20 Top Tips to Improve Your Public Speaking
Are you someone who fears public speaking? Do you sometimes get the chance to stand up in front of others and would like to polish your style? Here are my 20 top tips on how you can improve your public speaking!
I have the pleasure of getting to speak in front of others regularly. I lecture at both Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University – often in large lecture halls, I run workshops for The Hive at Nottingham Trent, The Big House and The Creative Quarter. Recently I was asked to speak before Mary Portas in Nottingham as she launched her new book ‘Work Like a Woman’. Plus I used to run a network called First Tuesday every month, where I would present the evening and the speakers (with up to 70 guests). So it’s fair to say I’ve had my experience of speaking in front of others.
But what is it that makes a good speaker and is it something that can be learned? Firstly speaking in front of people is not something that comes easily to others. Glossophobia or speech anxiety is something many people have – the dread of public speaking. It is said that some people fear speaking in front of others more than death itself – which might be taking it a little too far!
This fear can make us panic, sweat, stumble over our words, not make eye contact and generally wish the ground would swallow us up and that it would all be over really really quickly. Not a nice experience for anyone.
Am I naturally a good public speaker?
So I’ll let you into a secret. When I first started public speaking I really didn’t like it. I inherited the business network First Tuesday. I used to do the marketing for it and then when Graham who ran it left for London he asked me to take over. This would mean standing up in front of the audience every month presenting that month’s event. I would say for the first 2 years I was terrified and used to drink beer before each event, just to steady my nerves.
I felt that people were looking at me (of course they were I was standing in front of them!). But I used to think they were looking at me and judging me. In my head they would be staring at me and thinking ‘who is this crazy lady’, ‘she doesn’t look like a business woman, who is she to be up there telling us facts’ and ‘she’s an idiot’. Or many words to that effect.
So how did I get better? Well here are my top tips for you!
1. Be vulnerable
Standing up in front of people is a really vulnerable place. You’re up there effectively with something to say, and you want people to listen. Plus, the more invested you are in what you have to say the more vulnerable you become. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Your brain will be telling you ‘run’ and ‘that lady is looking at your funny and she thinks you’re a dick’. You don’t know this for sure. It is not 100% true.
Your brain is just trying to protect you. It’s trying to protect you from the lions and the tigers and the bears. However, these things don’t really exist in modern day society. We’re not cave people anymore, and if we want to get on in life, we have to push ourselves out of our comfort zone.
We have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. If your mind is playing tricks on you and giving you the fear (we all get it), just thank your brain for trying to protect you, let your brain know that you’ve got this and that it’s going to be ok.
And the people your brain is busy telling you that they think you’re a dick. Well here’s a story for you…
I remember a real turning point in First Tuesday. I had a particular woman in the front row just staring at me, a real cold stare, her eyes never left me. My brain was up to all sorts of tricks, making me think all sorts of rubbish. I sweated through my speech, really her hot eyes on me, my brain feeding me terrible things that she was thinking about me. At the end of the event that woman came up to me. She told me that she’s never been to a networking event before, that she was absolutely terrified, and she wanted to thank me for a really great evening, she loved it and she was going to come back, and she was going to tell others.
Wow. We literally have no idea what other people are thinking. Our brains imagine all sorts of terrible things. But it is not generally true.
2. Know your stuff
If you’re up there in front of people and you don’t know what you’re saying you’re going to be in trouble. Know your stuff. Know your subject inside and out, as much as you can know.
3. What is the content
Creating the content is key. There are a number of things you’ll want to think about.
Who is the audience – what will they want out of the talk?
What are your drivers – what do you want people to learn during your talk?
Call to action – do you want them to do something after that talk? Call you, check your website, something else.
Remember that overwhelming people and giving your audience everything isn’t always the best policy. If you wanted people to have 3 takeaways from your talk, what would they be? Can you design your talk around these key takeaways?
4. Include stories
We are all hardwired to listen and remember stories. So, think about how you can incorporate story into your talk. What life experiences can you share, or ways whatever you’re talking about has been used? If we can see your topic in reality, we’re much more likely to remember it.
I love Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk ‘Do schools kill creativity’. The most memorable part of this is the story of a little girl who today would be diagnosed with ADHD, but in her times was diagnosed as a dance and was to a dance school so she could learn and move.
That girl went onto be the choreographer of Cats and many other hit musicals. I’ve told that story to others many times and it really hits home Sir Ken Robinson’s point.
