated several times throughout Martin Luther King’s famous speech of 1963 to emphasise both the struggles that African Americans faced throughout American history and his hope for freedom and equality. It remains one of the signature moments of the American civil rights movement.
Practice, practice, practice!
Practicing and memorising your speech can do wonders in reducing your anxiety and making sure you don’t lose your place if you’re reading off palm cards or a sheet of paper. Knowing your material makes it easier for you to stay on point. All great speakers rehearse what they are going to say beforehand, and you should be no exception!
It can help to practice in front of a mirror to see how often you are engaging with the audience, or video record yourself to see if you’ve made any improvement. If you can, it is also great to practice in front of family or friends and ask them for feedback.
If you’re feeling confident in the delivery of your speech and its message, try to incorporate some natural hand gestures, a change of stance or more animated facial expressions. BUT, remember to be wary, these techniques can be overdone and actually detract from the message you are trying to get across if they look too unnatural or forced. If you are struggling with this, try asking a friend or family member to give you feedback as to whether your gestures and movements are too much.
Observe other great speakers
Watching the way in which others use their voice to inspire or inform can be very powerful in motivating you to give your own speech with conviction and clarity! Watch a TED talk, look up an inspirational public speaker on Youtube, or watch that one person in your class who always seems to speak with confidence. Watch what they do – when they pause, when they add emphasis to particular words and when they utilise gestures. Practice emanating these styles and techniques.
Grab their attention from the get go
Most people will tune out of your speech in the first few minutes if it doesn’t start with something interesting, inspiring or radical! Try to incorporate an anecdote or personal story, a relevant quote or a shocking statistic to make your audience sit up and listen to what you have to say.
Don’t speak in the same monotone voice the whole time
Varying your pitch, speed, volume and tone in a speech is crucial. By changing your voice, you will add emphasis to the important points and create an interesting presentation for your audience to engage with. However, similarly to the advice given for gestures, don’t over do it! People are attracted to someone who is genuine and is comfortable with being themselves in front of an audience. Aim for a happy medium between the two.
Be comfortable with the environment
If possible, scope out the room you will be speaking in before you have to present your speech. If this is impossible, try to visualise yourself at the lectern, or in the middle of the stage, and focus on how you will connect with your audience from that position. If it helps not to look at them at all, keep your eyeline just above their heads, but don’t fix it in the one spot.
It is important that you believe in yourself and show confidence whilst you are speaking – even if you feel anything but confident! A lot of the nervousness that comes hand in hand with giving a speech is actually a result of your own negative self-talk. Try telling yourself that you are capable! If you make a mistake or stumble over a word, do not let this bring the whole speech undone. Keep going with what you were saying and don’t worry, chances are that no one noticed it anyway.
If all else fails, just remember to smile. It will make you look calm and comfortable, even if you are not. Also, the happy endorphins you get from smiling will boost your mood and help you get through your speech.
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