Speaking in public brings up a lot of anxiety, nervousness and fear for a lot of people. It has often been reported that people would rather die than speak in public. Jerry Seinfeld had a funny bit where he concluded that at a funeral, most people would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy.
When I started public speaking it was very challenging for me. Being an introvert, I often struggled to speak in group settings let alone speak in front of an audience. In order to be able to do the work I am doing now, which is speaking, training and coaching, I knew I had to learn more about public speaking and develop the confidence to be able to speak to audiences of any size.
The first thing I did to get better at public speaking was to enrol in a Toastmasters course. I found it so challenging that I didn’t even finish the course. I made up the excuse that I was too busy to go to classes after work in the evenings. Luckily I had enough sense to persist with it and over the years, through attending different workshops, seminars and training programs, I put myself in situations where I was forced to speak in groups or in front of audiences. With time, I have gotten better at public speaking and to date, the largest audience I have ever spoken in front of is 1400. While I still have a lot to learn about speaking, there are many things I have learned with has helped me get better whenever I am in front of an audience.
Here are five things I have learned about public speaking from the many world class speakers I’ve had to opportunity to spend time with. Anyone who is able to apply these things will be on their way to being a better, more confident and impactful speaker.
- Have a clear intention each time you speak. There has to be a purpose or clear intention for being in front of an audience. It could be sharing strategies or solutions that will help the audience achieve a goal, or it could be providing enough value to the audience that they consider investment in something you are offering. Whatever your reason is, the clearer you are about what your outcomes are, the better you’ll be able to structure your talk, presentation or training program to meet those outcomes.
- Be authentic and real. A common mistake speakers make is to try and be perfect when they’re in front of an audience. They have a belief that they need to impress the audience with their appearance, how they speak, their movement and body language and they forget the real reason why they’re in front of the audience. The truth is audiences are very forgiving. They’d rather see someone who is just like them speaking to them like they would be speaking to a friend. Once you’re able to convey to the audience that you’re just like them, the audience will be able to relate to you a lot better and be more inclined to listen to what you have to say.
- Nervousness is a sign that you’re internally focused. It is natural to be nervous before going out in front of an audience. However, I have learned that whenever I am feeling nervous, it is because I am focused on me, rather than the audience. Once I start thinking about what I am going to say or start worrying about whether I will remember what I want to say, I am automatically focused on how I want the audience to see me rather than focusing on adding value to the audience. The key is to focus on the audience and adding as much value as you can in the time you have available.
- Share personal stories. Nothing will connect a speaker more to an audience than sharing personal stories. People relate better to stories of struggle, mistakes made, and lessons learned from mistakes rather than telling the audience all the things you have accomplished. While sharing results are important, the thing to remember is people will relate to stories of struggle ad failure more than success. Also, the personal your stories are, the more universal appealing they are. The key is to give as much value as you can without expecting anything in return.
- Practice! Practice! Practice! It is a privilege and an honour to be in front of an audience and that should not be taken lightly. There are speakers who will go front of an audience and “wing” it. Personally, I think that is very disrespectful to an audience. Being in front of an audience requires a lot of preparation and practice. In the training world, there is a rule that for every hour of delivery, there needs to be a minimum of 10 hours preparation, sometimes as much as 20 hours of preparation. If a speaker has prepared adequately and practiced their talk or presentation, then any nervousness will go away and they are more likely to be fully present and enjoy the experience.
These are some of the things I have learned over the years from world class speakers that has helped me improve my speaking skills and confidence. While there are many more things to take into consideration when you’re in front of an audience, these are some of the fundamental things that apply every single time when speaking. Once you start applying these, your notice a vast improvement in your speaking ability.
Question: What are some other things that can help someone with public speaking?
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