Public speaking is the process of performing a speech to a live audience and should be structured to inform, to persuade and to entertain. It is generally understood as formal, face-to-face speaking of a single person to a group of listeners. Public speaking is something that we will all have to do at some point in our career and it is also something that many people try to avoid, as they feel ill-equipped to deliver a strong performance.
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"There are few skills that will bring more opportunity into your life than the ability to speak well in public" - Forbes
How can I be a successful public speaker?
1. Remember, nervousness is normal
It is inevitable that before we deliver a public speech, we will be nervous. However, nerves can actually be advantageous, as the adrenaline rush you get makes you more alert and ready to give your best performance. Focus on a time when you've previously delivered a successful presentation and belief in your own ability - you can only do your best and if you do your best then that's good enough for anyone!
2. Practice, practice, practice!
The best way to overcome anxiety is to fully prepare yourself. Take the time to go over your notes several times. Once you have become comfortable with the material, practice, practice and practice some more. Rehearse out loud with all equipment you plan on using. Use a clock to check your timings and allow time for the unexpected.
Practice, pause and breathe.
3. Don't start talking right away
If you take your position in front of an audience and immediately begin talking, it could portray that you are nervous, rushed, or want to get it out of the way. This will make it harder to connect and build a rapport with the audience. Take your position, take a deep breath, look at the audience, and when everything seems settled, begin.
4. Start with something engaging
Start with something that is going to grab the attention of the audience: use a startling statistic, an interesting anecdote, or concise quotation. This is much more compelling and intriguing than beginning with: "Today I am going to be talking about..." Telling stories, giving facts or quoting experts is also more memorable and will help you to achieve the desired impact. Try to grab the attention of your audience within the first 30 seconds.
5. Know your audience, the rest will follow
efore you begin crafting the piece for delivery, consider who your intended audience are. It is crucial to learn as much about your listeners as you can. This will help to determine word choices, the type of content you include, the formality of the speech and the order in which you deliver it.
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6. Have a logical structure
Make sure that you have a clear framework for your speech. This means having key items in a logical order, supported by whatever audiovisual aid you are using. Write down the topic, general purpose, specific purpose, central idea, and main points. The audiovisual aid should clearly support the verbal content of the whole piece, so as to help you and not provoke more questions. Audiovisual examples could include: a short video, a PowerPoint or SlideShare presentation or an infographic.
7. Show your personality
Be yourself. You will establish better credibility if your personality shines through, and your audience will trust what you have to say if they can see you as a real person. You are also going to make a greater impact if you utilise your personality and make it more personal.
"Of all the so-called employability skills (I'm not really a fan of the term!) the most important for me alongside team work is communication skills. The ability to get your message across - whether in a meeting or in an email - in a way that speaks directly to the needs and expectations of your audience, is crucial in the workplace. As an aspiring barrister, we were explicitly taught advocacy and drafting skills as part of our training. But these skills are just as important in the boardroom as they are in the courtroom. So my advice to any student preparing to enter the workforce would be "Find your voice". And make sure that you study somewhere that helps you find it." - Ben Hughes, Vice Principal (Industry Engagement), Pearson College London
8. Use stories, examples and humour (where possible)
Incorporating something personal is generally more engaging for an audience. Injecting an amusing anecdote in your presentation will certainly grab your audience’s attention. Or using an example from a time where you or someone else was successful in doing whatever you are talking about. This allows rapport to be built between you and the audience and the content will also become more relatable for the audience.
9. Use gestures effectively
Non-verbal communication carries most of the message. Good delivery does not call attention to itself, but instead conveys the speaker’s ideas clearly and without disturbance. Unclear gestures might distract from the main message of the speech, potentially causing confusion which could result in an attention deficit.
This comes within personality too but a vital tool for engagement is to smile. You need to look like the content matters to you because if the audience do not feel that it is important to you, it will be really hard for them to feel that it should be important for them. Smiling is also infectious, and if your audience are all smiling for the right reasons, you can be encouraged that you are doing well and can continue confidently.
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