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Contrary to what poets will have you believe, our “speech” often reflects our most vulnerable expressions. If you’re anxious or lacking confidence, you can still learn to mask its expression in your eyes with practice. But it is bound to come out sooner or later in your speech. A stutter here, a few empty filler words there, and you’re exposed!
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And yet, speaking is what we do the most, to express, communicate, and celebrate! It’s also the most effective way to inspire another. How can we speak confidently, even when we’re not experts? How can we consistently enthrall our audience with our speech? How can we communicate how we want to without letting self-doubt get in the way?1. Make a Good First Impression
Do you know that we form an opinion within 30 seconds of meeting someone? Yes, that’s as long (or, in this case, as short) as it takes to grab your audience’s attention: 30 measly seconds. (Heck, even instant noodles take longer than that to cook!)
But this is excellent news for the prepared speaker. If you can “nail it” for that first 30 make-or-break seconds, you will likely have your audience in your pocket and enjoy a rewarding session. Now this doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
Here are some clever tips to wing that first impression:
Dress comfortably. Like it or not, looks do matter, not (only) to others but to ourselves. If you undress for the occasion, you’ll likely feel less confident and miss that grand first impression. So dress up to suit yourself (and not just the occasion).
Wear your most disarming smile. We all have that smile. The ones that genuinely crinkle our eyes. It is the best suit you can wear no matter what the occasion.
Make appropriate eye contact. Eye contact invites trust. Enough said!
Bring out that deep voice: Okay, we’re kidding here because not all of us are blessed to sound like a commanding George Clooney! But you’re still likely to have “that voice,” that pitch-perfect tone and pace that screams “confidence,” even as you appear friendly. Practice before a mirror until you get it right.2. Laugh Your Blues Away
Now that you’ve got that crucial first impression, it’s time to address those butterflies – no, bandicoots in your stomach. Well, laughter is indeed the best medicine, my dear!
Break the ice with your audience with a joke or two. A self-deprecating joke delivered with a twinkle in the eye can immediately endear you to the audience, showing you have the nerve to laugh at yourself. You can even throw in a potent one-liner that immediately grabs your audience’s attention (and interest).
But of course, this has to be appropriate to the occasion. For instance, you can’t go about cracking Dilbert jokes when you have to share a moving epitaph on a recently deceased friend. But perhaps you can still share something (appropriately) funny about your friend that breaks the tension and showcases his great sense of humor.
You send some much-needed oxygen to your belly so those butterflies ease up on you.
Make friends in the audience because everyone loves a funny guy.
You give yourself time to study the audience before you start the “real” talk.
So armor yourself with the best chuckle-worthy jokes from the internet and prepare to blow your audience away with humor!3. Show Them That You’re The Boss of Your Material
This one is tricky as it needs you to be an expert at what you speak. Not an expert on the topic you speak or amongst the audience you talk to, just an expert at what you speak.
It means that you’ve:
Researched your content well, so it is factually
Practice plenty in front of a mirror until you’re convinced about what you speak.
Prepared to learn more, possibly from the audience. (It can always happen).
You see, most of us shy away from speaking in front of an audience due to our fear of judgment. But if someone asks you to speak, somebody thinks you’re good enough. Work with that while you keep your mind open to learning from another.4. Follow a Clear Structure
You’re more likely to step off course without a clear course path. So design your speaking tryst into a clear structure. At the least, you should have the following:
A short but captivating introduction.
The topic’s significance: Why is it essential to the audience and you?
Details about your topic.
A joke or two to help you gather yourself when you lose track.
Formal distractions like questions, quizzes, etc.
Conclusion with the next step – email for future contact, suggestions for further research, a call to action, etc.5. Speak to Your Friend(s) in the Audience
These folks are:
Not out there to judge you.
Their presence can reassure you that you’re indeed on the right track.
Reiterate your confidence. It works wonders; the more confident you become, the better you will speak. It, in turn, will invite more people to connect with you.
