You know the feeling: shaking legs, a pounding heart, a tight throat, and sweaty clammy hands. You’re about to speak in front of an audience, and the staring eyes are making you fantasize about everything that can go wrong on stage. Don’t panic. Instead, take deep breaths, count to ten, and use these five tips to help you improve your speech, boost your confidence, and unleash your inner TED talk hero.
Know your audience
Knowing your audience allows you to frame your message with clear context. If you are an expert in your field, consider your presentation topic a niche category unless your audience has the same background and level of education as you. For example, if you’re a quantum physicist who is doing research on quarks, and you are speaking in front of an audience with little to no education in physics, you will have to tailor your message accordingly. In other words, break down your ideas into digestible pieces for your crowd.
Envision your audience and get into the mind of the listener. What are they thinking? Why is your message important to them? How does the information you are giving them help them in their everyday lives? Make your topic relevant and practical; it will add value to your message and qualify you as an influential speaker.
Practice your speech with yourself and others
Practice, practice, practice! Whether you recite your speech to yourself in front of a mirror or with a hairbrush as a pretend microphone, rehearsing your presentation will help you reduce the likelihoods of the silent panic (when your mind suddenly goes blank and you forget what to say next). Make bullet points on a notecard to help you order your thoughts. This will give your mind a landing spot as you transition to your next point.
However, practicing by yourself will only get you so far. Another great way to sharpen your reflexes is to practice your speech in front of others. Gather a group of friends or your family members and have them critique your presentation. Have them take note and count the number of filler words you may be using (“basically”,“like”, “um”, “uh”, “you know”). You can also designate a person to video record your presentation, and it will give you a visual reference to know what needs to be polished.
Have clear, concise, main points
One of the biggest attention-killers is superfluous information and too many details. If you’re giving a ten minute presentation and you are using an anecdote to illustrate a point, be mindful of the time and be careful not to drone on about excessive details that will do little to clarify your point. If you’re practicing in front of someone, watch for their attention and eye contact. Wandering eyes, eyes looking down, and blank stares, are clear signals that your speech will need whittling.
An effective way to make sure your points are precise is to take your speech and summarize it into three to four points. Start with a skeleton comprising of those few points, and build the meat of the presentation by expanding on those points. Your message should be focused, clear, and direct. If you find yourself trailing off on a tangent or over-illustrating a detail while you are talking, stop and refocus your thoughts back to those three or four points. Maintain the rhythm and clarity of the presentation.
Use charts, graphs, illustrations
Teachers are often told that students can learn in three different ways: auditory, visual, and tactile, which involves touching and doing. This is helpful to remember because your audience members will have different ways of processing information. A good way to engage with your audience members is to enlist all three learning styles within your presentation. Most speakers will end up targeting audience members who are auditory learners, but what about the other two-thirds of the crowd who may not feel as engaged? By presenting your topic using charts, graphs, and pictures, you will engage a larger portion of the audience. Powerpoint presentations are a fine example of how you can get your message across in an illustrative manner. By coordinating visual images with your topic points, your audience will be able to absorb any abstract concepts you are presenting to them.
Another way to engage your audience is by using a tactile device. An example is if you are teaching on the effects of meditation, have your listeners try meditating for a few seconds during your speech. By allowing your audience to experiment and act out the concepts you are teaching, you allow the information to grow from a theoretical concept into a practical application. Your presentation will be remembered through the knowledge of an experience.
Lastly, slow it down! Nervousness and anxiety may effect the rhythm of your speech and you may end up talking faster than you normally would. Give yourself time to pause and slow down your speech. Develop a cadence to your speech. As a result, your thought process will be a lot clearer and more precise when it comes to knowing what you will say next. Some may not realize that listeners can end feeling overwhelmed by how fast they are presenting their information, so it is important to note that your audience members need time to process the knowledge they are receiving.
Build up your confidence by practicing the above tips. You’ll overcome all unnecessary anxiety and stage fright as you bring out your inner TED talk voice. But that still doesn’t get your jitters to leave, go with an old fashioned saying: fake it till you make it!