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8 Public Speaking Tips That Actually Work
© ra2 studio / Adobe Stock
Nancy Halpern
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The average person, they say, fears public speaking more than they fear death.

I’ve never believed this. For example, would you rather deliver a speech at your sister’s wedding (in front of a tipsy, exceptionally happy audience) or be suffocated by a boa constrictor? Would you prefer to offer celebratory remarks at your colleague’s baby shower or be stung to death by 1,200 honey bees?

Now, if you said that you get stage fright and you fear public speaking more than the dentist, that I would understand. Every time they use that drill I want to rip off the bib and run screaming to safety. Plus, why do they stuff your artificially wide open mouth with all that equipment and then ask you how the kids are doing?

Why Do People Fear Public Speaking?

What do you think about when public speaking? Most of us — especially introverts — hate public speaking because we feel like we’re being evaluated and judged when we do it. We fear that when we speak in public and make a presentation, the audience is watching our every move, from what we’re wearing to how we sound to the brilliance, or lack thereof, of what we’re saying in our speech.

Bad news: we are.

Good news: if you know how to talk, you can nail this and speak confidently in any given situation.

How can you make your speaking effective? There are several key concepts that once implemented, will guarantee that you’ll wow the crowd and be invited back for more. 

8 Public Speaking Tips

So, if you tend to get stage fright or suffer from anxiety before speaking in public, take a deep breath and remember that nervousness is normal—and these eight public speaking tips will help you deliver your presentation with an unwavering, persuasive voice.

1. The audience rules.

Whatever they want to hear outweighs anything you need to say. As the speaker, ask yourself what interests the people, and talk to them in a way that's relatable.

2. Don’t waste the introduction on fluff.

You know how everyone thanks you for being here and how happy they are to be here too? Boring. Don’t waste the first moments on anything other than a surprising statement or a great question or a personal reference.

3. Identify—and hammer home—the key message.

Think of yourself as story on the front page of The New York Times. No one reads the column and goes back up to see what the headline was. Tell them right away why they should be listening to you, and make sure subsequent points support the big idea.

4. Use voice and body to drive home key information.

Got something really important to say? Look right at the big boss while you say it. A significant shift of topic? Turn to another part of the audience to signal the change. A critical data point? Say it more loudly so people perk up and listen. Effective public speakers master not only the right words and steady eye contact but also confident body language and animated gestures.

5. Confidence can be faked.

When you speak in public, you only have to act as if you’re confident for the length of your presentation...even if you feel your nervousness is overwhelming. Ever tell someone they look great when you know they’re struggling or unhappy? All of us can fake it for short periods of time when we have to. Channel that inner performer and smile with your face and your eyes while you present.

6. Become aware of, and master, bad habits.

It's OK to pause while you're speaking, but using filler like "um," "uh" and other verbal glitches can be really distracting and can make you sound nervous. Unconscious and frequent hand movements can also take an audience away from listening to you while they focus on the exciting choreography of your digits. Have a friend spot you and point these “tics” out so you can catch yourself before you do them. 

7. Practice out loud.

It’s not enough to do it in your head. To hone your skills and confidence as a public speaker, rehearse by saying it out loud ten to 20 times so that when it’s really showtime, it’s just one more time versus the big occasion.

8. Embrace being nervous.

How do I calm down before a presentation? That anxiety will pass within the first two minutes. And the reason why you’re a little scared is that you care. Consider the jitters a gift to your audience, not a sign of weakness.

The best advice I can give you, introverts and extroverts alike? Imagine that you’re not a public speaker — instead, you're chatting with your best friend. Keeping the image in your head of someone you’re supremely comfortable with will relax you, relax your audience, and ensure that your authenticity shines through as you present your words with direct eye contact and confident body language.

Who knows? If you master this, maybe getting that filling done won’t hurt as much.

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Nancy Halpern is an executive coach with a proven track record in helping senior leaders and their teams reach their full potential. She's been quoted in The Financial Times, The New York Times and other publications, as well as appearing on both NPR and the PBS NewsHour.

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