Millions of people the world over have a fear of public speaking. It is one of the most common phobias out there, along with the fear of heights, spiders, and death. So if you are someone who shudders at the very thought of speaking in front of a live audience, be assured – you aren’t the only one.
That said, public speaking is a much sought-after skill set in today’s world. A good communicator exudes confidence and leadership potential. It goes without saying that someone with a gift of the gab is more likely to go places professionally than one who is yet to master the art.
You don’t need to be a motivational speaking pro to improvise your speaking skills. All that’s required is taking some time out to go through the many tips on talking to an audience. Some of these include:
1. Do the planning: You must be well aware of who your target audience is. You can’t keep cracking jokes or use self-deprecating humor if you are addressing the boardroom. Similarly, you can’t use too much jargon if you are talking to consumers. Being familiar with your target segment, so to speak, and knowing what they expect is half the job done.
Also make it a point to keep your opening statements interesting. Start off with an attention-grabbing fact, statement, or even a question to keep your listeners involved. Write a few drafts of your speech or presentation, go over it several times, and read it out aloud. It may sound good to you, but have a friend or family member gauge your speaking skills if you can. Seek feedback and second opinions so that you can chalk out areas of improvement and feel more confident.
2. Take charge of your body language: Body language is a highly effective mode of communication and says a lot about you even when you aren’t talking. If your words are positive but your body language isn’t, your audience will immediately switch off. Don’t slouch, toy with your hair, put your hands behind your back, or look at the ground while talking. These signs indicate a lack of confidence. If you are nervous, your listeners will pick up on it right away.
Stand tall and maintain a good posture. Control your breathing by inhaling and exhaling fully, and look people in the eye regardless of how tense you feel. Doing simple things like establishing eye contact and smiling at people is enough to make some of that anxiousness dissipate. When you do that, you automatically feel more confident and charged up.
If possible, walk around a bit while talking and use gestures on occasion to express yourself. When you move about a little, you will feel more active and energetic, and this will reflect in your voice as well.
3. Tell a story: One of the best ways to keep a listener interested in what you have to stay is by narrating an incident or giving real life examples that are related to the topic of discussion. This not only curbs boredom, but also helps people relate to what you are saying. Adopt the storyteller approach when you are giving a speech to add more variety to your content. Become a storyteller to engage people’s interest and have them give you their full attention.
4. Get rid of those fillers: Sprinkling your speech with ‘umm…’, ‘uhh…’, ‘err…’, and the like is a big no-no. It’s natural to feel anxious and grapple with what you have to say in the middle of a speech or when someone asks you a question, but there’s nothing more unprofessional than fumbling. Thinking out aloud isn’t something you should be doing if your objective is to grab the attention of your listeners. If you find yourself doing this more often than not, rehearse before the big day. Record yourself while you have a practice run of your presentation or speech and then listen to the way you speak. Keep practicing till you find yourself relying less and less on awkward pauses and monosyllables to tide through.
The importance of practice cannot be overemphasized. All the great orators practice their speeches and talks again and again till they have perfected them. Thorough practice is also the perfect antidote to nervousness.
5. Use effective techniques to keep your audience hooked: The best public speakers use dramatic pauses, catchphrases, and voice modulation to their advantage. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t either. A short catchphrase can go a long way in imparting a particular concept or idea in your audience’s mind. When you start small and build on your point later, you are more likely to have the listeners’ attention. Also use dramatic pauseswherever applicable to relay the importance of a point and keep your audience hanging on to each word. Ensure that you don’t speak in monotone, because that will make you sound like a robot that has learned everything by rote.
However, make sure you don’t overdo things. Too many pauses and one-liners in your speech can be annoying to the audience, and you wouldn’t want that.
6. Dress well: You may have mastered the art of public speaking down to the T, but you won’t be remembered for all the right reasons if you dress sloppily. To beat the clichéd drum, first impressions count- more so when you are trying to get your point across to discerning listeners. Don’t wear casual attire if you have to give a presentation, make a business proposal, or if your audience is somewhat conservative. That said, don’t strive to make a fashion statement either. Just dress smart and take care of your personal hygiene to create a good impression.
Make your speech crisp, concise, and engaging. Not everyone has the time and patience to sit through lengthy discourses, so ensure that you relay all your points with short statements. Inviting questions and thoughts after you are done is a good way to have more detailed discussions on the subject. Also bring some water along so that a dry mouth or bad throat doesn’t put a spoke in your wheel.
Remember to breathe easy, and treat each conference or presentation like a personal, intimate dialogue between you and the listener.
Visual Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/blatantworld/