If the prospect of speaking in front of an audience turns your knees to jelly, you are not alone. But there are a number of things you can do to make the experience less stressful and ensure that your speech goes smoothly. These 10 public speaking tips will help you through.
1. Know your material
Make sure that you know your subject; familiarity with your material will give you a high level of confidence. You will be less reliant on notes and you’ll be sure that you can field any questions that members of the audience may ask.
2. Know your audience and show them respect
The worst thing any speaker can do is to offend the audience. Show them respect by being on time. Make sure that you know who your audience will be and tailor your remarks accordingly. Imagine a chef explaining how to cook meat dishes to an audience of vegetarians; it would hardly be appropriate and would leave the audience disappointed, if not antagonistic.
3. Rehearse your speech
To ensure that your address goes smoothly, you must practise several times. This will help you become familiar with the content, get a feel for when pauses should occur and help you judge the length of the speech so that you fully use the time allocated. You don’t need to memorise everything but the familiarity that comes with rehearsal will make your address more fluent.
4. Plan your opening and closing
The hardest parts of any address are the opening and closing remarks. You need to ensure that you grab the audience’s attention early on so that they listen to what follows. And, in your closing remarks, you should have something special that will let your audience go away happy, perhaps with a final thought or question that you plant as you say goodbye.
5. Remember that your audience wants you to succeed
Most of your audience will be there because they want to hear what you have to say. Sometimes, they may even have paid for the opportunity. This means that they will be on your side; they will want you to succeed, so they will be forgiving if you make the odd mistake or there is a touch of nervousness in your address. And, if you’ve been volunteered to speak, those in the know will be sympathetic.
6. Engage the audience
Even though the audience is on your side, it is important that you engage them as you speak. If you know your audience, you’ll be able to ask questions and relate to their experiences in your address. Jokes or amusing anecdotes are good ways to engage the audience, but be careful not to offend and remember that jokes can fall flat.
When a golfer stands over a shot, he tries to visualise the flight of the ball and swings appropriately. It’s the same with public speaking. As part of your preparation, you should visualise where you will stand, your actions and your delivery so that you have an image imprinted on your mind. And you should picture how you expect the audience will react.
8. Don’t over-apologise
Even with the best-planned functions, things do go wrong - you may be running late, there may be a fault with the microphone or the visual aids. Don’t dwell on the problem. Just give a short apology and get on with your address – that is, after all, what the audience came for.
9. Familiarise yourself with the venue
It’s always valuable to get a look at the venue before the function. Knowledge of the layout will help you feel more comfortable and will help you avoid mishaps and errors like standing where the audience can’t see you or blinding yourself by looking directly into spotlights.
10. Dress and groom appropriately
Make sure that you dress appropriately and that you look clean and tidy. Jeans and a scruffy t-shirt, for example, are hardly fitting for a black tie function. And it’s hardly likely to go down well if you turn up looking like you’ve just staggered out of bed. Appropriate dress and grooming is vital and is part and parcel of showing respect for your audience.