Public Speaking 101: The Do’s and Don’ts

public speaking

For many of us, public speaking had us quivering in the back of the classroom crossing fingers not to be called on.  Speaking in front of a large crowd can definitely be intimidating, especially if it’s not your forte. However, hopefully remembering a few of these tips can help you master this skill in a heartbeat:

1. DO: Embrace Your Nervous Energy

Nervous energy can be the first barrier that a speaker encounters with a crowd if not grounded in a proper way. “How to get rid of it?” you may ask yourself. There are many ways of doing so and one of them, contrary to popular belief, is by making yourself vulnerable. Walking up to the podium and making a light joke about the spilled coffee on your shirt or throwing in a “I’m nervous so please bear with me,” may just save your speech. The audience is not against you; in fact, they are with you. People know how nerve wrecking it can be to stand up in front of a bunch of strangers, and allowing them to identify with you is key.

2. DO: Outline Your Talk

It is vital to begin your presentation by introducing yourself and addressing the purpose of the speech to make clear what you hope your audience will get out of your talk. Who you are is very important and the audience wants to know that. Giving them an outline also allows your audience to create reasonable expectations with what it is you are willing to provide for them.

3. DO: Make Eye Contact

Eye contact is one of the most human ways of connecting with other people. Of course, it is obvious that one cannot make direct eye contact with every single person in the room, assuming your audience is impressively large. But as you introduce your speech, make sure to begin by turning your head to look at the person farthest on your left to slowly scan the room all the way to the person farthest to your right. This creates a way for you to comfortably glance at different areas of the room while not excluding the people that may not be in your direct field of view. Also, if you are uncomfortable making direct eye contact, try slowly moving your eyes above various heads. It reliefs awkward eye contact and creates the illusion that you are making it.

4. DON’T: Speak in Up Tones

You may not have noticed this, but your tone of voice is representative of how people will “secretly” view you. There are two kinds of people: the kind of people that speaks in up tones and the kind of people that speaks in down tones. It is most common to hear a teenager speaking in up tones while older people tend to speak in down tones. An up tone is the tone of your voice when you are asking a question while a down tone is the tone of voice you use when you are stern. Throughout your speech, especially when you introduce yourself, make sure you always use down tones. Practice it throughout the day to help you achieve this is as your dominant tone. It allows you to sound more confident and legitimate.

5. DO: Utilize Pauses

Pauses are not a sign of weakness. A few seconds of silence may be uncomfortable for you but hold it out – the silence captures the audience’s attention. Silence is power. When you are trying to make a relevant point and have just said something that you want to be remembered, pause and wait for that message to sink in. In addition, if you have forgotten a line or a point, pausing is a great way for you to compose yourself. Pauses are also great for replacing fill-in words: “ummm,” “eeeh,” “errrr,” “mmm,” “uhhhh,” or even the stretching of words. You may not notice it right off the bat, but dropping just one fill-in word is a call for catastrophe. It sets a tone of insecurity and boredom. Practice using pauses instead of fill-in words and you will note just how powerful your talk can be.

6. DO OR DON’T: Use Gestures

There is a common misconception that gestures during a speech are a must. However, one must realize that everyone is different. There are people who convey powerful messages by simply standing still with hands folded in front of them as their words capture the audience. Others have a musical voice which can easily be supported with beautiful hand gestures. It all depends on the person because if a person forces gestures and pacing, it may come off as awkward and stiff. It’s important that every person embrace his or her own style.

Public speaking can get your knees weak – it does for me! Public speaking can be a nerve wracking thing, though it really doesn’t need to be. Overcoming these fears is the key to effectively conveying any message in front of a public audience.

Are you ready to take on this challenge? How do you combat your public speaking nerves?

Image: leahbraun.net