Between my management, training and teaching responsibilities, I regularly speak to large audiences. While I can’t claim to be a world-renowned professional speaker, I can assert I am an engaging speaker who has come a long way over the years. I attribute my success to building my self-confidence, taking risks and regularly self-evaluating my presentations.
If you are trying to enhance your public speaking skills, you may benefit from learning about some of the steps I have taken to improve.
Control your nerves
If nerves are negatively impacting your public speaking abilities, the first thing to do is to identify exactly what is causing you anxiety. Are you afraid something will go wrong? Are you worried that people will be bored? Once you specifically pinpoint what you are afraid of, you should then create an action plan detailing how you will ensure your fears don’t overwhelm you or become a reality.
Here’s an example:
What causes my anxiety: I tend to be overly critical of myself and over worry about my audience’s experience.
- Give myself a pep talk before showtime. Remind myself of my strengths and spend time recounting positive audience feedback I have received in the past, thus boosting my confidence.
- At the beginning of my presentation, encourage participants to speak up if they have ideas, questions or concerns. Be open to and address audience feedback real-time. Knowing my audience feels comfortable giving on the spot feedback prevents me from worrying about not meeting my audience’s expectations.
- When delivering a longer talk, conduct a midway checkpoint to poll the audience on my delivery, content and pace. This way, I have detailed insight into what’s working and what isn’t so I can adjust my style if needed.
Try new things
Earlier in my speaking career, I thought the best way to ensure success was to try and control my environment so that nothing out of the norm happened. While this method was effective at times, this approach caused me undue anxiety and backfired when something unexpected happened. Once I felt comfortable going off script and taking chances, I started enjoying myself more and became more skilled, relevant, versatile and fun.
To prepare yourself to take new risks, I recommend you:
- Stop trying to memorize your presentation word for word and be sure to not overpractice. These well-intentioned preparation techniques can unfortunately make your performance feel less genuine, and in turn, you can lose the attention of your audience.
- Factor in unexpected turns into your presentation time so you won’t become frazzled or thrown off if you or someone in the audience goes off topic.
- When you are ready, try incorporating impromptu storytelling, light humor and current events into your presentation.
Reflect upon your performance
Years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a talented and well-established public speaking coach. I learned many things from her, but the most important takeaway was the importance of self-evaluating after giving a speech. Although it can be uncomfortable, the best way to do this is to watch a recording of your presentation shortly after you give it live. If you can bare it, I recommend watching the video a few times as you will notice something new every time.
When you watch yourself, you should take detailed notes about your tone, body language, transitions, content and overall delivery. You should also ask yourself reflective questions such as:
- How do I feel about the overall presentation?
- What three things went really well?
- What three things could I have done better?
There is also significant value in having a few trusted friends conduct this exercise with you. The more feedback you get, the more awareness you will have, giving you an increased ability to improve upon your delivery and audience appeal the next time you present.
Photo credit: Erin and Joe/Flickr
Danielle Clark is a higher education leader, educator, career coach and HR consultant. She has a strong and diverse professional background working with higher education institutes and family-owned and Fortune 500 companies. Her goal is to educate and inspire professionals to change their way of thinking. Danielle is also an active community volunteer, wife, mother and passionate lifelong learner.