Speaking in front of groups is a skill that’s very much worth cultivating and that can help you in a number of situations. Of course being able to give presentations and speeches is something that can be very useful in a number of careers, and most office jobs or business careers will involve some element of speaking to your team or presenting to your manager.
At the same time though being able to speak in front of a group will make you better at sales, better prepared for occasions such as weddings and more able to come across as charismatic and engaging when you’re socialising in a large group. The good news is that this is something that can be learned, and while you might freeze up right now whenever you try and speak in public, with the right training and some helpful tips you can quickly become much more eloquent and really start to captivate and engage your audiences. Read on to begin your transformation.
Step One – Lose the Nerves
The first and most important way to improve your ability when it comes to speaking in public is to try and eradicate your nerves. It’s normal to feel a bit anxious because you’ll be essentially performing in front of a large audience, but ironically it’s these very nerves that are likely to cause you to stutter and trip up.
To get over these nerves you need to learn to look at public speaking as being ‘no big deal’ and no different from talking in a smaller group. You can do this by reminding yourself with some positive affirmations that it’s not the end of the world if you go wrong – you don’t know these people and you don’t owe them anything, so who cares if you stutter? More to the point though, most audiences are very forgiving and they don’t expect you to talk perfectly, so they aren’t going to lynch you for making a mistake as long as you’re trying your best and you come off as likeable.
In fact if you have a hard time overcoming the nerves, it’s worth purposefully failing and choking just once to teach yourself it’s not all that bad. Try just standing there for a minute without saying anything next time and you’ll see that your audience wait patiently and then are just as receptive once you’ve recovered. And if you don’t want to do this during a public speech, then try being awkward at a till in a shop or when talking to people you don’t know at a party.
Of course practice makes perfect too, and the more often you speak in front of people or perform and more you make a fool of yourself the easier it will become. Taking up stand-up comedy or acting classes is a fantastic way to become accustomed to big audiences and to get a lot more confident.
Step Two – Talk Slower
One of the most common mistakes people make when they’re speaking in front of a large audience is to speed up. This is largely an unconscious decision, and it’s brought on by the increase in adrenaline that makes time seem to move more slowly along with the desire for it to be over.
No matter how slowly you think you’re already talking then, it’s probably still worth making a conscious effort to slow down more – so talk more slowly and increase the pauses between each word. This way you’ll be easier to understand, and at the same time you’ll come across as both more intelligent and more confident. If you struggle with this then try timing yourself and keep slowing down until you reach a speed that you think is appropriate for the number of words.
Step Three – Adlib
If you’re reading your speech word-for-word from a script then you should expect it to go badly. Not only are you going to be looking down at your text rather than out at the audience, but you will also be reading in a way that’s very robotic and static and that doesn’t engage the audience in a conversational style or react to their moods. If you want to make your speech more engaging and natural then, use a script or cue cards for structure, but don’t read them out exactly – leave room for a bit of adlib and let your mood dictate your exact phrasing.
Another benefit of using this method is that it will mean you are never completely stuck for what to say next. If you have a script then it’s possible to ‘forget’ what’s coming up next and that will leave you umming and ahing while you try to remember what you were supposed to say next or find your place on your script. By staying flexible you can fill in the gaps and you’ll never be stuck for what to say next.
Step Four – Work the Audience
Now that you have some more spontaneity in your speech this will allow you to be more flexible in reacting to your audience as well and to try and engage them more. There are a number of ways you can accomplish this, which include owning the space by moving around on the stage, trying to maintain eye contact, and changing your energy levels in response to the audience. If you notice someone who is drifting off then get them involved again by posing a question directly to them, or if your audience seem to be collectively impressed use this moment to pause and let them think about what you’ve said.
In other words make sure this isn’t just a case of you talking at them, but instead try to involve them in your speech and make it a two way affair just like any other conversation.