You can and should actively call them out to participate even more – perhaps with a friendly question or a shared joke. Do it discreetly so they don’t feel like you’re putting them on the spot.6. Use Your Face and Body to Support Your Voice Speaking
The success of your public speaking stint depends on the final cohesive message you send. It comes as much from your body language, tone, and facial expressions as it does from the words you speak. So again, practice before a mirror until your body language appears natural and comfortable and your facial expressions resonate with your voice (signaling confidence, conviction, and clarity).7. Be Comfortable With Your Mistakes
Hey there, an eager beaver. We know you’re working mighty hard to improve your speaking skills. But don’t panic when you trip. (And you will stumble sometime.)
Even the most renowned orators are known to have a misstep or two in their long public speaking careers. It’s not so much that you made a mistake that puts off the audience. It’s how quickly you get back on your feet that matters. If you can brush away your mistake with a joke or two or even gracefully accept it before moving on, your audience will be more than willing to forgive you. Forgive yourself first, and the audience will continue to love you.8. Use Creative Visualization
Here’s a positive thinking tip: visualize your success with public speaking to create your success with public speaking.
As new-age Gurus have repeatedly told us, “As you think, so you do.” If you enter a presentation thinking you’ll enjoy it while you ace it, you’re more likely to have a successful session. But if you believe that ghost called fear and think you’re going to mess up, you’re actively preparing to mess it all up!
Before your session, take 20 minutes to visualize what you want to create for yourself:
A smiling, confident you, effortlessly connecting with the audience.
Good delivery on the topic of your choice.
An audience captivated by great charisma, yours!9. Fake That Confidence
Don’t get us wrong here, but there’s a profound sense in words, “Fake it till you make it.”
It does two things:
Convinces your most prominent critic – you!
When done with adequate preparation on your topic, this takes care of rehearsal too!10. Keep it Simple
The best way to a hassle-free presentation is to keep your material simple and hassle-free.
Don’t let excessive ambition ruin your public speaking tryst. It is when you try to fit “too much” into your message. Some well-tested tips are:
Let your speaking center around one core message. We all have limited attention spans and even shorter memory. So ensure that your entire speech supports just one significant message. Don’t distract your audience with unnecessary subplots.
Say it straight. Sarcasm has its uses, but it is not communicating. Neither is beating around the bush. If you want the audience to do something, like a vote for your church, give them ten good reasons to do so in your speech, all ending with that one message: vote for us!
Ditch the notes when you go live: This is scary, especially for those speaking for the first time. Yet, this is the only way to connect to your audience honestly. You’ll also ensure that your content is clear and precise (AKA “simple”) so there’s not too much complex stuff for you to memorize.11. Breathe Deep and Easy, Again
In the long course of your public speaking stint, you’ll likely have that one moment when nothing seems to work. You’re speaking to a passive audience, many people don’t connect to you or the topic, or worse, seem bored, and you’ve forgotten your slide notes mid-way. It’s simply Murphy’s Law, acting in your life: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong!”
The good news: a deep breath can beat even Murphy at his best game!
So when you find yourself like a deer facing headlights, unsure of what else to do, breathe deep and easy and command yourself to relax. If a breath can bring life into you, it can get you out of a tight spot. So take a moment and breathe deeply and easily again.12. Enjoy Your Public Speaking Opportunity
For years, public speaking has consistently been ranked THE top-most fear, right there with the fear of truth. We understand that it is a big deal when you first get started. But like all fears, this one is a devious ghost. Its power lies in making you believe in its lies: “People will judge you, you will fail, people will mock you, you will make a fool of yourself, etc., etc.” Lies!
Instead, ignore it as you consciously decide to enjoy every public speaking opportunity. It’s your prerogative to do so! Relish it, revel in the chance, and enjoy your experience. Don’t make it a “must-do” item on your list; instead, make it a “want-to-do” item you cannot ignore. It may sound cheesy, but we ask you to find your passion for public speaking!
If you train your mind to find at least three good reasons why you want to become a public speaking champion, you’re more likely to find opportunities to do it and even improve. The more you try, the more confident you will grow. It’s a guaranteed truth!
We’ll leave you with a simple note from the dynamic and charming Hilary Clinton, a fantastic public speaker herself.
“If you’re uncomfortable with public speaking – and nobody starts comfortable; you have to learn how to be comfortable – PRACTICE. I cannot overstate the importance of practicing. Get some close friends or family members to help evaluate you or somebody you trust at work.”
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