Are you fearful of Public Speaking? Do you dread having to stand in front of an audience and share your thoughts or opinions? Do your palms sweat and knees tremble at the very notion of being the center of attention? Well if so, then you are certainly not alone.
According to a recent survey by the Associated Press, Public Speaking is now the number one fear in our society…even trumping the fear of death itself. However, there are many steps that even the most nervous and fearful speakers can take in order to hone their public speaking skills.
Polish, Practice, and Perfect
Having been a Public Speaking Instructor for several years, the one problem that I most frequently noticed in my students was a lack of preparation. I now find that this same deficiency is also what plagues most professional speakers in the business world. Whether the topic is on Accounting, Sales, or Customer Service, most of the problems that I see in professional presentations are a result of lack of preparation.
Each and every time you are entrusted with the task of addressing a captive audience, you should invest the time necessary to become completely familiar with the content of your speech. In order to do so, you should first take some time out of your schedule to develop the speech into the masterpiece you had first envisioned it to be. Do your research, compile your information, and outline all of your speaking points before the big presentation so that you have all of your content organized and ready to go.
Once your speech has been developed, you should then give yourself time to practice and perfect the content of your speech. Make sure you are comfortable with the content and flow of your speech, and try to incorporate some natural transitions between your talking points. In addition, try to practice in a speaking environment that will be as similar as possible to the environment in which you will be delivering the speech. If at all possible, try to even go into the actual room that you will be using for your speech. This will allow you to gain a more realistic sense of the situation that you will encounter when giving your address, thus limiting the potential shock factor on your speaking day.
I’m sure that we have all been subjected to that overly boring boss or teacher who you absolutely dread having to listen to. Their voice is usually dry and monotone, their pace slow and tiresome, and their body movements are borderline non-existent. They are the epitome of boring.
This is exactly the type of delivery you want to avoid at all cost. When given the chance to speak with an audience, you should always look upon it as an opportunity to both advance your own image and instill some valuable knowledge on your listeners. It is an opportunity you should be excited about, and you should carry that excitement throughout your presentation.
The most drastic changes you can make to your presentation style are centered on your vocal and physical characteristics. Bringing a high level of energy to these dimensions of delivery can have significant results on your ability to engage the audience. When speaking to your audience, try to incorporate a broad range of vocal variety to keep them involved in the speech. Slow down your pace for complicated material, and speed it up for the more light-hearted content. Additionally, use gestures and facial expressions to emphasize the main points of the speech. The more excitement and energy you can bring to your speech, the more likely you are to keep your audience engaged throughout the duration of the address.
Maintain Eye Contact
One of the most distracting behaviors that a speaker can perform is not maintaining eye contact with the audience. If a speaker is consistently looking back at the blackboard, PowerPoint, or flip-chart, then he or she is not effectively engaging the audience. As a professional speaker, you should always try to keep your eyes locked on to the members of your audience.
This is not to say, however, that you should latch on to one member of your audience and gaze at them throughout your speech. You should instead spread your attention to all members of your audience and attempt to make eye contact with each person independently throughout the speech. As with the physical and vocal qualities, this will help to engage the audience and keep them attentive to your message.
Avoid Vocal Fillers
By vocal fillers I mean….um….well…you know….try not to say a bunch of things that interferes with your message.
Listening to a speech littered with “um,” “uh,” and “like” can be extremely irritating at best. With even just a handful of these verbal fillers, a high level executive can sound more like a teenage girl from the Valley than an elite professional. Thus, you should try to avoid these slips whenever possible. Instead of rushing to say something and blurting out “um,” stop for a second and actually think about what it is you want to say. In the world of public speaking, we call this “using your pauses effectively.”
Think about it. If you stop for 3-5 seconds to collect your thoughts, who is going to know? In fact, the average person listens and comprehends at a rate wherein they don’t even recognize an awkward pause until 10-15 seconds have gone by. Therefore, if you take a few seconds to collect your thoughts before proceeding, your transition will probably come across as seamless as the rest of your speech. If, however, you start blurting out verbal fillers, you are only going to discredit your speech and come across as a less credible public speaker.
By following these simple guidelines and suggestions, you too can become a more dynamic, captivating, and entertaining public speaker. As you can hopefully see, speaking in front of an audience does not have to be an overwhelming or frightening experience. Instead, it should be viewed as an opportunity to share your valuable thoughts and knowledge with your colleagues and associates. By crafting this mentality, public speaking can shed its negative connotation and once again become an empowering and entrusted means of communication.
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