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Five Life-Changing Public Speaking Tips

Posted on Monday, May 8, 2023
by AMAC, D.J. Wilson

It’s natural to be nervous in front of a crowd – but here are five ways to overcome the fear.

There comes a time in life when one may be asked to give a speech. A person may be required to speak at a wedding or social event such as a fundraiser,  provide a school presentation, or speak on behalf of a workgroup or organization, as examples. While these events can feel nerve-racking, a little bit of preparation and practice can go a long way to calm nerves. Some people may advise picturing the audience in their underwear or having a stiff drink before getting up on stage. However, those may lead to uncontrollable laughter or unsteadiness on stage; not great when trying to make a good impression. Rather, employ these five public speaking tips:

  1. Know your audience. This involves understanding the background, beliefs, and values of your audience for your message to resonate with them and be well received. This allows one to tailor content to bond with the audience. And, when giving a speech to members of the bicycle repair shop association, one may wish to capture the audience’s attention with an opening joke that relates to the industry. For example, one might say, “Thank you for inviting me to speak today – I am deeply honored to be your “spokesperson.” Of course, serious events, such as speaking at a somber funeral, should not include jokes – unless the deceased had requested it. Also, keep speeches age appropriate and watch language as foul words may land speakers in trouble.
  2. Practice your speech ahead of delivery. Do this in the mirror so you may observe your body language and avoid distracting moves such as excessive hand waving. Memorizing a speech is sometimes beneficial. While speech notes are helpful for staying on point, practice so that you feel comfortable delivering the message. Being prepared provides a sense of control and allows speakers to focus on their speed, tone, clarity, and overall delivery. Preparation enables speakers to focus on the all-important audience. Effective ones make eye contact with their audience and work the room by naturally looking across the room as they speak to make everyone feel included in the message. You’ll also want to dress the part to be taken seriously.
  3. Research your content. There’s perhaps nothing worse than providing the wrong information. At a wedding, a best man gave a speech and described how the happy couple met at an Italian restaurant and fell in love instantly. However, that did not go off well as that is where the groom met his old girlfriend and not his spouse. In another example, a speaker once went before an animal rights committee and mistakenly described penguins as solitary creatures, when in fact they are the most social of birds. A little research would show that penguins swim and feed in groups and have intricate communication and courting behaviors. Basic mistakes like those can make eyes roll and even alienate the audience. Do the research, never fudge facts, and be particularly careful stating information such as statistics that people can Google.
  4. Stay on topic. It’s easy for some speakers to go off on tangents but this is rarely helpful. The audience is gathered to hear a speaker for a reason, so stay on topic. This doesn’t mean that storytelling can’t be part of a speech, however, it must be relevant and relate to the main point. If one is giving a speech on the importance of healthcare in America, one may draw the audience in with an example of a medical care success story to drive the point home. For example, one may describe how Grandma was saved by early screening for cancer. Good speakers often reiterate their main message several times during a presentation to drive a point home. They speak directly, clearly, and concisely to make their message understood.
  5. Don’t rattle on and on. Understand that for some events, audiences may sit for a long time. The act of being stationary enhances physical and mental fatigue – and allows boredom to easily set in. A speaker who goes on and on risks losing the attention of that audience who is already vulnerable to fatigue. When you speak, do so enthusiastically and with positive energy to show that you care about your message. Always stick to the time frame of your speech, or make it slightly shorter, if need be, to prevent losing your audience’s attention. Rather short and sweet than long and dull.  

Speaking before groups can be a stressful experience, but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you’re speaking at a simple event with friends or relatives, or you’re giving an elaborate speech as an entrepreneur or expert in a field, it’s important to engage the audience by tailoring your message to them, being prepared, staying on topic, being accurate, and respecting the audience’s time. A little practice goes a long way by putting the speaker in the driver’s seat so that content can be well delivered with the utmost confidence.

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