You may never have to deliver an inaugural to a captivated nation, but it’s fair to bet you’ve faced — and will face in the future — your fair share of public speaking engagements. Whether you’re presenting the results of your pet project to the board or launching your campaign for local office, your performance at the podium can make or break the whole affair.
That’s enough to make most people faint with fright. Indeed, a slew of studies (not to mention millions upon millions of anecdotal data points) suggests that humans really do enter fight-or-flight mode on the dais.
What can you do to keep your emotions (and heartbeat, and racing mind) in check as you deliver? Start with these five strategies.
- Stand in Front of the Mirror
You’ve heard it before, but you’re just not ready to try it. It’s too…weird.
Sure. That’s normal. But, as they say, everyone’s doing it. It’s time to find out what you’re missing.
As long as you’re honest with yourself, practicing in front of the mirror, or videotaping yourself on your phone’s camera, is a great way to identify tics about which you might not be fully cognizant, or which you might not realize are that big a deal. (Maybe they are.)
- Say What You Need to Say, and Nothing Else
In other words, don’t drone. Write yourself a concise script, deliver it with all appropriate haste, and exit gracefully — before you lose the audience.
“It’s a natural tendency to try to fill silence with noise, especially if you’re nervous,” says Rosemary Plorin, a veteran PR hand and accomplished public speaker. “Veteran speakers and interviewees know there’s more value in saying just what’s needed to get the point across, leaving the unnecessary unsaid, and exiting before you’ve worn out your welcome.”
- Find an Applause Line
Even concise speeches can get long. Assuming you don’t fall into the “drone on” trap, you need a hook around which to build your delivery. Use this hook to organize your talk, break up long passages, give the audience something to remember after you walk off the stage, and hopefully get some applause in the process.
- Get the Audience Involved
They say that half of success is showing up. That applies to public speaking too: If you make it on stage and find that people have actually turned out to hear what you have to say, you have every right to count it as a win.
But keeping the audience’s attention is another matter entirely. Applause lines and rhetorical hooks help. So do questions, jokes and pointed asides. They’re great for jolting your audience out of their complacent stupor, particularly if you’re not the first speaker of the day.
- Hire a Speech Coach
Not everyone can afford to keep a private speech coach on retainer. And occasional public speakers probably don’t need to consult with one on the regular either. But anyone who’s obligated to get up in front of crowds from time to time can benefit from working with a professional. Practicing in front of an audience of your peers or family members is helpful, but it’s not the best way to get expert feedback. Whether you take a one-off lesson or sign up for recurring consultations, hang on your coach’s every word — and take their recommendations to heart.
What’s your secret to public speaking success?