Most people at some stage of their career want to improve their public speaking. Delivering a talk in front of even a small audience can be daunting, a large audience then can be overwhelming.
Most people feel that spike of fear kick-in when they contemplate looking out into a crowd of faces and think about whether they will be successful in engaging the audience. Worst thoughts that cross people’s minds often consist of forgetting what they are going to talk about, looking too nervous, coming across as confident….and many more thoughts. These thoughts in themselves can sabotage people way too early in the process.
So what are some of the best ways to deliver a great talk?
#1. Prepare and Practice
The best way to gain confidence is to prepare early. The best way to overcome anxiety is to prepare, prepare, and prepare some more. Take the time to build your talk, don’t jump into preparing the slides just yet. Simply sketch out the structure and flow of your talk and start to make notes around slides. As you start to build you feel start to feel more confident. Ideally give yourself plenty of time to practice.
Some preparation tips:
- Start with your audience in mind. Think about what they will find interesting and of value. Try to eliminate things that may be obvious.
- Create a story – we are hard wired to listen to stories. If you develop a story and narrative for your talk people will be more engaged and more likely to remember you.
- Most musicians learn a piece of music by breaking it down into sections. So at first they may practice the first 30 seconds of piece, over and over, before moving onto the next section. Applying this to your talk can help you quickly get more confident and better at your delivery.
- Record yourself and play it back. This is a brilliant way to check how you are pacing yourself, your intonation and overall voice delivery. To find out what bad physical bad habits you may have video yourself. You may surprise yourself as to how often you look down, hesitate…
As a great example of how powerful your voice can be watch this Ted Talk by Justin Treasure – how to speak so people listen.
#2. Be A Giver – Be Of Service
Simon Sinek has over 22 million video views under and is well known for his Ted Talks. The author and ethnographer also happens to be the third most-watched TED Talks presenter of all time. Simon recommends that you don’t just sell to your audience. Come with the attitude and mindset to add value and be of service to your audience. Sinek calls these kinds of speakers “takers,” and he says audiences can see through these people right away. And, when they do, they disengage.
In her book, Captivate, Vanness Van Edwards describes how we can instantly pick up on people’s body language and quickly tell if someone is sincere or not.
Manoj Vasudevan, the 2017 Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking, also agrees with the idea of adding value. Vasudevan calls this being a messenger. Manoj explains that as a messenger you are performing a service for your audience rather than speaking for your own validation. He says that messengers seek to serve, to inspire without seeking validation or credit. He recommends that you acknowledge your sources of wisdom, you expose your vulnerabilities, you become real and this will allow people to connect with you.
#3. Connect With Your Audience
We touched on this earlier. There are different ways to get to know an audience. Of course if you are a business leader within your own organization you will have a good feel for your people. However, when delivering talks at conferences or conventions you may want to do some research beforehand.
Before the presentation, try to meet as many people as you can who are typical of your audience. Talk to them about your topic and get there thoughts. This can often help you craft a more compelling and engaging talk. With permission, you may even like to use a short story from someone as part of your talk to illustrate a key point.
There are lots of free online survey tools you can use. If you topic is something new to you or you feel as though you can benefit from some input, then use a quick questionnaire. We recommend that you ask only 1-3 questions.
When you are delivering your talk you should keep eye contact with your audience. This can be harder than it sounds, especially when there are bright lights focused on a stage. However, even if you only see the front row it’s worth making eye contact. Research has shown that this helps speakers to feel more connected and confident when they deliver a talk.
#4. Style and Deliver
Everyone is different and you know your character traits. Don’t completely hide yourself away when you deliver your talk. Put in your personality though the words you use and how you dress on the day. Whilst you shouldn’t aim to shock being unique and putting across your own identity is important. In her Captivate, Vanessa Van Edwards, talks about a time when she was criticised for being dressed informally when giving a talk. After taking a while to think about this, she realised that she wasn’t going to please everyone, and she was OK with this. This moment of realization helped her to define her audience and narrow her focus on the type of person she wanted to help and build a community around.
#5. Master The Pause
One of the biggest signs of a someone new to public speaking is the need to fill the empty space. As novices, you might be worried if you pause too long, it may sound awkward or add to your nervousness. In fact, the opposite is true. Some of the best public speakers pause between points. A well placed pause has an amazing effect. If the audience has been listening, it has the effect of being a massive punctuation on the previous point. Or it has the effect of building suspense and invites people to listen more intently. From a practical standpoint, it also allows the audience a moment to digest the point you’ve just communicated and let it sink in. If you listen to well practiced politicians you will notice a rhythm to the way they deliver a speech – this is supported by research.
Brigitte Zellner (PDF paper) notes that pauses “participate in rendering human communication more intelligible.” Zellner also points to research by Grosjean and Deschamps (1975) which shows that “the more complex the communicative task, the greater the number of pauses.” She writes:
In other words, pauses “stick out like sore thumbs”, and thus may occupy “beacon” positions in speech, serving to structure the entire utterance for both speaker and listener. By subdividing speech into smaller segments, pauses probably contribute a great deal to the improvement of speech comprehension.
Estelle Campione and Jean Véronis (PDF paper) found our speech consists of short (0.15 seconds), medium (0.50 seconds), and long (1.50 seconds) pauses. Further, they note that reading speech (speaking from written text) tends to produce only short and medium pauses, while spontaneous speech (speaking without reading) shows more frequent use of medium and long pauses.
The average person speaks at somewhere between 125 and 150 words per minute. It’s always better to speak more slowly than quickly. Thus, if you’re speaking for 20 minutes, you want a total word count of about 2,500 words. This will also help you take care of