Public speaking… It’s something which we all dread, but have to do at some point in our careers. Whether you’ve taken on a leadership role and have to present to the Board, or have been invited to speak at a conference.
From forgetting your words to getting a dry mouth, public speaking is scary. But how can you make public speaking easier? Steve Leroy – a business executive with a diverse background which includes legal, communications and, public and regulatory affairs – shares the key elements for delivering a good speech.
1. Your audience are priority
When you are making a speech, it’s very easy to get caught up in how you are feeling. Especially with overwhelming nerves, it can feel like all eyes are on you. And yes, all eyes are technically on you. However, remember that your speech is really all about the audience.
You are speaking as a servant to your audience.Steve Leroy
Despite being centre stage, putting the audience first is key. They have given up their valuable time to listen so speak to them and make it worth their time. When crafting your speech, consider what they know already about your topic and ask: ‘How can I add deeper or novel insights to their pre-existing knowledge?’
Similarly, your speech needs a proper narrative and structure to make sense to your audience. By making sense, you will connect with your audience and provide a more valuable experience. There are two ways to make sense and connect:
- Emotion (pathos) – Demonstrate emotion and empathy with anecdotes and questions
- Rationality (logos) – Be rational with arguments which are supported by facts and figures
2. Creating a logical flow
Having a logical structure to your speech will ensure it flows so you can feel more confident in what you’re saying and makes it easier to follow for the audience.
Okay, so we know that all logical narratives need a beginning, middle and end. But what do you include in those different sections of your speech?
As Steve remarks, don’t waste time by introducing yourself too or thanking the organisers too extensively. Time is valuable – especially those first few attention-grabbing minutes. The audience already know who you are because they’ve chosen to give up time to listen.
Use the fresh attention of your audience in the beginning of your speech to your benefit by grabbing their attention. Use relevant points, examples or statements which will really get them invested in your speech.
The middle of your speech is obviously where the bulk of your content lives. This content should be organised around no more than three subparts. Keeping to three key points is really helpful when speaking publicly because it’s easier to remember.
The way to structure these subparts of your narrative is to go from least to most interesting. You’ll build towards a climax for your star moment which you can fill with dramatisation, shocking data or repeatable soundbites.
Use the ending to close the loop of your speech by summarising the middle and connecting it back to the beginning. Similarly, your end is the section for a brief and modest but powerful thank you.
3. Prepare yourself before going on stage
Whilst you’re waiting for your turn to speak or to step into centre stage, this is when the nerves tend to really kick in. Try not to let the nerves overwhelm you and take five minutes before you speak to prepare yourself.
Everyone will have their own pre-show rituals which help to bring focus and calm so it’s important to find what works for you. However, Steve suggests using the following techniques before going on stage:
- Hydrate before you go on stage with still water – avoid sparkling water which can make you gassy.
- Warm up your voice with some vocal exercises.
- Take a few deep breaths to regulate your breathing.
- Try a power pose! Even two minutes in a power pose can help increase your confidence.
4. Confidence and authenticity are key
When you are on stage, you want to appear confident, knowledgeable and like the expert you are. However, it’s very important to be authentic to yourself. Being authentic to yourself will help you to feel more comfortable on stage.
A great starting point for this is your outfit. Make sure you choose something to wear which is appropriate, but also something which you really like and feel comfortable in. Clothing is a great way to feel authentic and confident.
Similarly, body language is key when you are on stage. It can really help you connect with the audience and appear as your best authentic self. For instance, open palms signal transparency which can build trust with an audience. Whilst maintaining eye contact with a few people can create a bond with the audience as a whole.
It can be easier said than done (especially if you are struggling with nerves), but try to enjoy the experience and remember to smile on stage!