The trick to public speaking

Overcoming your fear of public speaking

Written by Alex McFarlane


Speaking in front of people. It's not easy. A huge amount of people are afraid of public speaking. It affects almost everyone initially. I myself had a fear of it in my school days, which posed a problem as I wanted to study law at university. You won't get very far in most careers if you can't speak in front of groups of people, let alone in a legal career. My mother wanted me to do debating in school but I really didn't want to. I used to cringe at the very thought of it. When I got to university, I knew I couldn't avoid it, simple as that. Six years on, I am extremely comfortable talking in front of any number of people.

So how did I transition from a guy who ran from any form of public speaking to a person who now actually relishes it. To tell the truth, there is no one size fits all guide to this, but this is how I overcame my fear, and went beyond that to even enjoy public speaking.

Believe me when I say that anyone, and I mean anyone can not only get over their fear of public speaking, but actually become very competent at it. In my personal experience, two major factors helped me become a good public speaker, they are easy and simple to do. Without further ado, here are my two steps to becoming a good public speaker.

Step 1: Know your content.

It's like the old saying, 'fail to prepare and prepare to fail'. Simply put, you cannot beat knowing your stuff. What worked well for me was using prompt cards. When you are making a speech or doing a presentation, you will most likely be using PowerPoint, so that is a good way to remind you of what you are saying, but having a few small cards in your hand or on the podium/table with carefully chosen prompt words will trigger your memory and give you a solid idea of where you are in the presentation and where you are going next.

There is nothing worse than a person speaking, who fumbles for a few seconds trying to figure out what their next point is, believe me the seconds feel like an eternity, to both you and more importantly, the audience. Another way to avoid these painful seconds of silence is to really have got your teeth into what you are saying, study it and know exactly the topic you are speaking about inside out. I found it very beneficial to do this a few nights before. I actually studied the material on my PowerPoint presentation, knew it very well and from that picked out various key words or sentences which I wrote down on the prompt cards. That way your speech is more likely to be fluid and not have many pause breaks.

Step 2: Confidence.

This, in my opinion is the most important factor in public speaking. I understand that many people will be nervous stepping up before a crowd of people and therefore will not seem confident to the audience, but in my experience, how you come across and hold yourself, even the way you say certain words with more emphasis than others, that is, in my opinion 70% of becoming a good public speaker. True, you cannot implement step 2 without first getting a firm grip on step 1, but once you do, confidence elevates an average speaker into a truly great one.

I know people will say, but if you aren't confident what do you do? Trust me, confidence is not something you are given at birth, it is a skill and can be harnessed and developed. Better yet, in my own experience, confidence is something that can be faked. What really worked for me was watching YouTube videos of great public speakers, Barack Obama, even Harvey Spector! Every little detail adds up to a confident manner, and the way the audience perceives that manner. The way these people stand, the way they look at the audience, soak it all in.

A good start is literally half the battle. If you nail your opening lines, not only will you give yourself a little boost, but your audience will be more likely to engage with you and your content. Furthermore, if you deliver a great opening sequence to your speech, the audience already think that you are an accomplished public speaker and then you in turn feel like one. There are a few tricks for faking confidence. Look at your audience, they will not appreciate it if you keep your head down and don't acknowledge them. Some people find that difficult, so I suggest picking a point at the back of the room, perhaps a picture on the wall, and focusing on that. That way you won't be intimidated by faces looking up at you and it will actually seem to the audience as though you are looking at them.

If you know your stuff, then I would suggest placing emphasis on certain words and even elongating some words to really get the importance of the point across to the audience. This way, you will seem as though you know what you are speaking about, and you will seem confident in imparting that information. I would also throw in some hand movements, (but don't overdo it) which will increase the level of engagement with the people in front of you.

In essence, the best piece of advice I can give is that if you think that you are a good public speaker, all of a sudden you are a good public speaker. In my experience, it is an act, nothing more, and all you have to do is go out and put on a show!

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