As another school semester comes to an end, the staff at ACET wanted to review some tips for combating public speaking nervousness. Compiled from multiple sources, here are five of our favorites:
Know your audience. In your preparations, make sure that you understand what your audience requires of your speech structurally (for example, 15 minutes plus a question and answer period, or a self-introduction followed by 10 minutes) and their knowledge level (that is, how much of your topic needs explanation). Before you are to give your remarks, take the time to meet with some of the people who will be in your audience. This will strengthen their bond to you, increasing their interest in what you have to say.
Work from an outline, rather than writing down or memorizing an entire speech. Sure, people can and do give speeches that involve reading or speaking directly from a pre-written statement but, at best, this approach can feel unnatural and, at worse, it can distance or cut you off from the people with whom you are trying to communicate. Note your key points and use them as signposts to expand from naturally. This will in turn make your delivery more natural. If you happen to miss or skip a point along the way, that’s okay.
Give your speech a personal touch. You’ve likely heard the saying, “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” Just as it’s good to be cognizant of the structure of your presentation, it’s also important to choose the best tone or mood for your audience. Sharing a related story can help to establish a connection with your audience, helping them to become more engaged, and help you make an easy segue between introducing yourself and your data.
Practice, Practice, Practice. Whether you record your voice, speak in front of a video camera, or rehearse for family, friends, or coworkers, you can gain a lot of strength and confidence from just practicing your remarks and then sitting down with the recording or your audience to review. No matter the format you choose, practicing can help you to refine your abilities.
Relax. Know that it is very natural and human to be nervous when addressing a large group of people, but you can use the jitters that you feel to propel yourself to excellence. Remember to breathe as you speak, and allow yourself to be comfortable with brief silences as you do so, as it can help you combat the use of fillers (“um”, “ah”, “you know”, etc.). Cold liquids are said to constrict the vocal chords, so consider sipping on lukewarm water or hot tea before you speak, and save the caffeine for later.
With these tips and some careful preparation, public speaking does not have to be a daunting experience.