Standing up in front of a roomful of people terrifies many people, even if those people are our own peers. But resisting public speaking engagements can hold an entrepreneur back, since workshops, presentations, and pitches are the perfect way to network and land support for our efforts.
Fortunately, there are a few things we can do to not only overcome that fear, but become a respected public speaker. Here are 25 great tips to help you improve your speaking skills.
Take a Course
You'll likely find public speaking classes at all of your local colleges and learning centers. You'll not only learn great techniques, you'll be able to practice your skills in front of a roomful of people who are just as nervous as you are.
Join a Group
Groups like Toastmasters are designed to help professionals hone their speaking skills in front of small groups.
You don't have to be in a formal setting to practice public speaking. You can practice alone in front of a mirror, with friends, or with family members.
You can combat those public speaking fears by putting as much time as possible into the preparation process. Do your research and memorize your speech so that it will feel natural once you're in front of the group.
Research Your Audience
Your speaking engagement will be far more effective if it's tailored to your specific audience. Spend time learning as much as possible about attendees and gear your speech accordingly.
PowerPoint has become an essential part of presenting. When used effectively, it can be a great way to keep your speech entertaining.
Know Your Environment
If possible, visit the venue before your speech and familiarize yourself with the environment.
As with anything in life, the more experience you get with speaking in front of people, the more you'll improve.
You'll get great ideas for your own presentations by watching others who are good at it. As you attend conferences and workshops, pay attention to the techniques some of the more seasoned professionals use.
Start with a Bang
You'll loosen up the audience and create a rapport if you can kick off your speech with something entertaining, like a joke or an interesting story.
Put the Audience to Work
You can take some of the pressure off of yourself by getting the audience to join in. Have everyone try an exercise or ask a few people to tell a personal story.
As your speech progresses, audience members will inevitably have questions. Find ways to get them to feel more comfortable voicing those questions, such as rewarding them with prizes.
Focus on the Audience
As you stand up in front of a roomful of people, it can be easy to assume everyone's full focus on you. This is too often not the case. Put your focus on your audience instead of you and you'll gain confidence.
Dress to Impress
What you wear will make an instant impression. Dress to fit the role you're trying to portray.
Avoid Filler Words
One of the biggest complaints audiences have of speakers is the overuse of filler words like "um" and "so." Try to moderate use of those words.
Focus on Individuals
A powerful technique recommended by professional speakers is to make eye contact with members of the audience. Try to find a few friendly faces and rotate between them as you speak.
Pent-up energy can be the death of a powerful speech. If it helps, feel free to roam the front of the room to expend some of that energy.
When you're feeling that intense stage fright setting in, use breathing exercises to force your mind to relax.
Some people write their entire speeches out beforehand, but this can force you to spend the entirety of your presentation reading. Instead write short phrases on index cards that will prompt each new idea as you move through your speech.
In your early days as a speaker, don't feel that you have to do it all alone. Participate in panels and group presentations where you can share the burden of presenting with a colleague or business partner.
One of the best ways to improve is to record your presentations and watch them later. As difficult as this can be, it's a great way to pinpoint a few things that need improvement.
Ask for Feedback
As you speak to various groups, allow audience members to anonymously complete a feedback form and use that feedback to improve.
Bring the Right Tools
Be sure you arrive at the site with all of the tools you'll need to conduct your presentation, including wireless clickers and projector adaptors for your laptop.
If your audience members can't understand you, all of your hard work will be for nothing. Work on speaking loudly and clearly.
Finish with a Call to Action
Your speech should end with a call to action. What do you want audience members to take away from your presentation? What should they do now?