Overcoming Obstacles on the Way to Better Public Speaking
There is a great deal of truth to the common notion that the only thing most people fear more than death is speaking in public. The good news is, public speaking is a skill, just like playing an instrument, and there are many simple things that you can do to make speaking in public much less stressful. One of the best things you can do to improve your speaking skills is to eliminate any of the following common speaking errors:
- Reading Your PowerPoint Presentation to the Audience
- Making Distracting Movements or Gestures
- Using a Tone of Voice That is Inappropriate for the Venue
- Using Humor to Cover Nervousness or Insufficient Preparation
- Apologizing for Errors in Your Presentation
The list above is not comprehensive, but it does provide you with guidelines to help you identify poor speaking habits. Once you have eliminated any of these errors, you can use the following five techniques to make you more effective the next time you speak in public.
1. Be Sure to Set Expectations for Your Talk
People appreciate it when they know what to expect when a speaker takes the podium. Audiences enjoy the presentation more when the speaker gives them a brief overview before delving into the meat of the talk. Give your audience a clear idea of what to expect from you during your presentation, and be sure to meet the expectations that you set.
2. Rehearse Until You Can Speak Without Notes
There are few things more uncomfortable for an audience than to sit through a presentation during which the speaker mechanically reads from his notes. Glancing too frequently at your notes, or reading your notes verbatim, conveys a lack of expertise and preparation. Rehearse your presentation relentlessly until you can easily complete it without notes of any kind.
3. Use Humor to Engage the Audience
There is a trick to using humor effectively in public speaking; never laugh at an audience member or at their expense. An excellent technique for introducing humor into your presentations is to make yourself the subject of your humorous remarks and anecdotes. Audiences appreciate the opportunity to laugh with you; they resent it when you laugh at their expense.
4. Emulate Speakers You Admire
You have probably come across a speaker whose presentation was so engaging that you were sorry when the event came to an end. If there is a speaker that you admire, listen carefully to the speaker’s presentations to determine what qualities or speaking techniques you find so appealing. If they fit your speaking style, incorporate the techniques you admire into your own presentations.
5. Leave Something for Later
If you speak professionally, and even if you don’t, one of your goals should be to interest your audience in hearing more from you. Don’t tell your audiences everything you know about a particular subject; reserve sufficient material to allow you to create further presentations. Audiences have a limit to what they can assimilate from a single event, and you should keep this limit in mind when you are preparing the outlines for your talk.
Speaking in public doesn’t have to be terrifying. In fact, most people who have developed strong speaking skills report that there is nothing quite so rewarding and exhilarating as speaking in front of a receptive audience. If you utilize the tips listed here, eliminate your common speaking errors and put in some practice, you may soon find yourself among those for whom public speaking is a joy rather than a burden.
Jill Daines is a writer for higher ed blogs with a focus on online schools offering degrees, including University of San Francisco and Northwestern University.