According to a survey once conducted by the Wall Street Journal, the greatest fear among American citizens was not being scared of clowns, getting run over by a car, loneliness or even death, but public speaking. Can you comprehend how nerve-wracking the experience must be for someone who has an inkling they might have to speak in front of an audience that they prefer even DEATH over it? Stage fright is a reality, whether you have to deliver a speech in public, participate in a group discussion, or give a presentation. There are not many people who have the gift of the gab and indeed, there are visionaries like Elon Musk who still stammer throughout their presentations so you can imagine how easy it is for an average person to break into a sweat the moment they have to speak in public. Butterflies in the stomach. Near nervous breakdown. The fear of failure. The fear of being laughed at. All these thoughts and feelings surround us like an impenetrable cocoon, pulling down our confidence to a nadir.
However, through constant practice and learning, one can eventually learn to deliver an effective public speech. Whether your speaking skills are average or below sub-par, here are 7 powerful tips that will immensely help you in improving your public speaking skills:
1. Know your audience
One of the most important parts of public speaking is to know your audience. Will you be presenting your speech to a novice audience or a group of highly experienced people? Will you be speaking to a local group or foreign guests? Prepare your content accordingly so that the audience remains engaged and take cognizance of cultural and geographical biases. For instance, it doesn’t behoove well to make clichéd Rajnikanth jokes in front of an audience comprised of people from Tamil Nadu. A stiff reaction will throw you off track and make the situation uncomfortable for both you and the audience you are addressing.
2. Take deep breathes. Boost your self-confidence with some pep talk
If you suffer from speech anxiety then you tend to take rapid and shallow breathes, which only aggravates the physical and mental stress once you reach the stage. Learning proper breathing techniques is a must to improve your public speaking skills, with the diaphragmatic breathing exercise being the most recommended by experts. Also, just before your speech, you should take deep breathes because they act as a great stress alleviator. Giving yourself a brief pep talk is also a wonderful way to calm your jitters. Say stuff like this to yourself:
“I can do this. I have done it before” (if it is not your first time on the stage)
“This is about them, not me”
3. It is okay to be nervous
It is human nature to be nervous. Even the most seasoned speakers have revealed that they feel a tinge of nervousness every time they go on stage. One way to reduce the jitters is to talk to a close relative or friend just before you go live. Another effective solution is to begin your speech in a casual manner and break the ice with a joke. Do not be intimated by all the eyes staring at you. Remember, most of them would give their kidney than be up there in your place.
4. Give mock speeches and ask for honest critiques
This step is to be done at least a couple of weeks before the D-day. Giving mock speeches in front of your family or friends, and if possible, an unknown test audience (if you can manage that) is a very effective way to improve your public speaking skills. You will get familiarized with the experience and can receive honest critiques regarding the gaps in your speech or body language. This will ensure that the end result is as error-free as possible.
5. Make your speech crisp and to the point
Do not beat around the bush so that your audience loses interest and even you lose track of what the speech was about. Make your speech crisp, interesting and on point. Do not use a lot of verbiage. Use audio-visual tools to make the audience more involved. Don’t forget to entertain any question on the topic, which you should be well-versed with! You can also do a Q&A session after the speech ends, because that’s how it usually goes, but
6. Use hand gestures effectively, improve your body language
It is an axiomatic truth that body language is a major part of communication skills. Having a poor body language e.g. pacing up and down nervously, making too many hand movements or awkward gestures, having a slouched posture et al significantly impacts your public speaking experience. To avoid this, you should practice in front of a mirror, get a friend or family member to record your speech during a mock session, and review what all mistakes you are making. Are you making too many hand movements? Are you hiding your nervousness by moving around too much? Go through an entire checklist of body language tips for public speaking so that you don’t end up as a nervous wreck.
7. Do not worry about negative evaluation. Keep practicing.
There is rarely anyone who can deliver extempore in his or her first speech ever. Not every person has the eloquence of say, Barack Obama, or the confidence of Nick Vujicic. Most people fear being negatively evaluated by the audience or failing to speak the way they intended to. This can result in abject anxiety and stress, and might even put you off from public speaking forever, so as to not get embarrassed again. But the only way forward is to take things in stride and learn from whatever mistakes you made. Going on the stage repeatedly will ultimately boost your confidence manifold and you will eventually find yourself becoming an expert speaker with time.
Rocky Saggoo is a leading public speaking and English trainer in India, with years of industry experience behind him. He aspires to help people of all ages achieve their personal and professional goals by transforming their personalities and develop their communication skills.
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