Just the thought of making a presentation, a speech, or having to speak up during a meeting makes many people very anxious. In fact, for many public speaking even is their number one fear and they tend to avoid it whenever possible.
However, public speaking is a skill that, if practiced sufficiently, can be turned into something that you can be good at and enjoy. Below are six easy steps that will help you to turn yourself into a good and confident speaker.
- Speak clearly
- Develop ‘flow’
- Choose your ‘expert’ topic
- Become a topic expert
- Develop style
- Practice daily
- Speak Clearly
Clear speech is direct and takes responsibility of its meaning. This means that if you want to make an impact, you should not be vague or abstract. You need to make sure that what you say is what you believe, so you can ‘own’ the content of your talk. This means that you should be direct in how you address people. So, don’t say:
It wasn’t appreciated.’
Instead, when you make a claim, make sure people know it is your claim and say:
‘I didn’t appreciate it.’
Taking responsibility means that, if you are not speaking for other people but just for yourself, they should know that. So, don’t say:
We are not sure what to do.’
When you are speaking for yourself, instead say:
‘I am not sure what to do.’
People will appreciate it when you are being direct and are taking responsibility for what you say because it makes you connect with them on a personal level. As a speaker, this makes you more believable, so your talk will have more impact.
Volume is also important if you want to be clear, because clear speech demands attention and gives you ‘presence’. People need to know that you are there and understand that you came to talk to them about something important. Speaking at a volume that is just right, so neither too loud nor too soft, makes people trust you. It makes you look confident and it makes your audience understand that you know what you are talking about.
It is also important that you speak with passion. Showing that you are enjoying what you are doing will rub off on the people that are listening to you, and they will want to share in your passion. To look at things differently, you cannot expect people to enjoy your speech if they think you are not even enjoying it yourself.
Speaking clearly also means not overusing slang and jargon. Slang tends to be quite informal and, therefore, not appropriate in all situations. So, don’t say:
That is an awesome idea.’
Instead, you should use more neutral language and say:
‘That is a great idea.’
Jargon should also be kept to a minimum because just the people that are familiar with it will understand it, and it will make your talk quite abstract. Let’s look at this example:
I can give you a ballpark figure.’
The term ‘ballpark figure’ is often used in sales, accountancy and finance. It is a rough numerical estimate of something. However, it is possible that only people who are working in these fields will understand you.
- Develop ‘Flow’
Speaking with ‘flow’ means looking comfortable in front of the people you’re talking to and being able to speak about any topic with equal grace. Contrary to what many people believe, having flow is not a skill that people are born with, it can be practiced and learned.
Also, looking at ease when speaking to audience should not be confused with being at ease. Often, a lot will be going on in your head when you are speaking, but most of that is not visible to the people in front of you. To develop ‘flow’, there are a number of things to consider.
First of all, thinking about the pace at which you speak is important. Most people, especially when they are nervous, tend to speak too quickly. Speaking quickly affects accuracy and understanding negatively and therefore it is important to take your time. When you consciously force yourself to speak slightly slower than you normally would, your pace tends to be just right for your audience.
Pausing is also important when presenting, for a variety of reasons. Not only can it replace the ‘uh’s and ‘uhm’s, and the filler words that people use in everyday speech, pausing can also be used for emphasis. For instance, many good presenters build in a short pause right before saying something important. In this way, what they say has more impact and is therefore is more likely to be remembered by the audience. Pauses are also used in other advanced presentation techniques.
- Choose your ‘Expert’ Topic
When trying to become a better public speaker it helps to choose an ‘expert’ topic that you can use to practice with. Often this is something related to your passions or interests. The advantage of choosing something that your care about is that when are talking about that subject, you will probably already be knowledgeable about the subject, so you can spend less time thinking about the content of your talk and more about the delivery. In addition, it will also make you look confident. An added benefit is that your passion for the subject is likely to shine through and you will look more excited about what you are going to say.
- Becoming the ‘Expert’
Because it is much easier to talk about something that you already know a lot about, it makes sense to choose these types of subjects to talk about if you can, or become a topic expert if you need to. In this last instance that means it will definitely be worth it to study up your subject so you can start your presentation with confidence. Once you are confident, you will find that you will naturally aim for conversations that you are comfortable with, pursue positive reactions from your speaking partners when you talk to them and naturally divide your talk into subtopics, all because you are the expert.
- Develop Style
Now that you have become a topic expert, you can develop your style. Style is personal, which means that there is not one way, or just one style in which you should present. Your style needs to go with your personality and often it takes quite some time and experience to discover what your personal style is.
To develop your presentation style the volume at which you speak, and particularly the variation in it, can help you to make your talk more memorable. For instance, you could speak up when you are (or want your audience to be) excited about something.
Varying your pace is also a useful tool that can help you discover your style. Not only do certain advanced presentation techniques require you to speed up, slow down or pause, varying your pace could also help you express emotions effectively.
Showing good body language is also an essential skill to develop if you want to be a better presenter. Your gestures and expressions not only support the content of your talk, they also tell the audience a lot about how you feel as a presenter. For this reason, being aware of how you look and how you move in front of your audience is something worth working on.
Adding some humorous comments of jokes to your presentation could also help. It is a good way to establish rapport between you and the audience, especially during your opening. You do have to keep in mind, however, that humor is very personal and culturally specific. What some people find hilarious may not work on others. Because of this, you have to keep in mind that a joke can work wonders if people find it funny, but it can be disastrous for your presentation if it bombs. Therefore, if you choose to include a joke, you may want to choose one that is safe, or at the expense of yourself.
Telling a story can also work well. You can use it as a ‘hook’ to make your audience interested and to approve your credibility as an expert if you choose to a story that is personal. In general, storytelling will also make your talk more interesting because your story will link your subject to everyday life experiences and make your presentation come to life.
- Practice Daily
When it comes to presenting well, practice makes perfect. There is no way around it; the more you practice, the better you’ll become. This doesn’t mean, however, that all your presentation should be ‘high stakes’. If you want to become better, most of your presentations should take place at home. You should ask friends and family for feedback, record yourself on video, and practice in front of a mirror. Setting specific targets for yourself will help you focus on specific skills. This means choosing one or two things you want to focus on every time you practice. Presenting at ‘real’ events will help you learn to present under pressure. This could range from simply starting a conversation during a party, to speaking up during a meeting, to being on the podium in front of a real audience. It doesn’t matter, as long as you practice, you’ll get better and more confident.
The above-mentioned steps will help you become a better, more confident, and more successful presenter. Just keep in mind that presenting is not a talent you are born with, but a skill that you can work on and develop over time until it becomes something you are skilled at and is fun.