Becoming a confident public speaker: advice from the experts

Nick Gold 21 September 2022

Becoming a confident public speaker: advice from the experts

Public speaking anxiety — also known as glossophobia — is one of the most common fears in the general population. Research suggests that as many as 92% of us have moderate to high levels of public speaking anxiety.

But speaking shouldn’t be reserved for those who are naturally at ease in the spotlight. After all, we all have a story to tell. At Speakers Corner, we believe that everyone can speak with confidence — it’s just our inhibitions that hold us back.

Coaching yourself to speak with confidence isn’t easy — so we’ve gathered tips and advice from 4 experienced speakers to help you overcome your public speaking nerves. Jez Rose, Judi James, Lee Warren, and our own MD Nick Gold share their expert advice on how to build confidence in public speaking.

Why should you learn to speak with confidence?

Becoming a confident speaker isn’t just about feeling at ease when you deliver a speech. It can impact how you feel about yourself, and how others perceive you.

“When you speak with confidence, you become more engaging, charismatic and believable to your audience,” says Lee. “That means they remember you for longer and they’re more likely to act on your message.”

Judi agrees. “Seeing the audience enjoy and learn from what you’re saying is one of the best feelings in the world.”

There are off-stage benefits, too. You’ll see an increase in opportunities — and you’ll have the confidence to take them. “Every day, in every setting, we are speaking, we are in conversation,” says Nick. “More than any other skill, speaking is how you impress, how you influence, how you achieve. It’s something we all do naturally. But being aware of it and being able to deliver in any setting gives you opportunities you might otherwise miss.”

Can the audience tell if a speaker lacks confidence?

Learning to speak with confidence is an act of self-fulfilment. But it’s not always easy — and sometimes it’s obvious if a speaker lacks confidence.

Your body language is one of the most clear-cut signs that you’re uncomfortable with public speaking. Judi, a body language expert, believes this can manifest in several ways:

●  Pseudo-infantile re-motivational rituals — trying to look cute using childlike hand gestures, or standing with your legs crossed at the ankle

●  Self-diminished body language — body barriers like folded arms, hands in pockets, hunching or crossed legs

●  Self-comfort rituals — such as playing with rings, hair or neck chains

●  Keeping your eyes down — especially when you greet your audience.

“It can feel like there’s a wall between the speaker and the audience,” says Lee. “The speaker will often stand far too far upstage — against a wall, as far away from the audience as they can get.”

Jez also believes that speaking too quickly — and without structure — betrays a lack of confidence. “There’s often a fumbling start,” Lee adds, “involving time-wasting comments about the way they’re dressed, or that they didn’t have enough time to prepare.”

Avoiding the audience; portraying discomfort in your speech and body language; overrelying on notes and slides — these signs of a nervous speaker can all be overcome with preparation. Preparation and practice are the keys to becoming a successful, confident speaker. As Nick puts it, “Last minute cramming is not going to improve the speech. It will just raise your stress levels.”

How to overcome public speaking nerves

Added stress is the last thing you need if you’re already feeling nervous. But it’s important to remember that nerves come with adrenaline — which can amplify your performance.

“​​Don’t try to get rid of the butterflies,” Judi advises. “Get them flying in formation instead. People fear the fear when they should be mining the extra energy and buzz that the burst of adrenaline can give you.

“Nerves are essential to a great performance. Most seasoned speakers worry more about the day they don’t feel nervous than struggling when they do.”

Still, when you start feeling anxious, it can be difficult to focus on your presentation. But there are ways to keep the butterflies at bay.

“Jumping straight into presenting from a stage in front of hundreds of people can be daunting and a horrific experience if you’re not prepared,” says Jez. “But it’s like everything else: you need to practice.

“There is no shortcut. Start somewhere you are comfortable: in the pub, or with friends; online, or with colleagues you know and trust. Gradually move outside of your comfort zone.”

Lee recommends warming up shortly before you take to the stage. “Take a few moments to get your voice and body ready to present. For me, this means making sure I’m relaxed, that my breathing is free and easy, and that I’ve practised a few key phrases.”

Finally, it’s easy to forget that you’re not the only one who wants your speech to go well. Your audience is invested in your performance, too. “Remember: the only people more nervous than you are the audience,” says Nick. “They’re desperate for you to make sure they have an enjoyable and informative time.

“Reframing your audience in this way helps you realise they’re with you in aiming for success — rather than the barrier to achieving it.”

5 actionable steps to speak with confidence

Public speaking anxiety may be common — but it can be tough to deal with when you’re faced with giving a presentation. Whether you’re preparing to give a wedding speech or host a business meeting, here are 5 actionable tips to give you confidence in your public speaking ability.

  1. Tell your own story. “If you are speaking about lived experiences or subjects you are immersed in and comfortable with, public speaking becomes no more than having a conversation,” says Nick. “And we all do that all the time.”
  2. Prepare well. Jez advises, “Rehearse out loud. It’s the only way to understand the timing and flow of what you are saying and help commit it to memory.” Lee adds, “Remember, you only have two options — you either rehearse in advance, or you rehearse in front of your audience!”
  3. Arrive early. “This helps you get any technical stuff sorted out, and get used to the space and the energy in the room,” says Lee. “I will always arrive at least an hour before a speaking engagement — usually much earlier than that.”
  4. Strike a powerful pose. “Pull up to full height, press your shoulders back and down, place your feet a few inches apart and keep your weight balanced evenly on both feet,” says Judi. “This will make you feel stronger and more confident.”
  5. Don’t make excuses. “Plan to succeed, not to fail,” Judi also recommends. “If there is a genuine concern or problem, deal with it — but otherwise focus on how to be your best.”

Learn more about speaking with confidence

Find plenty more essential advice for boosting your public speaking presence in Nick’s top five tips for speaking with confidence. For even more fantastic advice from other professional speakers, order Speaking With Confidence today.

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