One of my clients, a woman in her late 40s, lost her job as a sales accountant a few years back. The experience devastated her, alongside all that came after it: looking for another job, trying to get hired, and dealing with rejection. While all this was happening, she started to write a blog, mostly to get everything off her chest. Soon her writings got noticed and some groups that were supporting unemployed people invited her to talk at their meetings. She accepted, and after a period, she evolved into a full-time motivational speaker.
She admitted that she didn’t have a clue while she was working at her old job that she had this in her. Her new career wouldn’t have been possible if she wasn’t naturally talented for public speaking.
Some of us, like this lady, have the natural ability to share our thoughts with a big group of people. For others, it’s a skill that has to be learned. Here are a few easy ways to improve public speaking abilities.
Your Looks are Just the Beginning
Looks are used to form our first impression, but when you start to talk, the majority of people will shift their attention to your words and the meaning they carry. If this weren’t the case, every supermodel would instantly be a phenomenal public speaker because we would simply be starstruck by their beauty and completely ignore their words.
You should always try to look clean and presentable; the rest, like being in shape or pretty, is an added bonus, but it’s not mandatory for a good public speaker. Your words will determine if you’re one, not your looks.
Believe Your Words
You have to believe the things you’re saying. The audience is very good at spotting fakes and liars. That’s why you have to stand behind everything you’re talking about. Believing in your own words will give them passion and conviction and this is something everybody can appreciate, even if they don’t agree with you 100%. Your body language will also be more persuasive when you’re talking about things you believe in.
Choose Your Words Wisely
Our vocabulary is formed throughout our lives. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there are 171,476 words in the English language that are currently in use. It’s hard to determine how many of those we use on average, but the number is connected to our education level. Don’t use fancy, lesser-known words because you’ll probably look like a show-off – those who don’t know the meaning of those words will resent you, while those who do will probably wonder why you didn’t use a more well- known synonym.
Look at it this way: it’s the things you’re saying that have to impress the audience, not the words you’re using.
Stay in the Here and Now
Feel the audience, be aware of them, but don’t change the core ideas you’re trying to present because of their reaction.
You have to see yourself as a standup comedian whose “routine” is set and determined before they step on the stage, but their exact way of delivery is flexible. If you’re a skillful public speaker, you can start your speech in a neutral manner, and then slowly change the course so it’s better suited for that occasion.
This is why it’s important to stay in the present. Noticing things in your audience and reacting in the right manner is crucial for a flexible public speaker.
We Are All Human, After All
The show must go on. This old saying is valid for almost all public events, and you should also embrace it. Mistakes will happen, no matter how well-prepared you are. Even the best public speakers forget their train of thought, stutter or mispronounce a word from time to time.
The important thing is not to get derailed. Stay on course no matter how many mistakes you make. Some in your audience will remember that you made mistakes; all will remember if you couldn’t continue and stopped. Whatever you do, the show must go on.
As your skills improve, you will make fewer mistakes, but you’ll never get rid of them completely. That’s why you need to accept them and be prepared to carry on successfully after they occur.
Avoid These Common Mistakes
To be honest, there are a lot of mistakes you can make, but these are the ones to be on the look for in the beginning, before you get a little more experience in this field.
1. An overly generalized position – saying things that everybody agrees with like “war is hell”. This won’t bring you any sympathy from the crowd you’re addressing, it just gives the impression you’re too scared to stand behind anything controversial.
2. Assuming no one in the audience knows more than you do on the subject – most probably, a lot will know even more than you do. Your mission isn’t to outsmart anyone, but to present your position in the best possible way.
3. In the first minute, you have everyone’s attention. Don’t waste it on saying hello and introducing yourself for 45 seconds. Grab their attention immediately, but don't do it by being too aggressive or obnoxious.
Use Body Language to Your Advantage
Be aware of your body before you start your speech, and check yourself on the exact way you feel in the hours that lead up to your moment in the public eye. The more relaxed you feel, the more spontaneous you will present yourself. Your body language will transmit the same message. Don’t force yourself to straighten your back or do anything about your posture that requires you to actively think about it. Your mind should be busy with words and sentences, not your body.
The majority of people in any audience look for a genuine person. This is what your body language should be telling them.
It's All in the Eyes
There are a lot of theories on how to approach eye contact. Some experts suggest looking right at the audience, and trying to gauge their response. Others suggest looking in one particular spot, and ignoring everything else that can divert your attention and ruin your speech. Both have their pros and cons – by avoiding your audience, you may come off as uncertain or unsure; another alternative includes the possibility of getting distracted by someone in the audience or finding a person’s gaze or a facial expression that will accidentally confuse you.
Try to combine these two approaches. When you get on that stage, don’t look at the people that are nearest to you, but instead look way back towards the end of the room you’re addressing, like you’re looking for someone in the back.
This way, you will have the right posture (your chin held high), and no one will think you’re avoiding making eye contact.
A Mirror is the Perfect Test Audience
Don’t feel that practicing in front of a mirror is stupid or childish. You are testing your speech. This will externalize the process, and give you knowledge about the experience that is awaiting you in the future. While you deliver your speech to the mirror, make sure that you examine the way you look and sound from the opposite perspective.
Do it over and over again and experiment with different tones and speech rhythms. Through practice, the mirror will answer many little questions you surely have. Every answered question streamlines and improves your speech.
Making Good Notes
No one delivers a great, memorable speech without thorough preparation. Always write down a detailed script for any of your speeches. But, writing it down doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn it word by word. Your speech, like any good interview for example, should be built freely on a few (maximum 5) points you want to present to your audience.
The ideal mixture in a speech is to find a way to present these points by using reasoning as well as emotions. Watch how Stephen Colbert, a famous satirist and political commentator, used his opportunity to speak at the White House Correspondents’ dinner in 2006.
This was a great speech, and no one can deny this, no matter if they agree or disagree with his statements. Colbert used everything at his disposal, ranging from emotions, reasoning and improvisation. The result was an almost ideal public speech.
Work Hard and Get Better
Practice makes perfect. Trust in these tips, continue to practice speaking if front of people every chance you get and there is no reason why you can’t become a great public speaker.