5. Prepare and practice
Prepare what you are going to say. Write it down, have it on cue cards. Practice, practice. The more you know your content, the better your delivery will be. I have seen so many presentations where the person stands reading from paper and makes no eye contact – this is a terrible way to deliver anything!
You don’t need to know it word for word, you’ll want to create room for you to speak naturally during your speech. But at least know the concepts and themes and the things you want to talk about within them. And make sure you time yourself delivering your talk. If you’ve got a 10-minute slot and you run over, that means you’re eating into time for other things. Or if it’s not long enough, you may leave people confused and feeling like they didn’t get what they came for.
I’m literally writing this blog post for a speech I am going to give to Nottingham University students – so I’m using this as my initial prep for the talk.
6. Let your personality shine
You are not a robot. You are you, with all your wonderful quirks. That’s why people love you. Let this shine through. You’ll be a lot more engaging if you just let the audience see the real you.
7. Give yourself plenty of time
Give yourself time to write your speech, prepare and practice and make sure you don’t turn up at the venue at the last minute all in a flurry. This won’t give you the calm start you need.
8. Creating visuals
You might want to prepare slides and visuals for your speech. Tools like canva, prezi and powerpoint will all give you ways to make engaging slides.
Know that using images are much more likely to capture your audience than the death by powerpoint version of writing down everything you are going to say on a slide and then standing there and saying it.
People can read faster than you can speak, so they will have already read it and you will be there droning on and reading it. Not a good look at all. And make sure your visuals compliment whatever it is that you are saying.
9. Look the part
We all judge people, we’re hard-wired to do it. So dress appropriately for your audience. That doesn’t mean black tie for everything, if your audience is all jeans and jumpers that’s going to look a little funny.
But here’s some things to think about:
Have clean shoes! Shoes say a lot about a person.
Take your coat off. I had a bunch of students giving me presentations last week and some of them didn’t even bother to take their coats off!
Brush your hair and wash your face (the basics I know, but some people do need reminding).
And here’s a little bit of advice from Coco Chanel if you like jewellery and extra bits. Look at yourself and take one thing off, there you’re ready!
10. Amy Cuddy it
Amy Cuddy did a fabulous Ted lecture ‘Your body shapes who you are’. In it she talks about all sorts of ways we can change our mindset by using different postures.
Number one for me is before any important event stand in the Superwoman pose for about 2 minutes and feel the power surge through you.
11. Introduce yourself
The first thing you’ll want to tell them is who you are, what you do and why you are there. Don’t leave them guessing. Own this moment as your own.
12. Address the audience
You’re there to talk to the audience. Don’t speak to a piece of paper, your shoes or some far of point at the back of the room. Talk to the audience. Look them in the eye, scan the room, look at lots of people in the eye. Engage with your audience, the more engaged you are with them, the more engaged they will be with what you are saying.
Inspire them, engage them, sell it to them. Get them excited about whatever it is that you’ve taken the time to stand up in front of them and tell them. Make sure your voice is loud enough to be heard – speak towards the back of the room.
13. Smile & enjoy yourself
It’s proven that if you smile you feel better. So, break out into a smile, it will make the whole audience feel better too. And if you can fit in a joke now and then it will put everyone at ease (not everyone can pull this off mind!).
14. Leave spaces
Don’t be frightened to leave gaps in your delivery. That lets people take in what you are saying, and gives a good dramatic pause. You don’t have to fill every second with your voice. Practice leaving gaps when you’re practising your speech.
15. Get rids of the Ah’s
We all do them. Ah this, ah that. It’s our brains way of catching up. Replace the ahs with space. It’s awful to listen to someone speak if they constantly um and ah!
Practice your speech in front of someone else, or record yourself on your phone if you’re not sure if you are a ummer! And no clicking of pens in your hand on stage, or nervous gestures! Be calm!
16. Reach for a drink
Momentarily forgotten what you wanted to say. Well now it’s time to stop, reach for the glass of water take a sip, let your brain catch up and then carry on! Works a treat!
Did you think I was going to say an alcoholic drink?!
17. Slow down
When I used to be really nervous speaking (my first few university lectures come to mind) I used to speak at 100 miles an hour. If this is you, practice slowing down. Know that they aren’t thinking you are a dick, they want to hear what you have to say, they just can’t hear it if you rattle through it!
18. Leave room for questions
If appropriate! People might want to ask your questions, so give them some time to do that if the event allows it.
19. Endings are good
Let people know where they can find you, what they might need to do next, that you’ll be in the room after and willing to chat.
20. And breathe
It’s all over. Give yourself a big pat on the back! Hurrah!
Want to find out more about Debbie Clarke? Visit her website here.