Even as our lives continue to migrate towards the online sphere, the art of public speaking will remain as important as ever. From pitching a new startup to selling products to customers, public speaking remains irreplaceable as a form of communication and persuasion.
But public speaking doesn’t come easy to everyone. Some have such an intense fear of giving speeches or large audiences that they tend to freeze up, vowing never to do so again. It’s a shame because that mentality can close off so many doors, particularly to entrepreneurs or business owners.
Today we want to share a few tips that will help you in your presentation and speaking skills so that the next time you’re called up on stage, you’ll feel excited rather than anxious.
Tips on Public Speaking
Start with a theme or throughline. Ask yourself, “why am I talking about this at all?” and “why should anyone care?” If you’ve ever gotten bored at listening to someone talk about something, chances are it’s because they have no theme or idea that connects all of their ramblings together. A single theme or throughline is all you need to stay on track and focus on the important pieces of information. Better yet, create an outline for your speech to keep you from meandering around.
Think of it less like public speaking, and more like public storytelling. Stories all have something in common: they have a beginning, a middle, and an end. There is an overarching conflict, a hero or idea worth rooting for, and lessons learned in the end. Study the greatest and most popular stories, from The Bible to Star Wars, and you’ll have a better idea about the ups and downs that make public speaking entertaining.
Conduct audience analysis. Know who you’re speaking to. When you have an idea about what your audience is like, what they care about, and what they aspire to be, you can formulate your speech around them. That makes your words more engaging and interesting, compared to speaking to an anonymous audience.
Show personality. No one wants a robot reciting words. Inject some of your own personality and voice into your speech. Add emphasis on ideas you care about, or humor in more serious moments. The more that people see an actual human being is behind the spoken words, the more likely they are to listen.
How to Calm Nerves Before a Presentation
Presenting in front of any audience can be a nerve-wracking experience. Instead of focusing on what we need to say, it’s natural to play out the worst-case scenarios— stuttering, embarrassing one’s self, forgetting what to say, and so on.
Although you may never completely get rid of the fear of presenting, by practicing certain techniques, you can feel more confident each time. Here’s how:
Meditate. Practice breathing techniques before, during, and after speaking. Taking deep inhales and exhales through your nose will help lower your heart rate, regulate your breathing, and calm your mind. It’s no surprise that professionals from Olympic athletes to politicians use meditation as a way of visualizing their success and calming themselves.
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. If you study various acting techniques, you’ll notice one thing they have in common: repetition until perfection. Actors and actresses have to memorize lines, often with limited time, and then convincingly deliver those lines in front of an entire cast, crew, and sometimes a live audience. That’s why they use every minute they can get to practice.
Here’s actor Jim Parsons discussing how he uses a system that involves note cards and muscle memory to learn his lines:
Speak slowly and take your time. Don’t rush through your presentation just to get it over with. Instead, take the time to properly say each line with clarity and intention. Not only will your audience appreciate the more deliberate pace, but they’ll actually have the opportunity to understand what you’re saying. Give particular emphasis to important sentiments or powerful sentences. As you continue to present, speaking slowly will help you control your thoughts and ensure each idea gets its proper spotlight.
Virtual Public Speaking
In today’s current climate, many presentations are being held virtually. While the basic presentation principles remain the same, the stage on which people present has changed completely. Here are a few presentation tips for your next Zoom or livestream.
Dress up professionally. Of course, you can still opt to present in your pajamas, but it won’t carry the same level of professionalism. Take the time to groom yourself, find a nice suit, dress, or dress shirt, and give yourself a check in the mirror. Your clothing should help make the case for whatever you present on.
Clean up or find a professional background. Your office room is now your stage. Be ready to be judged on whatever books, artwork, or furniture you have in the background. Clean up as best you can, and try to keep your background simple and organized. You may also want to look into getting a virtual background, perhaps an office or blank background so it doesn’t stand out too much.
Minimize interruptions and distractions. If you have any pets, you may want to keep them in separate rooms. You should also give your roommates, friends, or family members a heads up that you will be presenting, and not to disturb you. It’s one of those things that should go without saying, but always need to be checked off just in case.
Test your connection and equipment. Technical mishaps happen almost everywhere. Make sure your Internet connection is stable for a call, that your webcam is operating properly, and that your mic picks up sound clearly. You may even want to start a practice Zoom call just to ensure everything is working in proper condition.
Use sticky notes in the corners of your monitor. The one advantage that a Zoom presentation offers is that no one will notice your makeshift prompter. It’s a good idea to keep notes handy just so you know what to discuss next, or the right questions to ask. Keep them brief and short, and don’t spend too much time trying to read them.
Light your face clearly. Your face should be front and center of the presentation. Use lamps and natural light to ensure your face is illuminated clearly, and that your background doesn’t appear too dark or obscured. The better the lighting, the more professional you will appear.
Use the paces acronym. Magnetic Speaking has a simple acronym for every virtual presentation: Plan, Audience, Content Engagement, Socialization – PACES. Learn more in his post, 9 Important Virtual Presentation Tips For You.
Public Speaking Examples
Harvard student Donovan Livingston’s speech is an example of how personality, energy, and enthusiasm can charge a crowd up.
Steve Jobs’ 2005 Commencement Address demonstrates the importance of speaking slowly and with conviction.
Author Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk highlights the importance of just “showing up”, practicing and rehearsing until the magic moment comes.
Public speaking is just one skill that every entrepreneur needs to master. Here are the others worth honing in our post, The Entrepreneur’s Checklist.
Fear of public speaking can be indicative of a larger problem. Learn more about how to manage social anxiety at work here.