Public Speaking

Continuing on from last week’s part 1 on public speaking where I talked about where our fear of speaking in front of a large crowd comes from and why it feels so unnatural for us. I also talked about how confidence is key for people listening to you and the message you have. Even if it’s a fake confidence. People are more willing to listen to someone who has a lot of confidence about something they don’t know rather than vice versa.

When speaking in public, no matter where it may be, there are several things you can do, both mentally and physically to become a better speaker to the audience you are speaking to. It may be to a group of 5 people in a team meeting, pitching to your manager and their superiors about your work or an idea you have, or it may be presenting your work at a workshop or to a conference where there may be up to 500+ people there. Speaking is relative. Meaning; you’re going to do the same job whether it is in front of 5 people or 500 people. Speaking is a mindset, you’re either in it or you’re not. You’re either nervous throughout or you’re confident throughout.

You are going to be nervous before it, this is a given. It’s how you use this nervous energy that dictates how well you will perform. You can let it overcome you so you become a bumbling wreck, or you can direct it as confident energy. It’s the pros that have learned to direct this energy into their performance that makes it look so easy for them. Those who haven’t spoken in a crowd before or who are still getting used to it compare those who are good at speaking in public to our own speaking skill. Wishing they weren’t as nervous at speaking at as the person who is in front of them doing it with such confidence and grace. I assure you, it wasn’t always like that for them.

There are several things you can do if you want to improve your speaking ability in public. Some techniques you can do at home, and other techniques you will learn with experience being up there in front of people;

  1. Start – I mean this in 2 ways. Start speaking in public, to different people, to new people, take the opportunity to speak in front of people. Not just in formal settings but informally too, like; speak out when a group you’re in is addressed with a question, this will get you used to that buzzing/anxious feeling you get when you think the eyes of the world are on you, when really no one is thinking of what you just said (unless you purposely drew attention to yourself).The other way I mean when I say start is; if you are dreading speaking in public, just start. Literally, start speaking, face up to it and begin talking, the start is the worse as you imagine the worst possible scenario that could happen while you’re up there. When you get into your talk and find your flow, you will realise that you had nothing to worry about the whole time.“Fear comes from what you imagine might happen instead of what actually is happening and the longer you wait the worse it gets. The only way to kill this even feedback loop is to just do it, so I forced myself to begin.” – Scott Berkun
  2. Know your Purpose – Why are people there? Why have they come to see/hear you talk? this is different if you are in an office and your co-workers have to listen to you talk, instead of someone willfully coming to a workshop, keynote or conference to hear you speak. Have you got anything of value to say? Make sure you are adding something for people to take home with them so they can take action on it. A piece of advice, a routine, and process you do that got you where you are now.When people come to hear you talk want to be either 2 things; a) Entertained b) Informed. People either want to laugh or they want to learn something. How are you going to make a difference to this persons life in the time you are talking. What will you be talking about specifically, ie. the reason people are here in the first place? What will you title be? Take a strong position with the title and structure it around what you will talk about. For example, “Top 5 Tips on Handlettering for Beginners”. Now you have a title, you can begin to structure you points, views, techniques and opinions around this topic.
  3. Confidence & knowledge – As I mentioned last week, confidence is how you get people’s attention. Attention is a modern-day currency, and one of the most valuable commodities in existence. Don’t squander people’s attention in you. When people come to see you talk, they are expecting someone to be confident and to know what you are doing. People want to see a motivated, entertaining expert in something. This is the expectation when they see you talk, they are rooting for you, they want to see you perform well. Nothing is more awkward than watching something who is clearly unexperienced in talking in front of people, well, talk in front of people. It makes them anxious, afraid for what you are going to do and say out of fear. This makes people uncomfortable watching you.Confidence comes from knowledge of they subject you’re speaking about,and knowledge comes from you being exposed to that subject for hours, hundreds of hours, perhaps thousands of hours to become and expert at it. So much so that you know every possible counter argument against what you are talking about, and can build a strong defence against said argument. This confidence in your own ability is key to allowing you to talk about your preferred subject. If you talk confidently on your topic, people may perceive you to be an expert, but when you mix this with your vast knowledge of the subject, this is what confirms to people that you are indeed an expert in the field.
  4. Passion – The more you seem to care about the topic you talk about, the more your audience will seem to care for it too. Have you ever been to a  talk a where the speaker was not enthusiastic about their talk, almost like they didn’t even want to be there in the first place? Why should the audience care if you  don’t care. Passion is contagious, even if people aren’t involved or interested in your subject. They feel the energy, this is true even if you are talking to someone on a 1-1 basis. It charges them up, makes them feel involved with it. You are more likely to keep the audiences attention. Be real with an audience, don’t fake it. People can see if you are truly passionate about something or not.Find something you like the act of doing, start now and be passionate about it, tell people about it. Imagine you got to talk about the one thing that you’re passionate about?
  5. Practice – The most obvious point. But one that must be done. Know your slides, know your material, and know how the general gist of your talk will go. Have a story. If you slides are bulleted or you have 3/4 points of interest, remember those points, and remember how to phrase them and at what parts of the talk you want to say them. To not know the direction of your talk if to add more barriers incase you don’t know how to get back on track from a tangent you went off on, or somehow got derailed.Stand up while practicing, you’re going to be standing while delivering the talk so recreate the scenario as best you can so to be most comfortable when actually delivering the talk. The best way to practice is to record you talk and play it back, be critical on yourself. Naturally you will be critical on yourself so that part is easy. If you can’t watch yourself back giving a talk, how do you think others are going to feel when they see you talk. You may also be recorded on video at the event depending on how big it is, so it helps being prepared in this manner. Being comfortable in yourself makes a huge difference. Listen to how you talk, how you put emphasis on different words in your sentences and points. If a point doesn’t make sense, scrap it, or think of a new way to phrase it. Most of they time when something doesn’t make sense, it comes down to you phrase it.
  6. Meet the people – Meeting those who are going to be attending you talk before you actually give it will help you familiarise yourself with who you are talking to. If you think they are on your side from the beginning, it will make it easier to talk to because it will feel like they are your friends and it takes the anonymity out of the crowd. At larger events you may not be able to do that, but at small speaking events, or annualised company meetings, presentations etc. you can get around more of the crowd, get to know them, see their face in the crowd and be at ease a little more.

The audience you are speaking to will probably not interact with you unless you ask them to, ie. asking questions etc. unless this is a workshop in which they really want to learn a skill. in which case, they will be less focussed on your skill as a speaker, and more on their own performance learning the skill in front of you (the perceived master of the skill because you are giving the talk/class). More than likely, people don’t care about what you have to say, they won’t be scrutinising your every move, judging everything you have to say, unless you draw attention to it purposefully. People want to be entertained, or they want to learn something from your talk. They want insight, not comprehension.

This is why giving actionable bulleted lists is a great feature of a talk, people can learn the steps, write them down, interact with your talk, take the advice home and put it to the test for themselves. People only notice the bad aspects in your talk/performance when you draw attention to it. The quivering voice, the sweating brow, the shaky hands, the fumbling with your slides. Act like you’ve done this a thousand times. If you are asked or have to give a talk on a particular subject, more than likely you’re going to know more about it than the majority of the people in the room anyway.

Act like a professional, and be perceived ike a professional while standing in front of people. Confidence is how you get people’s attention and a great talk that either entertains or educates (or both) is how you keep that attention.